Jamie Alcock

Swansea, 2015

The friggin’ gabba’s going dubbadubbadubbadubbadubba and the whole front room’s jumping, I really should reclaim my decks; this is not the vibe. ‘Right boy, listen, this is it so far. Yew listening?’
          ‘Yup,’ he shouts.
          ‘Right, listen;

In this town of crescent moon
day breaks too soon
casts shadows too sharp
for my memory
She walks the seafront
a sanity casualty
cocaine casually

          Right, yeah. Makes sense?’
          ‘Yeah.’ Some smack ‘ed’s got hold of my decks and put on some really hardcore shit and it’s hard to talk.
          ‘So I couldn’t get Fake Plastic Trees out of my head, you know the A-D-A?’
          ‘Me and Mam were talking about Radiohead the other day. And I wanted to write about home, yew know, it’s important, like?’
          ‘Yeah mate, yeah, ‘sabout drugs ‘n’ stuff.’ He’s so bollocksed but I shall plough on.
          ‘Well, yeah. And… well, yeah. So this is the chorus;

And the swans call out to me
where the sun meets the sea
head west boy head west
at the end of the day
you’ll be home.’

          ‘Swan-zee! Swan-zee!’ he’s shouting. Obviously I’ve connected with some weird tribal instinct, and one of the Brynmill lads grabs his upheld fist and they chant it for a few seconds, swinging their hands together. They’re laughing now and saying about how shit it is here and how much they love it anyway; ‘Cos it’s Swansea.’ He hasn’t a clue, like I say; bollocksed. I pass him the spliff that’s doing the rounds, he sits down again and I try the next verse;

‘Jack sees nothing new
just turned twenty two
works call centre jobs
forgets history.
He cannot see it
volunteer prisoner
horizon divider
future condemned.’

