This is part of a microadventure series during lockdown that you can find here. I apologise for the dire lack of speed to finish the series. Lockdown has taken its toll on desiring to spend free-time on a screen blogging! Like many of these posts, I’ve strayed far away from mere physical adventures. This one takes us on a journey of political imagination, in a very un-political way. What on earth did the government mean when they suggested socially distant nightclubs opening in August? Perhaps we should find out…
Lockdown ended! Or so it felt. What is a return to normality? Well, the first night out of course. The good aul’ rhythms of pre-lash and getting ready were underway. Music pumping. Nails done. Mascara on. G&T half-drunk on the table beside me. It had been so long since the last night out that I’d nearly forgotten the usual way to get ready – was this it?
The motivation was both there and not there at the same time. There because….
And not there, because I was fairly paralysed by the very thought of meeting other humans in any quantity whatsoever. Could I cope after so long being away from humanity?
But gulping down the rest of my G&T (did I used to drink this during pre-lash or was this my many nights of isolation dictating my rhythms?!), I pushed that thought to the back of my mind and continued to instead be shaped by the rhythms of the music blaring out from Alexa across the room, where my poor housemate was trying to watch another Netflix show. I could think of nothing worse after the last few months.
“I can’t believe you’re going out. Like, do you realise that everywhere will be social distancing?” she called out to me as I headed towards the door, feeling the pulsating of my phone in my dress pocket as my taxi pulled up outside.
Yes, yes I did. But with the alternative another night in, doing the same things I’d done every night before, the allure of being free sounded too good to be true. I mean, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the Netflix shows I watched, the friends I chatted to, or the meals I’d cooked. The walks along the coast and the sunsets I’d seen. In fact, if it were not forced upon me, I would quite happily be doing exactly those things time and time again for months on end, by choice. But the very hand on my shoulder, controlling my movements, constraining my choice was enough to feel like this oppressive figure looming over me had to be shaken off. And tonight was the night.
Getting into the quiet taxi, no other voices greeted me. And with no-one else there to laugh our way into town and build up the vibes to a great night, already had it feeling quite flat. But a call to one of the girls doing similar was enough to end that – we’d all be there soon. The Savoy was open again – our favourite spot.
Dropped off around the corner, I was very glad to have got tickets in advance – the queue was right the way around the block, though admittedly that was just because of the social distancing. Though something about the suspense of a cold wait, after so long away, actually seemed appealing right now too. Passing the hordes of nervous revelers, I caught sight of Lizzie beaming like a kid at Christmas. 3 months had been too long. Wanting to pick her up and squeeze her so tightly for as long as I could, I looked around to see who was watching. Everyone.
And so we headed to the top of the queue and flashed our tickets at the bouncer, who stopped us long enough to give us the instructions for the evening:
“Social distancing in place ladies. 2 metres apart at all times from anyone you don’t live with. Bar is closed, but they’ll come round taking drinks orders and taking contactless payments through the night – all you need to do is signal. Toilets are one-in, one-out and maximum of 5 people in there at any time. Enjoy your night girls! Welcome back.”
What we entered was surreal. This wasn’t our buzzing Savoy. It was 12.30, and the eerie, early hours where clubs normally lie as empty echo chambers while party-goers swarm towards town and then suddenly appear en-masse, were well past. Why was the dance floor still so empty, yet the queues so long? Small clumps of people in 2s and 3s danced in circles, dotted about the floor. We weren’t convinced.
Heading straight for the toilets, we caught them before the usual stench of sweat, urine and vomit had taken over. I pretended to do my make-up, waiting for Lizzie to be allowed in as the fifth one in there. Finally! We embraced for the first time. 3 flipping months! Ridiculous. The door swung open again, fresh air coming in with the next girl to enter. A glare from the security guard on the door said it all – she knew and she was watching. I took Lizzie’s hand and we went towards the disabled toilet, locking it behind us.
Relief. Finally we could express ourselves.
