Thursday, 3 May 2012

Give us this night our daily bread

This is a night that starts off innocently and then descends into a fiasco that the ancient Greeks would be proud of.

In the late 90s, I lived in Leiden, Holland and worked for a small electronics firm in the very rural village of Nieuwkoop. On a Friday afternoon it was customary to finish work an hour earlier than normal and have what was termed by my colleagues, a "borreltje". A "borreltje" was basically a time for the 30 members of staff to get together and have a few beers, some deep fried snacks and a chit chat about the weeks events. During the "borreltje", I would generally drink 3 bottles of beer, resulting in me speaking gibberish in an accelerated tongue before heading off home on the bus/train/bike to my little flat, located next to a beautiful harbour in the ancient heart of Leiden. More often than not, I would sleep during the train part of my journey home, between Alphen aan de Rijn and Leiden Lammenschans, as the soporific "der der de der, der der de der" of the train, reacted with my alcohol addled mind. By the time I reached Lammenschans station, I would generally be so groggy, that the 15 minutes cycle back to my house, felt more like the mountain stages of the tour de France, than a short ride on flat Dutch roads.

Eventually, I'm home and not before time. The beers have filled my bladder to capacity, and I can hardly contain myself as I lock my bicycle to the wooden jetty. I unbutton my flies and release the old boy from its nest, so that I can purge my bladder. Who cares that it's 6 pm on a summers evening and the jetty is surrounded by people? When a man's got to go, a man's got to go. I stand and admire my golden arch as my jet clears the jetty and deposits into the river Rijn. A nearby group of people who are barbecuing on the deck of their yacht, look on in disgust. I bid them a "Fijne avond" (fine evening) and head for my home.

I'm content. For the first time in my life, I am living alone and I'm enjoying it. Nobody to tell me what music I can and cannot play, mealtimes when I want them and basically I can do what I want, when I want. Which more often than not, on a Friday night means NOTHING, a great big lovely slice of NOTHING, and Jesus how I love it. The feeling of coming home from work on a Friday night, taking off my shoes and relaxing, is at this stage of my life - the perfect remedy to a long week at work. Tonight is not no exception.

I'm lying on my bed relishing a drunken moment of bladder emptiness, that perfect 10 minute period before it's time to purge once more. When, an irritating voice enters my mind. And it says "Bread, you've got no bread. Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit - you've got no bread". I've been making a mental inventory of the things that will make my weekend more pleasurable and I've got it all - the wine, the crisps and cakes for tonight. And for breakfast tomorrow, the coffee, the orange juice, the vegetarian sausages, the HP sauce and the br e a d - "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, I've got no bread". One cannot measure in words what a catastrophe, this is. I am so goddam relaxed. The last thing I want to do is leave my flat and walk around the corner to the Albert Heijn supermarket to purchase a loaf of bread. Reluctantly, I put on my shoes and exit the house.

Once outside, it's not too bad. The evening air is warm and the supermarket is but a hop, skip and a jump away. Before I know it, I've got my item of desire and I am merrily plodding back to my slouch pit. That is, until I meet Stan and a few of his mates. "Alright Andy", Stan yells across the cobbled street, "You coming to the Geus". And that's it, those 5 words are to have an impact on the rest of my night, the rest of my weekend and the amount of times that I have recounted this story, the rest of my life. Of course my instant reaction is to try and say NO, but what is actually ejected from my lips is "Yes, ok then".

Twenty minutes later, I am sat in the Geus with a bottle of Hertog Jan beer in my hand, surrounded by folks that are discussing a squat party in Rotterdam. My loaf of bread sits next to me at the table, quite unaware of the journey that it is going to undertake in the next 36 hours.

The Geus, or the Gulzige Geus, if we are to split hairs, is the pub of choice for Leiden's rockers, as well as many members of Leiden's burgeoning ex-pat community - of which I am one. The name roughly translates as the Happy Pirate, although for many years, I was led to believe that this translated as the Happy Raper. I must admit to being slightly disappointed when I found out the truth. Needless to say, I continue the legend. The bar is run by Rick, a happy chappy, who is most welcoming to his customers. Although this welcome we later find out, does not extend to the snorting of crushed up ecstasy tablets from the window ledge of his bar.