          ‘Who’s Jack?’ he interrupts, and I think this probs isn’t the best time maybe.
          ‘Just a lad. Generic ‘Swansea Jack,’ yew know?’
          ‘Swansea Jacks, we are ‘ere!’ he starts and many lads join in, ‘shag your women and drink your beer!’ And he’s on his feet again and they’re all shouting shit, or shouting about shit and there’s beer being spilt and partygoers getting jostled about. I need more drink. One of them from the rugby’s picked me up and is hugging me in a very rowdy and/or violent manner – I’m not sure which. And he stinks.
          Karl’s shouting, ‘Put ‘im down, yew don’t know where ‘e’s been,’ and they’re all laughing, cheers mate. And we both plonk down again onto the pew, so I reckon I can carry on getting some feedback, such as it is. His eyes aren’t really focusing, although he seems to be trying to look at me and appear interested. He is interested really; he doesn’t do anything else. Except surf.
          I shall continue, ‘But it’s kinda cynical, I think it’s pretty cynical, eh? But we like dark don’t we? We do dark. Not emo though, proper dark innit? Ceri’ll be good on it, but she’ll sing head west girl not boy eh? Ha! Good thing the English word for girl is only one syllable too, eh? Good it wasn’t man, ‘cos then she’d have to change it to woman and that wouldn’t scan eh? Ha! Hadn’t thought of that. Here, put it in your pocket for later,’ I slide it into the pocket of his jacket, his leather speedway thing. Wonder if he’s ever washed it. His eyes follow my hand to his pocket, he stares at it, then back up at me, grinning. ‘Bloody learn it!’ I tell him. He nods, grins wider, takes a swig, looks at me, doesn’t focus very well. He’s not listening.
          ‘It’s a hit,’ he says, tapping his pocket and tilting his bottle, spilling a bit. Hashtag patronised. ‘What’re yew on Kwel?’ he asks, ‘Yew had some of that meow from the kitchen?’ he thinks for a second, ‘Kitty been fed in the kitchen?’ He’s so bloody weird, we should let him have a go at writing lyrics for a change. Though probs best not if we want to avoid an Octopus’s Garden incident. Why’s he think I’m bubblin’?
          ‘Naa, just pissed.’
          ‘Yew don’t look pissed, and you’re talking shit-loads,’ he spreads his arms like he’s describing how big a fish he’s caught.
          There’s fuckin’ kids from year ten coming in now, little skanky skinny ones thinking they’re it ‘cos they’re at a big boys’ party. How many Adidas stripes can you fit on six people?
          ‘Karl, yew seen them kids now?’
          He turns to look at the door, ‘S’ok, they’re Sarah’s brother and his mates, they’re sound.’ One of them, brother I assume, approaches my decks and lifts the needle. There’s that noise I’ve always hated of accidentally scratched needle, but followed by the purest silence of nosebleed techno suddenly stopping. Might kick off now though, and everyone’s pointing at the kids and shouting. It’s a wave of a roar, building out of a split second of flat calm, but it’s got humour in it, I’m sure there’s humour in there. It’s ok; there’s only a few twats telling Kid DJ to fuck off. Smack ‘ed DJ’s not happy but Kid DJ gently hands him his vinyl and speaks to him from behind his hand and he smiles and gestures at my friggin’ decks as if he’s allowing him to use them. Fuck’s sake they’re my fuckin’ decks. Kid DJ flips a disc around and a lush, angular synth and snare kick out and he’s playing Giggs.
          ‘Giggs,’ shouts Karl into my ear. Everyone’s loving the bip bop of the hip hop and this is the vibe now, I’ll have to go chat to this kid. Karl’s bobbing his hands up and down, bottle in one hand, spliff in the other, perched on the edge of the arm chair, head lowered and swaying to the off-beat. This is more like it; whole room’s bouncing, Look what the cat dragged in, look what the cat dragged in, he’s doing some good stuff there too, getting some deep bass in and working something dirty underneath. All of a sudden kid’s mates look ok to me, is that bad? Guess it’s just the way we think, not my fault. Wish I had that talent when I was fifteen, but.
          The ex-DJ and some of his mates are leaning on the wall by the window, not looking like they’re fans of UK hip hop. I don’t know how they always find out about parties and just turn up, ‘Hey Karl, who are those fuckers by the window anyway?’
          ‘Dunno. Smack ‘eds. Always round parties inney? Somewhere to keep warm I s’pose.’
          ‘Better watch they don’t nick anything: Paul’s tv, my decks.’
          ‘Naa, they’re alright. They’ve been here before.’
          ‘They’re not looking too happy, like.’
          ‘They never look happy; they’re smack ‘eds. And what’re they gunna do, inject us? Yew ever seen a smack ‘ed fight?’
          ‘No. Have yew?’ He’s so skinny he’d be useless. They’re like scruffy vampires, ‘Yew ever noticed how vampires are always tidy?’
          ‘They don’t drink each others blood yew know? What do yew mean ‘tidy’?’
