Sunday afternoon in a crumbling East End boozer
The fourth instalment of a fictional story from the depths of the weekend – or in this case a Sunday sash at the pub. Enjoy a pick-me-up on the day you need it the most.
A fictional story from the weekend. Same time, same characters, different place, come back every week. Catch up here.
So there’s an old pub in the middle of an estate somewhere in east London. It’s not a special estate – at least, not unless you live there – but the blocks that surround the pub are bunched together and tall, like a tightly-bound bouquet of flowers around one fat, secret rose. The Fox and The Phoenix, it’s called. You’d never know it was there unless you happened to be wandering through, and people don’t really do that in these areas, unless Citymapper’s playing up and you’ve taken a wrong turn. But even then, you’d probably never go into The Fox. It’s just a crumbling East End boozer among countless crumbling others, all bricked-up windows and crunchy velvet curtains and, on a good day, a delightful air of menace.
Except it’s not really just any old pub. The Fox holds what we call rollover parties, for er, rolling over into.
They’re open on Saturday nights too, apparently – and even close at a council-friendly 2am, a proper wholesome night out for the lads – but we’ve never turned up earlier than 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. It’s about this time that The Fox comes into its own, when it loses its sense of time and place and genre, and sweat is dripping down the walls and the stars are stuck to the ceiling.
Inside it is dark and soundproofed with heavy leather padding. It’s £15 to get in and £5 to use the cloakroom, and they can charge those kinds of prices ’cause they know you’ve turned up by the cab-load ’cause there isn’t anywhere else quite like it.
Take us, for instance. We were at a rave in Tottenham earlier but Maya got kicked out for being too spangled – brutal, I know – so here we are at The Fox, splayed out on the maroon leather sofas like a deck of cards.
Nah I’m joking. (Although that’s definitely plausible.) We’re here because Lacey is playing a set. She’s never played The Fox before, and we’ve come out – or rather, stayed out – to support.
I can tell she’s a bit anxious but it doesn’t matter because the focus is all on Maya this afternoon. The boys are claiming she ate a box of chicken and chips after the forest party last weekend and she’s getting absolutely rinsed for it. Maya’s supposed to be vegan – and not just privately, wholesomely vegan, or even cheekily, trendily, vegan. She’s like, sponsored-by-Linda-McCartney vegan.
Jack’s leading the attack. “It’s cool Mai, I don’t blame ya. Those shitty little chickens they use at Chicken Cottage were probably malformed anyway. Didn’t deserve to live.”
“It’s true,” says Jay. “Dead tings really.”
“Trust!” Jack’s creasing now. “Proper dead.”
Maya sighs, sulking behind her shades. “Jack can you just allow me. It was barely a wing.”
“Definitely stopped him flying though.”
“They didn’t have any falafel left!”
Jack shakes his head like a disapproving parent. “Pretty sure bossman offered you an onion salad.”
The shades come off. “Jack, who wants a fucking onion salad on a comedown?”
“Oh I dunno, someone who’s chosen to eat salad for the rest of their lives. And gets paid to talk about it all day.”
He’s not giving in and Maya’s becoming increasingly irritated. Secretly, I know this isn’t the first time she’s gone to town on some chicken wings after a particularly sketchy fag-end of a night. But I will take this secret to my grave.
Just when I think Maya’s about to crack – her top lip’s quivering – we’re saved. An ecstatically-coloured human-shaped puppy jumps into our laps. It smells like crushed flowers and cigarettes and sage. Like Monday morning at Stone Circle. It’s Fizz.
Felicity “call me Fizz” Brown is our personal, portable, XR goddess. (They used to call her a Trustafarian but times have changed.) We met her a few years ago – she buys K off Jack – and somehow she always comes floating back to us, when she’s not in India or Nicaragua or er, Devon.
“I had a feeling I’d see you lovely creatures this weekend!” She snuggles into my neck, then pulls her head back and kisses me ceremoniously on the tip of my nose.
Fizz is desperately earnest and flighty and magical and we’re all lucky to know her. Sometimes she says things that don’t quite make sense, and not in that enigmatic, esoteric, you’d‑get-it-if-you-hadn’t‑skipped-cacao-this-morning realm of not making sense. She’s big on spiritual buzzwords and there’s a lot of confused metaphors. But sometimes – almost accidentally – she comes out with things that are more profound than all the things any of us have ever said. The rest of the time she sort of circumambulates the truth like a lost, flailing meteorite – but it’s better than the rest of us, who never break out of our orbit of ignorance until something big – meteoric, even – hits us smack in the solar plexus. See, I can mix metaphors too.
Anyway, she’s wonderful. She’s always braless – obviously – and in a loose floral dress, even now in the dead of winter. In the summer, she’s known for kicking off her trainers in the corner of the rave other people put their bags in, and one night in one of the warehouses she lifted up a bare foot and a massive shard of glass was hanging out of it. Little Rosie – another jangling beauty she’s often attached to – sucked the remaining bits of glass out of Fizz’s foot like pips out of an orange, and then Fizz just carried on dancing, face caught between a grin and a grimace, like a flashframe of an orgasm.
And with that memorable image, cut back to The Fox – to Lacey. She’s given Fizz a quick Lacey-squeeze and jumped up in front of us.
“Oi you lot, I’m playing – get up. I better see you front left.”
As if we wouldn’t be. Aside from the fact she’s my best mate, Lacey plays like no other DJ I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t give a shit about genre, or rules; she’ll drop anything as long as it has big energy and a heavy bassline. I know next to nothing about music – I just love to dance – and Lace plays for people like me, as well as the kind of people who can hear the watermark of the next track before it’s even begun.
