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Low life

Head case

Jeremy Clarke reports on his Low Life

9 December 2009

12:00 AM

9 December 2009

12:00 AM

I finally found Trev playing darts in the Volunteer. Usually you can tell which pub Trev’s in because you can hear him whooping and roaring, or even crowing like a cockerel, from halfway down the high street. But tonight he was planting his arrows calmly, modestly and considerately, without all the usual alarums and excursions. I hadn’t seen him for several months and I wondered whether, at 48 years old, he was finally beginning to feel his age.

I bought a pint and took it over to the dartboard. Trev saw me coming and bowed low, as though I were a visiting dignitary. With his face to the floor he pointed a forefinger at the top of his head. ‘See that!’ he said. Through thinning short hair I could make out a scab the size and shape of a 10-pence piece. ‘Go on,’ I said. ‘What happened?’

His story, interrupted by turns at the dartboard, went like this. Last weekend, around closing time at the Nelson, he’d made a rude comment about another customer’s dancing style. The customer was a six-foot-six 19-year-old rugby player. (Trev rolled his eyes — a comic parody of eye-rolling — at this costly error of judgment.) Taking offence, this chap had supposedly picked Trev up and flung him backwards against a stone partition wall, knocking him unconscious. And as Trev lay unconscious against the wall, this chap had allegedly taken a run-up and toe-punted him in the side of the head.

When he came to, police and an ambulance were in attendance. The rugby player was arrested and Trev was carried to hospital to have his head examined. After several hours in casualty, he was discharged and went on to a party, bandaged and bloody, where he carried on enjoying himself.

But when he sobered up the next day and considered the known facts, he was unable, on several counts, to dismiss lightly this unexceptional outcome to his Saturday night. One, it was the first time in his life that he had been knocked out in a fight — ‘And, Jerry, I must have had hundreds of fights. Hundreds!’ Two, kicking a man in the head when he’s down and unconscious outrageously contravened his old-school code of honour and would have to be avenged, tenfold, which was tiresome. And, three, he felt very peculiar, as though the blow had somehow fundamentally altered his consciousness. The feeling of strangeness had intensified over the next few days and culminated in a sequence of panic attacks — which again was something entirely new to him.

He didn’t know which way to turn, he said, he was so sick with worry about possible brain damage. Then Trev enfolded me in his arms and warmly and spontaneously embraced me. In all the time I’ve known him I’ve never known him do this. He kissed me on the ear and said, ‘But it’s lovely to see you, bud,’ and then he kissed my ear again. ‘I see what you mean, Trev,’ I said, as I pulled myself clear.

In the pub, Trev is normally the irrepressible centre of attention. While you are talking to him, up-and-coming young hoodlums bowl up to pay homage to the King. Sexy women appear, kiss him on the mouth, then disappear again. He’s here, there and everywhere with a friendly word for everyone, young or old: shaking hands, exchanging greetings, accepting drinks and cigarettes and holding brief, confidential conferences with his top young lieutenants. But tonight he was quiet and reflective. And more ominously, he was clinging to his old friend Jerry as though I was the only true friend he’d ever had. I was shocked. Was this an abdication crisis?

After the pub we went to a Brazilian disco where everybody was dancing like maniacs and laughing as they danced. We downed a row of shots at the bar, then joined the frenetic mêlée. Trev, who normally dances slowly and stiffly like a Frankenstein on Largactyl, danced with an almost effeminate fluidity.

After that we went to a house party and stood around a kitchen table and drank red wine with four hairdressers, all of whom were blonde and stiffly coiffed and although affable enough they seemed to be at one remove from reality. Trev singled out the best-looking one and talked to her with unusual seriousness for about an hour, then snogged her with unusual seriousness for about another hour. And then he came over to my side of the table and lovingly embraced me and kissed my neck and told me again how lovely it was to see me.

Call me a bloody idiot, but only now did the truth of the matter finally dawn on me. ‘Decent ecstasy, then, is it, Trev, for a change?’ I said. At least he had the grace to look bashful.

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