          ‘They just are, in films, always well dressed.’
          ‘Well, proves that lot aren’t vampires then. Food bank chic that is.’
          Some lad pushes past and takes the spliff out of Karl’s hand, ‘Cheers kid,’ he says. On second thoughts he looks more like the smack ‘ed’s age: thirty-odd, jeans and a black leather jacket, maybe a scouse accent. Another one follows him. Karl’s looking pissed off, but I reckon he’s clocked something about them too and just puffs out his cheeks in his sort of comedy way. Bit too obvious though as second bloke says ‘What?’ and this could be really bad.
          ‘Nothing Bud,’ says Karl, and I really feel for him and realise just how much I actually care for him. Luckily Bloke Two moves on and follows his mate towards the smack ‘eds. Karl looks at me, his tiny eyes as wide as he can get them, ‘What the fuck,’ he mouths.
          ‘It’s your birthday mate, Ceri’s birthday, Paul’s place, we can’t have skanks like that in here wreckin’ the vibe.’
          ‘Yew go and bloody tell them that then, look at the size them!’
          ‘Better not let Paul go tell them, yew know what he can be like.’ He might think twice about those boys though. Bloke One’s talking to one of the smack ‘eds, very close in like, dwarfing him and hunching down a bit, Bloke Two’s just looking around and toking on the spliff. Hard looking bastards, not like the chavs from round by here, all front and swag, these are proper hard fuckers: flat noses, scars, ink on their necks, thick hands.
          ‘Are they dealing?’ asks Karl and turns round in his seat to look at them.
          ‘Fuck’s sake Karl, don’t look round!’ And don’t jerk back round to me even more obviously yew twonk. Bloke Two’s radar’s working ‘cos he’s looking straight at us now, ‘He’s looking at us.’
          ‘Shit, is he coming over?’
          ‘No, dunno, act normal.’ I look at the Kid DJ who’s busy speeding it up and flicking the dirty track in, bringing it up from underneath the Giggs track and it eats it alive. I bob my head, look like I’m enjoying myself. It’s Sleaford Mods. I like what he’s doing and how, but this is dark now, room’s gone darker, Karl’s twitchin’ his head to the beat, looking at nothing in particular. I swig hard on the beer, grab the next from under my chair, Karl takes one too and flips the lids off with his lighter against his fist. I’m crap at doing that but he’s weaker than me, must be technique. Fizzy…Fizzy, shout the Mods and it’s so loud no-one’s talking, everyone’s moving to the rough as dogs bass, but only a few girls remain; I guess they’re not so keen on angry old men as the lads. Most girls are stood around the edges trying to scream into each other’s ears, some are leaving into other rooms. I wonder where Ceri is. Some moshing’s breaking out, I worry for Paul’s Mam’s ornaments. I wonder if any of them mean anything, like ours do: Dougs’ candlesticks he gave Mam, all our photos. No photos here, none, just a nautical chart of his Dad’s on the wall. What a twat he is.
          ‘Where’s your sweaty sister?’
          ‘What?’ he leans in.
          ‘Where Ceri?’ I mime searching.
          Bloke One has the smack ‘ed DJ right up against the wall but isn’t actually touching him, just right up in his face. His elbow jerks up and the smack ‘ed DJ collapses, Bloke Two is looking at me. Why’s no-one else noticing this? Some girls point, some lads ignore the girls looking at them to do something. Time to go, ‘Let’s go,’ I hit Karl’s leg with the back of my hand, stand and turn for the kitchen. He follows. We push through the party. Mel smiles and squeezes my arm, pity she’s not fit, but it relaxes me a little. I must look stressed so smile back. Mike hugs me, then Karl behind, ‘Yeah, yeah, sound mate, sound,’ sez something about the tune, I nod, keep moving. I can see the reflection of the room in the huge windows; my stupid head above most of the others, orange lights of the bay down to the sea. I re-focus like a magic eye picture and I scan behind for the dealer thugs. I can make out my decks with Kid DJ’s head bobbing about, one hand clasped to his headphones. Just to his side in the shadows are the shapes of the smack ‘eds, but the dealers have gone. Shit, keep moving.
          We make it to the hallway where doors lead off to all the different rooms, each one as soulless as the next. I really want to get out of here. ‘In here,’ says Karl, and I see why as the way into the kitchen’s jammed. We step through into a spare bedroom, one of the ones I’ve always wondered about, how they keep it ready like a hotel and decorate it with a fake plant. There’s a few kids from sixth form cuddled up on the bed, not getting off, just chilling. We nod, then flop against the wall behind the door. ‘Did they follow us?’ asks Karl.
          ‘Dunno. Maybe. They’d moved anyway.’
          The door opens again and Blokes One and Two step in, move close to our feet, smile at the kids on the bed who look like they’ve just shat. ‘Cosy,’ says Bloke One, definitely a scouse accent, ‘You mates with Ted?’
