Boys, boys, boys - still looking for a good time!
Doug, Simon, Owen and Dave came to visit Edward and I and, as they were on their holidays, everything dissolved into madness very quickly. The dark heart of this social group, the engine that powers all activity, is the central dichotomy of Simon and Doug. They are exact opposites, pulling in different directions, bellowing at each other and at constant logger-heads, leaving every one else a virtual bystander, gawping at the town's recently arrived circus. How they are friends I will never know. But they are. It's a mystery for the ages.
Simon is possessed of a furious, demonic energy; he is madly enthusiastic about doing stuff, just any stuff. Doug doesn't want to do anything. His idea of a good time is sitting on his arse in a pub with a beer and talking bollocks. Simon can't really do this, he needs distracting far beyond the gentle burble of pub badinage. When deprived of activities he drifts into a sort of catatonic state, like a wedged shark. When we go into a pub it is not enough for Simon to sit down and have a drink, he needs to organise a kitty! We don't order pizzas or takeaways because Simon wants to cook an astonishingly complicated Japanese meal from scratch, while already drunk. And it was delicious! He marinaded the chicken! The only thing I've ever marinaded is myself! If I had one eighth of Simon's energy I would probably be the King of Europe!
It started promisingly, sensibly, enough with a stroll out to Stormount, but already we had got it wrong. Nobody walks in Belfast, they either drive or jog. The only people who do walk are dog-walkers and you can tell they resent their dogs for it. So the sight of six, admittedly odd-looking, men striding about sans hound caused agitated consternation from the local motorists who rubber-necked at us all the way down the Newtownards Road. I resemble the wild man of Borneo in a cowboy-shirt these days and Doug looks like a grown-out boot-boy. Owen and Dave look like the members of two separate terrorist groups drawn into uneasy alliance while Edward resembles a scuffed Dave Cameron doing a walkabout*. Then there is Simon: glasses perched atop his head and a fag in his gub, imagining that a paramilitary flak jacket with a Dutch flag is perfectly acceptable Belfast leisure-wear. And it may well be but do you really want to take that risk? I don't but Simon is a blithe man and unconcerned about local politics.
We went into town and I took them to Botanic Avenue where everything was closed, either because it's July or because the students have gone home or because everyone seemingly closes whenever they like in Belfast, and then we went the Belfast Empire where we talked about leprosy and cumkins. As there was no word from Mullan HQ I took an executive decision and we brought home the entire off-licence from Tesco Metro, everyone bemused the little doorway you have to go through to get into the booze-leper's booth. That night was spent playing "Green-room" and "Douglas' Acting Master-class" until we all collapsed under sheer weight of alcohol.
The next morning all pretence at decency was abandoned and the wine bottles were opened while the sun was still scratching its arse in bed, the yard-arm still a hazy fixture in its diary.
The rest of the day went like this: A "Robin of Sherwood" box-set, Simon reading out Viz' "Profanisaurus" for three hours, (honourable mentions to the expression "A Greek Tip" and the phrase "Are you in there Mr. Hill?) a trip down the Upper Newtownards road to see the murals and the bunting and the burnt out shops and blocked in windows, a trip to the Duke of York pub which I hadn't been to for years (I think I've been out twice since I moved over here) where Doug and Simon got into a fight over the "kitty" request and the fact that Simon wanted us to sit in a little closed off booth at the end of the bar and Douglas thought, quite reasonably, that this might look a little odd. Then back here, more booze, more arsing about, more Robin of Sherwood (and Quantum Leap). We are all in our late thirties or early forties!** It's like Simon Nye was handing out the oblique strategy cards.
It was all tremendous fun, if a little more intense than I'm used to, and they are all remarkably lovely to travel all that way to see a sad drunken man in a box. I am truly blessed with my friends, they are remarkable. Well even if you skim-read the above you'd realise they are remarkable, but also for their kindness and generosity. Thanks fellas.
Now they've gone and then Edward, who has been at my side since before the funeral, butlering hairily, has gone and it's just me left in the house. I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity not to get drunk.
*Edward has since distanced himself from this description.
**Edward has asked me to point out that Owen and himself are in their early thirties. Thank you.