Don’t Panic :: London – International Women’s Day House Show

"I don't know why we did this" - © Anthony Barlow 2012

“I was tired, depressed and running on nothing but guts and liquor…”

It had been two days since I’d come back from London, and for two days I’d had the feeling of death pulling me in like quicksand and filling my lungs with the wet cement of anxiety and exhaustion, but I couldn’t sleep. For two days I hadn’t slept (it’ll have been four days by the time this is up and I can only hope that in the extra 48 hours between writing and publishing I will have been given some relief and sobriety, fat chance!), because two days before the two days I’d been back, I was on my way to London for an “International Women’s Day” house show at Astbury Castle.

As the hot water ran down my body, I thought about how much I wanted to stay in the shower. I washed ever inch of my body until there were no inches left, then washed them again. I considered a third time, but decided I couldn’t justify it so I got out and dressed in preparation of facing the day. I was heading to London once again (and I really didn’t want to) but the travel was paid for, and the music was good so it was worth the uncomfortable situation I was entering.

I’d had very little sleep the previous night so was running on empty, my fuel tank was a echoing barrel without a fish. I tried to sleep on the coach down but this kind of re-energizing did very little except kill time. I knew of another effective time killer, which may of helped me sleep in this giant sardine tin, and with half a litre of scotch and a hip flask full of rum, alcohol was a viable option. As it was only 11:09 I decided to stave off my need for booze and, as the anxiety kicked in, I took to the bathroom and locked myself in. I took a shit and scrawled in my notebook, which was difficult on a moving vehicle, and tried to feel better about entering a panicked man’s worse nightmare with minimal sleep. The toilet paper dispenser was broke, in as much as it wasn’t dispensing, so I battled with the plastic casing until it gave way and released its white quilted bounty. The coach jerked and I was flung to the other side of the cubicle, utilizing cat like reflexes to prevent me going under first into the mirror.I left the cubicle and a small old lady with the face of a cow told me we were stopping at a service station.

This is what hell must feel like, I thought. A multitude of coffee stands and news agents, each charging excessive prices for the most menial of items. I couldn’t justify three pounds for a small coffee or two pound for a 500ml bottle of water so, instead, I sat back on the coach and waited until we departed again, listening to the reggae music being played bu the Jamaican man sat behind me and trying to relax.

As soon as we arrived in London, we met Emma Hallows and I left her with Barlow to go see the city. I hadn’t spent six hours on a coach to sit in a house and wait for the show.
I checked out Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and a few other hot spots, until it dawned on me how little I cared about the “sights.” Instead I walked around a park and played catch with a crow using part of the sandwich I had in my bag.

The center got too much so I left to the outskirts trying to find a cafe where I could buy a coffee to mix my rum with. For a city I thought was famed for office workers fueled on caffeine, I didn’t see many. The ones I did were Starbucks.

I ended at a place called Pimlico and entered the first pub. It was called “The Pimlico Beer Gardens” and they were out of beer. I tried “The Surprise” across the road, which surprised me by actually having booze. A pretty girl with a nose piercing served me a pint of Stella for £3.50 and called me darling, but I hadn’t come all this way to sit in a pub. I did that enough at home, so I sat outside, scrawled some words and watched the traffic go by.

I left the pub and headed back into the center. On the way a woman gave me a promotional can of coke-zero which I took two swigs from and filled it with rum. I took a shot straight to for good measure and it was then everything went wrong.

Maybe it was the rum, maybe it was the influx of people causing mass anxiety, the sleep deprivation, or all three, but the world began to fall apart. I pushed through the crowds, cutting down an alleyway that read “short cut to Victoria” and I was sure I was walking through someones living room. The combination of booze, anxiety and insomnia had created a situation of surreality.

I headed into a Sainsburys to buy more booze, I figured it was the only way to dissipate the anxiety. Chilled beers were double the price of warm ones so I took four warm, opened a chiller, and smothered them with frozen peas. I checked the aisles for some food, part of a peanut butter sandwich was no real sustenance to drink on. Nothing looked appealing, so I took the beers, which by this point much have dropped only a single degree only a single degree in temperature, paid and left.

I noticed a homeless man sat outside and went to talk to him. I felt bad for the guy so offered him a beer, he inspected the can for some time then declined. I left him there and proceeded to catch the next train to Peckham. I drank a can with some rum on the train and watched the sun go down. No one on the train looked as if they were having a good time. I was tired, depressed and running on nothing but guts and liquor, yet I still felt I was in a better situation then any of these suits. Perhaps not financially, but they were running 9-5’s and team building exercises where I,as previously said, was going on nothing but my instincts and booze.