          ‘Who’s Ted?’ says Karl. I assume Ted is the smack ‘ed who’s just been smacked.
          ‘No,’ I say.
          ‘Why’d ya keep looking at ‘im then?’ says Bloke Two.
          ‘Wasn’t,’ oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.
          ‘“Wasn’t”, fucking bollocks to this mate,’ and he laughs at Bloke One, ‘Come ‘ed, fuckin’ stinks in ‘ere.’ He steps back leaving Bloke One standing still above us. He hasn’t moved, is just inches from our feet and staring down at us. Maybe they’ve got a good cop bad cop thing going on. Maybe they are cops? Still hasn’t moved. No, definitely not cops.
          ‘When you wos lookin’ at us, what did youse see?’ he speaks after ages.
          ‘Nothing,’ we both say together.
          ‘You blind?’
          ‘No,’ I say.
          ‘Just didn’t see anything, I was looking the opposite way, like,’ says Karl.
          ‘Opposite from what?’ asks Bloke.
          ‘Nothing, yew know, just couldn’t see much,’ Karl’s sketching now, I can hear he’s lost it, ‘dark in there, can’t really see faces, yew know, identify.’
          ‘No, just too dark, yew know?’ Bloke One kneels down on one knee so he’s much closer to Karl then reaches forwards slowly until his hand completely covers Karl’s face then he pushes his head back against the wall, and although there’s not much movement I can tell he’s pushing hard. Karl’s making a weird low noise. I can’t do anything, why can’t I move? Sorry mate, sorry lovely stupid Karl.
          ‘If I push harder now I can split your nose, rip an eyelid. Took a lad’s eyelids off last week. Not with a knife, just pulled till they ripped off. You know the funny thing about losing eyelids is even though your eyes are wide open, you lose your sight. Go blind slowly. So then you wouldn’t be able to fuckin’ see anything, whether it’s dark or not.’ Karl makes grunting noises. Bloke One looks at me and reaches his right hand slowly towards my face. Shit shit. I look away and move a bit to the left. He says, ‘Don’t be a cunt,’ and flicks my ear, so I’m going to let him grab my face because I can’t run and I can’t fight, and he grabs my face. He’s incredibly strong, there is no way I can get out of this. I can strain my eyes rightwards between his index finger and thumb and I can see Karl’s left eye looking sideways at me; he looks more scared than I am. Bloke One is ignoring the kids on the bed, who wisely aren’t moving a muscle, but surely they’re witnesses, so he can’t hurt us too bad can he? His hands smell of spliff and aftershave, must be from when he got ready this evening, splashing a bit on and rubbing it in. He is clean shaven, cropped dark hair, gelled back. He’s got one of them tear tattoos by his left eye. He’s moving his head slowly like he’s clicking his neck and he’s inhaling us, swear he just sniffed us. He’s getting off on this, I reckon he’s got a hard-on. Suddenly he bangs our heads together, moves his hand surprisingly quickly and flicks Karl hard in one eye, then stands. Karl shouts and holds his eye. ‘Fuckin’ Taff pricks,’ says Bloke One and leaves.
          One of the kids on the bed leans over and hands us a bottle of vodka. I always thought he did art because he’s got green hair, ‘Here, yew might need this,’ he says.
          ‘Cheers,’ says Karl and unscrews the lid. He drinks quickly, taking little pauses to swallow and say ‘Ugh,’ then continues. He passes it to me. It burns and soon we’ve drunk most of it. Green kid looks a bit pissed off, but under the circumstances I don’t give a shit.
          ‘Yew ok mate?’
          ‘D’yew think they’ve gone?’ Karl says.
          ‘Yeah, reckon they have, they don’t wanna be hanging around here do they?’
          He nods. ‘Try not to bang your head quite as hard against mine next time,’ he says.
          ‘Luckily my ‘fro gave us some padding.’
          ‘Had to be good for something.’
          ‘We won’t see them around will we?’
          ‘Naa. Probably not. Never seen them before. But then we don’t go to gay clubs.’
          ‘Yeah, he was a bit gay. I thought he was going to fuck us.’
          ‘Me too! He’d do yew first, save the best for afters.’
          ‘Well, yew have experience, he could tell that from your eyes.’
          ‘I’ve got gay eyes now have I?’
          ‘It’s ok to be gay Karl, about time you dealt with it.’
          ‘Pass the voddie you twat.’ I pass him the bottle, but there’s not much left and I can feel the rush of it starting from my burning stomach. It feels good, driving out the adrenaline and replacing it with fuzzy warmth. ‘Speaking of gay, what was the end of those poncy lyrics? Something about some lad called Jack?’
          ‘Fuck off, poncy lyrics, I’m telling yew, it’s our Fake Plastic Trees.’ It’s not poncy. Is it? Oh bollocks I feel embarrassed now, thought he liked it.
          ‘Go on, how’s it end?’
          ‘Right, erm… It’s in your pocket.’
          ‘Oh yeah,’ he pulls it out, reads;