Being so tactile a person, the last few months had been a hell-ish existence, unable to simply feel the touch of friends and family. No hugs. No affirming touches. No crying on each other’s shoulders. Telling my nephew off for clinging to my leg. If this is what dis-embodied existence was like, I sure hope those religious folks who go on about life on the clouds forever know what they’re getting themselves in for.
Her arms were already round me, embracing me tightly and holding me in a firm embrace that I hadn’t experienced in so long. Secure.
We stayed like that for minutes, until the tears welled in my eyes, rolling down my cheek, smudging my mascara on the way as I tried to wipe my eyes without undoing all my handiwork earlier that evening.
“I’ve missed you” she whispered into my ear.
Silence. Beautiful silence. Time rolled on.
“Come’on, let’s dance.”
Squeezing me one more time so hard it nearly winded me, she reached for the door lock, and turned it, nervously glancing out. There was just one other girl at the sinks who thankfully didn’t seem to blink at the sight of two girls coming out of the same cubicle. Wanting to compose ourselves, we joined her at the sinks, one either side of her while we attempted to clear the lines from our cheeks.
Never had a hug felt so illicit.
Our irrational blushes hidden as we left the light-filled facilities, trying to avoid the gaze of security on the toilet door as we headed onto the dance floor, and sought to teach ourselves how to act in this weird new world. There weren’t many more people there than when we first came in – perhaps a third of the dancefloor was filled? Many stood round the edges swaying and gently jiving while cradling a drink in one hand and attempting to make the surveying of the situation, as non-meercat-like as possible.
Only the centre of the dancefloor, normally not visible at all from where we had positioned ourselves, had what could nearly constitute a mass of people. But they still moved in small groups, and a careful observer would still denote that any mingling shortly resolved back into the same groups they first started in.
Others clearly couldn’t care. Their’s was freedom, and they were to enjoy themselves like any other night out before. Moving from one group to another, they got quickly shut out from some circles, scowling at them, while others embraced their courage with a space in their dance circle. But while publicly under scrutiny, were not to allow the next advance of the courageous individual. One thing to dance. Quite another to share more intimate space. Not tonight.
The man with a ridiculous flourescent pool-noodle-hat on, interrupted our survey, and was not missing out on the fact the bar was not open for us to visit. Flashing around the dancefloor we’d already seen him and his colleagues smoothly glide between the dancers, working the room to try and cover their wages that were normally covered in the first hour of the night, as dancers usually crowded the bar. A final year law student, a few drinks in, took his chance, and the flourescent hat was gone, flying like a plane across the dancefloor to the cheers of those watching, pretending to dance. Irritated and out of usual habitat, the barman continued taking our order.
“Sorry, what did you say, I was distracted? They took erm….my uniform.”
And soon he was back, drinks in hand, and contactless card machine at the ready. That tap must have been the first voluntary payment from my account in months. Asides from Netflix of course, but that doesn’t count.
The DJ was part of this new social experiment too, of course, and seemed to be desperately trying to sense the mood of the room, slightly perturbed by the number of eyes that joined his, in scanning the space, examining the species present. Classic hit after classic hit rained out, trying to gather momentum and ease some of the fringe into disobeying the rules in the centre – because that’s what had to happen surely? The pack resisted. For now anyway. But all we reckoned it would take, would be a few drinks.
A few drinks later, we weren’t so sure. A few weeks maybe?
The beats continued. The night rolled on. Everyone there seemed to be waiting for when the support act would stop playing and the night would start. Only it never did develop.
“Where’s your housemate?” Lizzie yelled in my ear, across the thumping tunes.
“At home – didn’t want to come – said it’d be crap because of all this.”
“I know. Can’t believe it. What’s she gonna do – stay in there all year?“
She rolled her eyes and focused back on the beat.
'Dancing at the disco, bumper to bumper -
wait a minute, where's me jumper? Where's me jumper?'
Perhaps it's ok to say things will get better'
Regardless whether you’re a clubber, or not, I try and relay some advantages of socially distant clubbing. And if you can’t feel them, at least agree with me and the Sultans of Ping, that at the very least with these regulations, you’ll go home clothed and your mother will not be so, so angry. Nor your brother. Or girlfriend. Or dog for that matter.