Although it's early on a Friday evening, the Geus is packed, which is not difficult given the compact size of the place. I know every single person in the bar, and they all ask me the same question, "Why are you carrying a loaf of bread"? I relay my tale, before informing them that I am going to go home after the next bottle of beer. Without exception this prompts them to offer me another drink, which would be fantastic under normal circumstances but not tonight (maybe taking a loaf of bread to the bar is a tactic to think about in the future though). By the time I have circulated the bar once and said my hello's, I am what can only be described as plastered and therefore vulnerable to new requests of any kind. That's when I see Dave.

"Alright Andy, do you want a pill"? And so enters the next phase of my downfall.

I leave the Geus, some 2 hours and 8 beers later. Not that this matters because by the time I leave, my mind is dancing to the stimuli of a new poison (namely ecstasy). And no, not just one, in case your wondering. Every time I see Dave, which is approximately every 15 minutes, he pops another pill in my mouth. As I make my exit, I realise that my loaf of bread is sitting on the edge of the bar, so I wander back in to retrieve it.

Still filled with good intentions of going home, and despite the protests of my friends, who are urging me to go to a squat party in Rotterdam. I head off in the direction of my house. I have gone no further than the pavement in front of the bar, when I am hit by an almighty whoosshhhh, as the alcohol and chemicals quite beautifully react with a euphoric outcome. As ever, the euphoria starts in my feet and crawls its way up my body, enveloping me in its warm friendly glow. Unable to contain my excitement I turn to the nearest person, or maybe it was a rubbish bin, lamp post or dog, and start to converse. I am still talking to this person, object or animal, when my friends exit the Geus, 10 minutes later. And that's that. Me and my bread are on the train to Rotterdam.

Our mottley crew of social reprobates fills one entire carriage of the train. Nobody seems to know or particularly care about the precise location of the squat party. Most seem happy to party in the carriage. I am sat in the corner, my mind lost to the rhythm of the train, as it trundles over the rails. Eventually we arrive at a station that somebody thinks might be ours, and we all pile out onto the platform. There is a rumour that the party is in an old warehouse near to the Rotterdam's Euromast. And at 186 metres our landmark is not too difficult to spot.

We find the warehouse with relative ease. Somebody must have a modicum of brain power and it sure ain't me. It took 3 reminders and a friend's lightning reflexes to ensure I left the train with my bread. It has become apparent to all around that the bread is to be of vital importance to my enjoyment over the next hours. My serotonin level depends on it. Take my bread and the level drops, give it me back and my brain is flooded with this most glorious of natures treats.

Once inside, the noise (for surely this can't be described as music) from the sound system is deafening. Insane, crazy screeches and electronic drum beats are bouncing off the walls and creating a cacophony of sound. Digital sounds filling the voids that racks of cheese or clogs once filled. Like a moth drawn to the light, I am compelled to find the source of this insanity. My brain drowning in a sea of ecstasy, serotonin flooding it's every receptor. I am driven towards a large camouflage tent from where the beats appear to emanate. I reach the tent and with trepidation, I whip open the flaps, to be greeted by 4 djs who are bouncing around, as if propelled by springs. The looks on their face, a good reflection of the insanity they reproduce. They appear not to notice me as they go about the task in hand. The task being, to control the minds of hundreds of souls, as they float around the warehouse, escaping from the humdrum of daily life with the aid of chemicals and electronic sound waves. I stand and stare for what could be a minute or an hour. Time is irrelevant, at least for now.