"Sisters Of Shame" - © Anthony Barlow 2012

I arrived at the house and was let in by a girl who lived in the building opposite. To clear space for the show all the couches, chairs, even a lamp, had been placed on the concrete outside so I dropped my stuff inside, opened another beer and sat in the cold, waiting for the show to start.

The show started soon after, and a girl with black hair, thick rimmed glasses and a great voice played. I don’t remember her name but recall talking to her later and complimenting her vocal talent.

Barlow wanted a bottle of whiskey and I wasn’t going to refuse. With still nothing in terms of a stomach liner, this probably wasn’t a good idea, but I’d felt like this whole trip was a bad idea, so I couldn’t see it getting much worse. On the way to the Tesco (we went in between acts) there was a homeless man with a missing leg sat outside a take away. I decided to try my earlier good deed a second time so, along with the whiskey, we bought the largest bottle of beer we could find and the one legged man accepted it thankfully, popping the cap with his lighter.

Back at the house we started on the whiskey. I don’t think it lasted very long but I blacked out part way through the night and lost all concept of time. I vaguely remember singing with Emma Hallows before passing out in the bathroom.

I awoke around 6am in the boiler room, uncertain of how or when I made the two meter distance between the rooms. I was wrapped in a towel and my entire body ached. I felt around myself and found tender areas and cuts on my head, arms, legs and torso. What the hell had occurred the previous night, and why could I not remember a single thing?

I entered the kitchen and found a handful of people still awake and drinking wine. They offered me the bottle and I took a huge gulp, taking away some of the previous nights worries. I felt a scar just above my right buttock and, after inspection, decided someone had tried to steal one of my kidneys while I was comatose. I queried the conscious guests but they just laughed, giving me more wine. I calmed down after more drink but I still didn’t trust the strangers at the table.

But they were all I had so I drank with them. They even let me drink a bottle of 12 year Jameson so perhaps they weren’t all bad. Parts of the night began to trickle back and I hazily recollected a conversation (or perhaps conversations) to clear the air between myself, a girl I had been interested in, and the friend of mine she was now fucking. But I’d been drunk, drunker than I’d been in some time, and drunken bridge building leads to shoddy workmanship. The elephant in the room hadn’t left, merely shut up, so it seemed a great idea to challenge him to a drinking competition.

The drinking went on for some time (though I still had no concept of time) until Seb (a.k.a. James’ Choice) came into the kitchen and, after finding a guitar, sang Alkaline Trio songs with me for what have been an hour, until I got so drunk I couldn’t stay in tune so I went upstairs and slept fully clothed in one of the many beds.

Barlow woke me and suggested a Great Cynics show in a couple of hours, it seemed as good an excuse to keep drinking so I got up and hit the booze again. It dawned on me that the people around the kitchen table hadn’t slept or moved, a feat that could have only be achieved by hard substance abuse but these were the people who’d kept me fueled so who the fuck was I to judge?

We headed to the gig and I presume someone paid me in though I recall just walking in and straight to the bar (waking the next day without a stamped hand clarified my hazy reminiscences).

The homeless man with a missing leg entered the bar and was promptly stamped with no exchange of money, Peckham was a place with good moral people, it seemed. He recognized me and shook my hand. i got the two of us a beer and we chatted at a table. Barlow wanted a picture for the article but the guy wasn’t up for having his picture taken, and apologized heavily. I told him it was fine and we went back to drinking.

Before Great Cynics played I’d been practically falling asleep into my beer so we threw in the towel and left, riding back to Victoria and getting the coach an hour earlier, sleeping little and getting back to Manchester around 06:30.

"The Morning After The Night Before" - © Anthony Barlow 2012

So the article was done and to celebrate, as well as wash away the grim feelings of the previous weekend, I took a hot bath. As the heated water eased the muscles, releasing some of the negativity, my phone began to vibrate like a maniac with a multitude of messages from Barlow, hints and reminders of the occurrences of the past few days travel. A piggy back fight during El Morgan’s set, soaking take-away chips in Jack Daniels and who knows that the hell else. The booze had been drunk in copious amounts, the songs had been sung, the elephant had died from liver failure and now finally the anxiety was fading. But it was short lived, soon it’d be time to do the whole thing again. The location and artists would change, but as long as there was music to travel towards, and booze to be drunk there’d be me, hiding in the corner, shaking in panic and scrawling notes with the intensity of a maniac, living on nothing but guts and liquor.

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