The Venue, New Cross, 1996
Every night starts with a fight and ends with a fight. Boys in aftershave that smells of cucumber and girls bathed in Impulse crane their necks to see who’s eyeballing them from afar as they flirt with those at hand. It’s one of those places where you prefer to buy your drinks in cash and forsake the offer of “a tab”, just in case. In 1996, the bands are always tribute bands, but some are better than the acts they’re copying. And there are local bands too, usually four sweaty boys and a token girl. On Saturday nights the faces of those who can’t wait to get inside, acne disguised in No. 7, are bathed in the bright lights of the chicken joints. Rumour has it there are no locks on the toilets so that heroin addicts won’t be able to jack up in between spitting and wandering around aimlessly. Most people in New Cross wander around aimlessly, while brightly coloured Goldsmiths students shuffle through the never-ending traffic of the Lewisham Way.
I steel myself to listen to one of the pub bands. They come from nowhere and they sound like black noise. When not Goth-rapping over a drum machine, the singer smokes a cigarette. He is dressed in black and brown and his long hair is tied up in a pony tail that splits its ends all over his shoulders.
It was at Goldsmiths that I ensnared myself with Giles McMillan. Totally without friends, he would frequent the Venue on his own and I was so pretentious and unloved that I thought we could form something of a nihilist pair. He thought so too. On our first night together he scraped all my hair from my face and said, “Well, you’ve got nice eyes.” He had a special chair in the club under which he would stash hummus and pitta bread just in case he got hungry. Everyone hated him. Being stuck in the Venue with a notorious South London hate figure was a lot of fun. People pretended to ignore us, but really they were mesmerised. We were the strangest pair around, and we knew it. People may not have wanted to be us, but they couldn’t help but be intimidated by us; we had that closeness that only two outsiders who have found each other can achieve.
We are waiting for the next band to come on when he tells me that he does not want a relationship. All that sticky shit is for other guys. I bury my face in make-up. Make-up is for break-ups. Nothing can make you feel sad when you have enough Boots No. 17 mascara in sapphire. Then I think, sod it, if we’re going to break up then I’m going to drop the axe first. I make my way to our favourite seat. His food is still there. I stuff it into my face and eat it in front of him. He begins to shake under his army camouflage T-shirt.
“I’ve eaten all your food,” I say, and he stares at me, boiling with rage.
Yeah, I ate all your food, Giles.