At some stage, I know not when. I exit the tent, and rejoin the my fellow zombies on the makeshift dance floor. I am surrounded by a weird and wonderful array of people, from techno hippies and cyber punks to out and out heroin addicts. It is one of the techno hippies that pops the acid into my mouth, which will take me to another level altogether. She does this by encircling me first, whilst waving her arms around in an enchanting fashion. Once I am hypnotised by her gypsy like charm, she lowers herself onto me and with a deft movement of her lips, she deposits the lsd into my mouth. That's the way that I saw it anyway, but in retrospect, she may have actually have fallen and spat the acid into my mouth by mistake. Come to think of it, she did look a little confused in the moments that followed this event and appeared to be searching for something. Of course, at the time I still thought that this was part of her mating ritual and attempted to follow it up with my own gypsy enchantment, resulting in a dirty warehouse floor tussle and a rapid escape on her behalf.

My libido defeated, I remain on the warehouse floor, using the bread as a pillow. As the acid fills me brain, I am convinced that bringing the bread was a message from a higher being, to assist my journey from the hard and dirty warehouse floor to a state of spiritual nirvana. I lie there for what could be hours, weeks or months, writhing around in pleasure, taking in the carnival around me, Monsters, clowns, jesters and jokers, are entertaining me with their weird little dances and incantations. Or maybe it's all in my head.

A large proportion of the party being new age travellers, there is also a vast amount of large dogs lurking around the premises, searching for scraps of food no doubt. I am convinced that they are after my bread and huddle my arms around it in fear and desperation. Eventually, an enormous Great Dane makes a b-line for me and I cower like a lamb to the slaughter, not wholly convinced that he is not some mythical creature, coming to carry me off to the underworld. He assumes, what I take to be a position of attack, but turns out to be his position of taking a shit. My senses awakened by the lysergic acid diethylamide, the smell of the dogs excrement repulses me, yet not enough to actually move. Thankfully, my friends, who obviously see that I am on a weird and wonderful journey, periodically check on me. They urge me to relocate to one of the other thousands of square metres where there is no dog shit, but their advice goes unheeded.

The noise and people become too much and I summon up the energy to move. I have of course been thinking about this for the past hours/days, but have been too lazy, too afraid and too incapable of doing so. Eventually I find  the exit, a small metal door frame cut into the wall. I heave it open and step through.

It is as if I have just entered a portal into another world. The noise chaos immediately stops and is replaced by the sound of birds singing. Reminding of the scene in Resevoir dogs when the guy goes outside to get the fuel to set the policeman alight. It's a beautiful Sunday morning, my god have I missed Saturday? and the church bells are summoning the "good people" to service. Although, I do not immediately notice, it soon comes to my attention that the whole warehouse is surrounded by police. Being Dutch police, of course they don't attack. They are merely observing. Probably wishing to join in the Sunday morning rave no doubt. Amongst the ring of police, I notice my hippy mate Adam from Brighton. He is sitting there on his own, quite casually smoking a joint, which sticks out from beneath his dreadlocks. He beckons me over and we both sit and observe the chaos that surrounds. Which amounts to a vicious 10 dog fight and a wasted guy, with his pants around his knees, smashing a bottle on his own head.

Adam produces a bag of white powder from his pocket and makes 4 long lines. Hoovering one up each nostril, he offers me the remaining 2. I follow his lead before casually asking what it actually is.!" Ketamine mate", he replies or "horse tranquilliser to me and you". Before I have time to ask him what I am to expect he is up on his feet and heading for the portal. I manage to get my question in just as he is opening the door,

"So what will it do to me", I hurriedly enquire.

To which he replies "What, you've never had it before"?

As he disappears into the other world,. he waves me "bye bye".