‘Jack sees nothing new
just turned twenty two
works call centre jobs
forgets history.
He cannot see it
volunteer prisoner
horizon divider
future condemned.’

          ‘Well?’ want to know what he thinks but he’s struggling to focus from the page to me, or maybe he’s just out of focus anyway.
          ‘A-D-A, yew said?’
          ‘That was Fake Plastic Trees.’
          ‘Right. Best not nick it.’
          ‘What do yew think of the lyrics?’
          ‘Bit poncy.’
          ‘What the fuck’s poncy mean? In your head,’ I tap his head, ‘what’s it mean?’
          ‘Gerr-off. Yew know, like, sort of, not shit exactly, just…’
          ‘Not shit. Well that’s good.’
          ‘No not shit, no, just not us, yew know? Where’s it gunna fit in the set list?’
          ‘In the middle; gives us a ballad. It’s a fuckin’ ballad innit?’
          He’s reading it again, ‘What noise do swans make?’
          ‘And the swans call out to me; what noise do they make?’
          Green kid up on the bed says, ‘Honk honk.’
          ‘Fuck off,’ I say, but don’t mean it to the green kid, so I say, ‘Not yew, we like yew and your vodka, diolch yn fawr iawn,’ and I say to Karl, ‘It’s not what they actually say, they don’t actually call out.’
          Green kid says, ‘I like it.’
          ‘Swans don’t speak, but,’ says Karl.
          ‘It’s how yew feel about the swans, Swansea; home,’ I’m pulling teeth here, luckily we’re anaesthetised. Hard word to say that, wonder if I can, my mouth’s so numb, ‘Anaesfefised.’
          Green kid laughs.
          ‘Eh?’ says Karl, ‘Ceri’ll be good on it, but. Good for her lower range stuff.’
          ‘She’ll sing anything; she can do anything,’ I poke him in the chest.
          ‘Stop poking me,’ then he thinks for a second, ‘Yew should tell her, yew know?’ he says, and his face is doing weird stuff, I think he’s trying to wink but managing to move just his wispy beard and wrinkle random parts of his forehead. He looks seriously at his feet and then sideways at me again, ‘Tell ‘er,’ he says, ‘yew know?’ and he touches his nose with his finger, reaches round my shoulders and hugs, so I hug him back and his beard’s tickling my ear and he shouts into it, ‘Tell her yew love her man,’ then leans back a bit looking pretty wavy. ‘Yew love Ceri,’ he says and touches his nose again, ‘I can see it.’ He gets up unsteadily. He looks bloody tall ‘cos I’m still sitting down. ‘I’m gunna tell her ‘cos Paul can be a twat.’
          He’s gunna tell her what? Oh God he’s gunna tell I love her. Oh crap, oh crap. ‘Oi!’ he’s not listening. He’s well pissed now and walks into the wall before surging out into the hall. ‘Oi!’ I get up quick and need to hold the wall as the room spins. He needs a diversion. I must divert him. Karl: abort, abort! She was in the kitchen, I hope she’s still there. No time to message. Stay there girl, stay there Ceri, happy with Paul, drinking in the kitchen, “Mr. Dependable”; you said he was dependable. I’ll save the day. Kweli to the rescue. Super-Kweli! He’s heading for the kitchen! Luckily it’s still mobbed. Grab his arm and spin him up the stairs, ‘Upstairs Karl boy, lets see who’s up here,’ he follows, good lad. He’s so pissed. He’s talking to everyone on the stairs as I weave and he stumbles. Don’t knock that spliff over! Oh fuck he’s spilt that lad’s spliff; not happy.
          ‘Oi! Watchit kid.’ There’s bits of gear and baccy all over the shag-pile. Lad’s picking it up and getting nylon in there too. Probs not taste too good.
          ‘Yew love her,’ says Karl, swaying, leaning down towards Lad. Bit off-subject considering, not much of an apology.
          ‘I’ll bring yew some of mine,’ I say; to the rescue again, putting out fires, me.
          ‘Yew fuckin’ love ‘er!’ he says dead loud. Don’t say her name mate, please. And everyone in earshot cheers and raises drinks and he punches the air. And there’s Paul now! passing the bottom of the stairs; he’s seen me seeing him and he knows I’m stressed ‘cos I can’t hide it. Karl hasn’t seen him yet and he’s doing it again, ‘Yew fuckin love Ce…’ but I’ve yanked him hard and he’s landed on the landing, appropriately enough, and now he’s puking. Brilliant. I’ll have to clean it. But for now, up, up boy to the next level, up to bed. He’s leaning on me, skinny lad, and he’s saying, ‘Sorry Kwel mate, sorry,’ and gesturing at the puke. So I guess he’s forgotten his love mission and I’m dropping him on Paul’s bed in the recovery position, safety first, safety second and third.
          I sit with him and wonder what he’d be like as a brother in law, and I think we’d have a laugh. Paul’s a lot less fun; serious bastard, Paul. Do I love Ceri? Actually properly love her? She’s so fit and clever and talented, looks amazing tonight in her new wetsuit. And I need a third verse, something about football maybe. But no one else likes footie, so it’d be vetoed, voted out, it’s a democracy after all. So maybe something political about the decline of industry, or how Cardiff still gets everything, or something about Dylan Thomas maybe, some quote.


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