20th birthday: harbour

by Luke Otley

September 10th. We were at it again. I hadn’t paid any attention to mother’s critique – “all you do is sit in front of your computer and drink beer”. Somehow I don’t think she accepted our excuses. “20th birthday” we grumbled, sullenly, as we cracked bottles. There had already been too many excuses. A real ‘boy who cried wolf’ kind of deal. Elliot and I had spent most of the summer drinking heavily and blasting balls into the ether down at the driving range. It was a glorious summer.

I forget what we were on that particular night. When you perform the same actions so repetitively, and so religiously, it all seems to blur into one magnificent, liquor fuelled dream. Luckily, with the educational system in this country a borderline laughing stock, we had literally months of vacation and nothing better to do other than throw up some zees and knock back some ice cold brews.

September 10th; Carter’s birthday. He also goes by the pseudonym ‘Crab’, and a more fitting alias has never betook a man. Pale, with shifty eyes, dark hair and peach fuzz, he often scuttles around clubs somehow seducing the most dignified of women. He’s a real walking talking caricature of a man. We were due to meet him down-town, in the stinking dump that is J.D.Wetherspoons. An hour later than the agreed meeting time, we were still sitting at my kitchen table, surrounded by an ever-increasing amount of empty bottles. My mother came into the room in her dressing gown, seemingly depressed. “Don’t be late tonight boys” she sighed. She spoke in the tone of voice that could only be produced by someone who had been constantly let down over a period of years. I don’t remember our response, but I’m sure by that point it was sloppy and slurred. Perhaps the disappointment on the face of the woman who had granted me life was so great that we felt compelled to vacate the area. Taking two for the road (we’re not saints, after all), we headed into the mild night with high spirits.

Wetherspoons was surprisingly empty for a Saturday night. Other than clusters of middle-aged rugby fans and their droll female counter-parts, we were the only group in there. Crab was suitably hammered. Catching sight of us, his face exploded with the joy akin to a newborn taking that first long slug of milk from his mother’s teat. The crowd was mixed. Some worthy mentions include Jack, Crab’s cousin; a goliath of a man, 23 years of age, 6ft 3”, cuddly and as cute as a bear, and Bowls; a square-jawed debater, quick-witted, with a pretty-boy’s face. Shots of some clear liquid were passed round, and before we knew it we had integrated into the group with the social ease that comes with copious amount of alcohol.

After bar hopping for a while, dropping sheet after sheet of legal tender, we arrived at the repulsive Waterman’s. Sat outside on a thick wooden bench, I carried an automatic camera that possessed a blinding flash which I proceeded to blast into everyone and anyone’s face for no apparent reason. Things had rapidly deteriorated from casual, publicly acceptable madness into full-blown insanity. Elliot and I left, arms flapping, screaming like banshees and howling at the moon like a pair of damn coyotes. We suspected it was the end of the evening for us. What was left of the birthday group had, with some masochistic relish, succumbed to the god awful Club International; which I don’t have time to properly slander at present.

Staggering up the street like – no, sorry – as a pair of stinking drunk bums, we stopped to urinate on some public property or other. Before I knew what was happening we were hollering and yelling around some private cul-de-sac; modern up-market flats, presumably designed as second homes for rich out-of-county-ers, immaculately clean, innocently undisturbed. After swinging from various railings and trying front door handles, juvenile grins on our stupid faces, we discovered a run-off into the harbour. It was about 2am. The temperature outside couldn’t have been more than a couple of degrees. The night-sky was clear. We crooned at the stars filled with liquor-induced romantic notions, vague grandiose ideals about what it meant to be alive and at one nature. Elliot began to take of his shoes and socks. “We’ll just go up to our ankles” he earnestly vowed. The water felt colder than ice. It was a slap round the face and a kick up the arse. We’d been caught in a thrill. We simply couldn’t stop there. We both stripped off to our boxers and climbed into what may well have been our final resting place.

I find it hard to regurgitate the emotions I felt swimming around in that sub-zero sewage run-off at half-two in the morning. Soon we became accustomed to the cold, and although our bodies turned blue in protest, I began to love every moment. We each began screaming “I’ve never felt so alive!” and other such sayings that; when plucked out of the context, shrivel under the mocking gaze of sobriety, reality, cynicism.

We walked home shoeless as if in a fevered dream; ignoring the shards of broken glass and pools of stinking vomit that we marched through, possessing the fearlessness and assuredness of martyrs.