Now, she absolutely smashes it. Occasionally she looks down at the decks as if she’s reading ancient runes, but mostly she’s just vibing with the crowd, dancing on her own, a fat smile on her face. Tonight she’s in a neon-pink Nike sports bra, white Maharishi snopants – vintage, embroidered – and, piled up on the bench behind her, a snow-white Canada Goose that I’m pretty sure belongs to Jack, though nobody mentions this. She looks banging; the crowd are feeling it. They’re gonna be desperate to have her back.
I’m dancing with Fizz – she’s big on twirling. The boys are stomping around next to us, taking up space. Every so often one of them takes his turn to pass around competitive-sized bumps, each one more daring than the last.
Maya’s started dancing with this blonde girl who’s recognised her off Instagram. The music’s too loud to hear their conversation but I can tell by the way the blonde is leaning into her, waving her hands, and the forced Invisalign smile on Maya’s face.
It’s sticky-hot and I’m feeling dizzy from all the twirling, so I head to the toilet for a moment to myself and a pee. It’s a miserable, splash-back affair. I fix my face in the mirror, wipe the black smear from under my eyes, the white dust under my nose.
When I get back, the blonde girl – her name’s Tiffany – has lost interest in Maya and appears to now be part of the gang. She sniffs deceptively large bumps of Jay’s coke off the underside of her long Shellac nails and then smiles at Jack in a way I feel is too familiar.
I get back into my rhythm, take a few more twirls with Fizz. At one point I turn my head and out of the corner of my eye I notice Jack against the back wall. With Tiffany. He’s leaning with his hand on the wall above her head, and she’s looking up at him, coyly.
Lace finishes her set with a flourish of old-school garage and comes over to join us, flushed with pink. Glowing.
“Ah, that was banging! Maya I beg you, post that last bit on Insta.” She glances around for the boys. I see her spot Jay, slumped in the corner, and Risky next to him – trying to convince some poor girl that he’s a good guy – and for a brief moment a frown plays across her eyebrows but she gives nothing away. “Erm, shots? I think I get free drinks.”
At the bar she orders us two tequilas – each – and flirts brazenly with the bartender, but I can see the sparkle leaking out of her eyes by the second.
“Cigarette?” I ask gently. I don’t need to say anything else.
We step outside and are smacked in the face by the brightness of the day. The sunlight feels like salt on an open wound, but I know it’s better than being trapped in there, playing a part, forgetting how to dance. Your face aching from smiling so hard.
Fizz and Maya have followed us out. Lacey lights a cigarette but there isn’t much of a smoking area, just a few uninviting pub benches sticky with spilt liquor. Fizz takes a deep and meaningful breath. Maya frowns apologetically and then looks down at the ground.
There’s a silence. Fizz looks practically desperate to play spiritual mother and offers her only medicine. “Hash?”
Lace smiles, and answers as though she’s just snapped back out of a daydream. “Yeah cool. Let’s talk and walk.”
Wind whipping against our faces, the four of us find our way out of the estate and then keep walking. After a while we follow some steps down to the canal – always only ten minutes away, this magic London gutter – and here Lacey walks ahead and over to the water’s edge. She flicks her cigarette into the water.
Horrified, Fizz opens her mouth to say something, but I shoot her a look and she shuts it quicktime.
This is a big deal for Fizz. In the resewn pocket of her green velvet coat – “the colour of a Scorpio spring,” I heard a handsome crusty say once – she carries a little white tin she brought home from this festival up a mountain in Bulgaria, in which she collects fag-ends and roaches like semi-precious stones. This is why she always smells like a walking ashtray – ’cause she sort of is one.
Lacey knows about Fizz’s little tin and she’s heard all about the delicate ecosystem of London’s canals, but right now she couldn’t care less. Jack’s being a cunt – confirming, in fact, every notion she’s ever had that he might actually, like all of them, be a cunt – and she doesn’t want to care but she does.
Side note: we all support everything Fizz has to say about the environment, and the polar bears, and the bees. We brought a Minirig to the XR marches and started little fringe-parties off the side of the main soundsystem – like real anarchists, I know. Despite the fact that, between us, we can barely look after a houseplant, we would love to save the planet (we love it, we do) but in these particular moments, where there are more important things at play – like love and pride and being respected, like being appreciated – well, the earth can drown.
Lacey turns around with glittering eyes. “Can we do some K?”
And if there’s anything Fizz loves more than the planet, it’s fucking ketamine.
We find a cute little pea-green houseboat that looks reasonably unoccupied and step down quietly onto the deck. It’s at this point – snuggled up with the girls on a stranger’s porch, Jack’s white Goose stuffed in between us like a duvet – that I realise it’s a beautiful day. The sky is a boundless blue, and the air feels as crisp as clean sheets.
Maya speaks first. “She was basic anyway.”
“She definitely had lip-fillers.”
“And she probably drinks gingerbread lattes.”
“A hundred percent.”
“She probably has those quote canvases around her room. The ones you get in TK Maxx.”
“She probably owns a Michael Kors bag –”
“– and thinks it’s designer!”
Maya’s getting into it. “She probably drives one of those pink KAs – the ones with eyelashes on the headlights.”
Lacey laughs properly this time.
“She looked like her highest aspiration in life is being able to afford Olaplex when she gets her hair bleached.”
“Nah Maya that’s actually rude.”
“And I bet she owns pink fluffy pillows.”
“Maya, I own pink fluffy pillows!”
We collapse into laughter and find each other’s hands in the cold. Fizz has forgotten about the K and is stroking Lacey’s hair.
Lace closes her eyes, but her hands feel warmer now.
I make a mental note to give Jack a slap next time I see him. This isn’t going to end well.