Keys, card, lipstick, compact, phone in the bag. Trainers because you want to dance all night. Waist cinching trousers because for the first time in over a year you want to feel like you have definitive lines, a shape that you can stamp into the world, a way to make your mark.

     The pub is packed. You open the door and the clamour of voices hits you along with the smells, perfume, aftershave, cigarette smoke. You see people leaning into each other, staring intensely into eyes, talking over each other in their urgency to interact. On a table to your left, a punchline is delivered and the ensuing roar of laughter makes you jump. On the flatscreen TV in the corner, the camera zooms in on the rippling hind muscles of a race horse being led to the track. You push your way through the drinkers to the bar. You forgot about bar rules; how you have to be hawk-eyed to see your spot in advance and then manoeuvre yourself into it, like Tetris. You watch the bar staff work in a trance-like way, moving, pouring, cupping hands over their ears to hear the orders.

    A pint of draught beer please.

     You keep your eyes on the tipped glass as it fills and when it arrives you have a moment with it. Just a few seconds watching it as the light falls through the liquid and the bubbles rise to the head and then you allow yourself one long sip and it slides down, aerated and earthy and perfectly cold. You turn to carry it towards the back door where a man stands clutching his phone to his ear.

     I know, he stresses, But you said you wouldn’t mind so why don’t you just give me a break for once?

The beer garden is eight large wooden tables under walls adorned with hanging baskets filled with pink and red geraniums. The sun bores down from the neat square of blue sky above, warming blood and melting ice. You watch a woman tilt her face up to the it, her eyes closing in the pleasure of the heat on her skin. You see a fist in the air from the back corner, yessssss you’re here! And an hour later you’re two in and you feel loosened up, as if someone has shaken you and all the tight bits have twanged loose and you realise you are smiling as you listen to words bounce across the table like ping pong, all these quick witty retorts. You are oiling up your conversational skills, practising how it feels to be with a group, to move with them suddenly into guffaws or laughter. And the next drink will be vodka please, with tonic and lots of lemon.

     You blow thick plumes of smoke from a vape into the hot air as a tray of shots is carried with concentration to your table. Has the music been turned louder? Either way the volume of the beer garden has increased and people are now shouting and screaming with laughter. You return from another trip to the bar to find your friends talking to the group on the next table, you shake hands and say hello to the three guys. Frank has heavy lidded eyes and a languorous smile - he tells you about the party they are having at their flat that night. You should come, all of you and you say why not and the next time you blow your smoke into the air, you notice that the sun has disappeared and sitting in its place is a crescent moon.

     The bell rings and arrangements are made, numbers swapped and as you walk up the steps you look back to see the last two people in the garden, a girl and a boy in stiff embrace, her head on his shoulder, his face set in a troubled expression as he stares at the brick wall. Outside the pub, cigarettes are lit and people mill about, singing, laughing, snogging. You squeeze into a taxi with your friends. A song comes on the radio, and you all know the words to sing along,

     Now that we’ve found love what are we gonna do, with it.

     And as you sing the car brakes suddenly because a man has stumbled on to the road, sticking his hands up to stop the cars as he crosses and receiving long aggravated beeps in return. The driver shakes his head in frustration.

     These stupid people.

     And then you see the line of people snaking around the corner. Just here please. The car stops and you rush to join the queue and as you move with it, closer to the entrance, you feel the vibrations of throbbing bass under your feet. You laugh at your friend’s whoops of excitement as you descend the stairs and push open the double doors.

     The space is low roofed, a black box, no frills or decoration. The music is all consuming. Like easing into cold water, it takes a minute for it to warm you up from the inside, and then it’s in your chest and in your head, powering you from the inside out. You dance in a circle at first, not talking, just looking at each other smiling and laughing at the one friend who is dancing in a comedy way just to make everyone laugh, and it’s working as you are relaxing into your movements and the music is good, so good, you don’t recognise any of it but it feels alive and unpredictable and you dance until hands pull you through the crowd to a raised platform to the right of the booth.

     This is base!

     Shouts your friend into your ear. Time passes, but there is no measure of it, just bodies moving in darkness, with brief flashes of light. You know you are sweating and you don’t care. At one point you hug your friend from behind, your bodies moving from side to side. In the toilets a girl looks at you with concern.

     Can I fix your lipstick?

     She is round faced and big eyed and chewing furiously and you relinquish all control of your face over to her. When she moves you in front of the mirror there you are looking back at yourself, hair dishevelled, cheeks flushed, lips perfectly painted fire engine red.

     Back at base your friends lean down to pull you up. A new DJ has come on, she has a wall of blond hair that hangs over her face and every so often she flicks her head up to look at the room and you see that she is grinning widely. The energy in the room has intensified and when the song drops into a high pitched synth line the whole crowd is whistling and whooping and clapping and there are the drums now, rolling up behind the piano, a wave, mounting tension, and when the beat crashes in, sweet sweet release, and there is noise coming from your mouth and your friends are making noise too and you turn to look at them, their eyes squeezed shut, fingers splayed to the ceiling and it is all a blur then, of fingers and mouths and lights and limbs pumping in the dark, and time passes but there is no measure of it, just hands tugging at yours because it’s time to go.

     On ground level it is the deepest hour of the night but not yet light. Petrol fumes fuse with wafts of weed, spare some change please? In the taxi you feel tiredness pulling at every limb. You roll down the window and watch the streets of London approach and fall away. Your head is still ringing from the music. You know you missed this in a physical way; laughter in your face, the smell of skin, the squeeze of an embrace. But you forgot how it feels to be part of a crowd all feeling the same rhythm in their chests. You forgot how it can make you feel small and big at the same time. Powerless and powerful. You forgot that more than anything, it feels like relief.

Here's some text about this photo.
Here's some text about this photo.

Annie Macmanus

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