I pass once more through the portal, escaping from the relative normality of a police stake out, dog fights and self abusing hippies into an even crazier world than the one I left no longer than 30 minutes ago. The music hits me like a wall of white noise, drilling into my very soul. This in turn, ignites the ketamine in my system and the fusion of noise and narcotics come together to send me to a place that I have never been before or since. For what feels like hours, I feel as though I am a ballet dancer, and I prance around the room balancing on my tiptoes, pirouetting and spinning with the greatest aplomb. In my head, I do this with such grace and elegance that I am astounded by my own performance. I think the techno heads are watching me and applauding my genius. Tonight Matthew (British joke), I am Rudolf Nureyev. As I edge closer and closer to the congested area which surrounds the dj, I build up to a positive crescendo. I am spinning out of control, as I face my audience. Their faces alive with amazement at my perfect moves. I burst through  the crowd and into the open area before the speakers and it is here that my fluidity comes to an end, resulting in me ending  up in a pile on the floor. Undeterred, I am effortlessly on my feet again and with one swift motion, I bow to my audience. From behind me I feel a tap on the shoulder to be confronted with Scottish John. I proudly turn around to accept his praise of my majestic moves and he says "Andy, what the fuck you doing man, they all think you're a dick head". He then points at my face, pours a glass of water over my head and heads back towards the dance floor. Realising that he has forgotten to tell me something, he turns around and shouts "The dogs have eaten your bread".

From the pinnacle of euphoria that I have just experienced during my gracious ballet moves, I am cast into the depths of insanity. The dogs eating my bread seems like the worst thing that as ever happened to anybody ever in the history of mankind. I think I am losing my mind, and what's more I think that my mind is a tangible object, which with some effort I can find. This is to become my focus for the next hour or so. Timidly, I single a guy out on the periphery of the warehouse and by employment of a tap on the shoulder, I ask him "Pardon, Heb je mijn geest gezien"? (Have you seen my mind?). To which he replies "Ja, het is daar jongen, in the hoek van het kamer" (it's over there in the corner of the room). And he's right, I follow his pointing finger and there is my mind shining like a big white orb in the corner of the room. By the time I reach it, it has disappeared and I am to repeat my question to another stranger, who feeds me some similar information. I am to walk around the warehouse several times before one of the Leiden lot, latch onto my dilemma and manage to convince me of my impossible task. I am also informed that my face is completely black and I look like a chimney sweep. I am persuaded that going home would be a sterling idea. If only it were that easy.

I'm back outside and catch a glimpse of myself in a factory window. My face does indeed resemble a chimney sweep and my eyes are like flying saucers. I look like an alien being, just landed from a far off planet. Pulling myself away from the window, I set off on my quest home. Oh but hold on, wait a minute - which was is it. After scouring all directions I manage to get off the industry park but I have no idea which way to go. I spot an old lady across the street. She's all dressed up and must be heading for church. I can't approach like this can I. I mean, this could bring on heart failure. But what are my options, I need to find a train back to Leiden. Biting the bullet, I head over to her and say "Pardon mevrouw, Ik heb uw hulp nodig" (Excuse me madam, I need your help). Rather bizarrely, she holds out her arm and we link.

Just to recap, it's Sunday morning, and I have had a cocktail of mind altering drugs, I have been in a squat party all night long, where despite being surrounded by weird and wonderful people, I appear to have been the laughing stock of the place due to my loaf of bread, ballet moves and black face. I am now walking down a quiet residential street, linked arm in arm with a nice old Dutch lady, making polite conversation about the weather and such like, whilst I am tripping my balls off. To both sides of me the trees wave around like they have a life of their own and I convinced there are snakes in them. If I look down, I feel as though the pavement is coming at me, and if I look up the sky is alive with mash potato clouds that race around like flying sheep in the Indy 500.

But what's that noise? I swear that I can hear a fanfare in the distance. It's getting louder. I look in the distance and see a procession of people and what appear to be a caravan of camels. Surely, the acid can't be this strong? I look at the old lady and she smiles back, as if to reassure me that it's all real. I stand and stare in disbelief as the procession passes me by led by clowns and jugglers. On the camels backs stand men in full Arab gear playing trombones. The hundreds of kinds gleefully following the procession must think that I am part of the show. A random alien thrown in their for good measure.

We find the station and I bid my escort farewell. She waves to me through the window as my train departs for Leiden.                                                                                                                                     

No comments: