Subtone & Darren from Hollyoaks

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We all lost someone we loved in 2016. David Bowie, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Rick Parfitt, Carrie Fisher, the list was a tragic who’s who of popular culture.

2016 was the year of celebrity death.

But I want to draw people’s attention to a death that passed us by almost unnoticed. In fact, it was pretty much ignored by everyone I know. Mysteriously no one talked about it or even seemed to really care.

But I did. So today I want to pay tribute to one of the greatest. Rest in peace Subtone, Cheltenham’s greatest ever nightclub.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I found myself avoiding the queues and getting there stupidly early. I couldn’t tell you how many times I stumbled up the entrance steps before buying my first drink in that weird entrance bar that felt like someone’s front room.

I still don’t remember a single song they played downstairs, probably because no one ever recognised a single song the DJs played. I do remember ridiculous queues and being crushed against the walls whilst attempting to buy a drink on Gold Cup night.

I also loved that piano bar. Do you remember it? It was the drunken Gatsbyesque dream at the top of the stairs. “Play Hey Jude” I would demand and some poor pianist would be forced to play it repeatedly, as we sang and slurred along.

Subtone was always my final destination on a night out in Cheltenham and for that I will be forever grateful.

So how should I remember this magical place and what would be a fitting tribute?

The only answer has to be my favourite Subtone story. The Darren from Hollyoaks story.

 

Firstly, do you remember watching Hollyoaks? We all did it. Hollyoaks was like smoking: we tried it, we knew it wasn’t good for us but did it because everyone else was doing it.

Now I bet you also remember Darren from Hollyoaks. He was the cheeky son of Jack, the unlucky Scottish pub landlord who faked his own death, had a heart attack, went bankrupt and probably died eventually. You name it – it happened to Darren’s dad, Darren himself and Darren’s spiky blonde hair.

So what has this got to do with Subtone?

Well… It was my wife Sian’s 21st birthday. We all went out and celebrated, ending up, as we always did, at Subtone. The evening was past its peak and we were sat eating chilli in the café at the top of the club. You know the one, it was next to the piano bar. It had been a great night and we were all drunk. Subtone drunk.

My wife, or girlfriend as she was then, went off to use the only toilet on the top floor while we plunged our chips into our chilli and planned our journey home. When…

My wife sprinted back into the room and shouted to our party, as well as to anyone else who would listen, the words I will never forget…

“I just met a girl outside the toilets.”

“So” we answered.

“She just told me that I shouldn’t use the toilet on this floor because Darren from Hollyoaks is taking a shit.”

“Say that last bit again!”

“Darren from Hollyoaks is in that toilet over there taking a shit, right now!”

We all ran to the toilet. It was instinctive and exciting. No one stayed behind at our table. We all left our polystyrene takeaway trays, left behind all of our valuables and ran to that toilet door armed with our digital camera.

We waited outside for what seemed like hours and listened eagerly to the sounds coming from within and speculated. Was it him? What would we say to him? What was he doing in Cheltenham? What was he doing in the toilet? Was he really taking a shit in a nightclub?

Then we heard something flush. It was soon followed by the rush of a running tap.

Finally the door opened. The first thing we saw was a rush of spiky blonde hair attached to a familiar face. He opened the toilet door fully to seven open-mouthed people staring at him. Once of us pointed her digital camera at him all we could do was shout out….

“Darren from Hollyoaks!!!!”

He looked scared. Especially when he noticed one of our party smelling the cubicle. Someone else tried to hug him and all Darren from Hollyoaks could do was search desperately for his entourage.

“Darren from Hollyoaks can we have a picture with you?” Someone asked.

It was a simple request. He must have heard it all of the time. Then more of us asked him.

“Yes Darren from Hollyoaks can we have a picture with you.”

He looked at us like a vulnerable animal and then opened his mouth…

“No.” Was his quick reply and he practically launched himself downstairs and safely away from us.

“But it’s Sian’s birthday” I said. “Darren from Hollyoaks, where are you going?” we shouted.

But Darren from Hollyoaks was long gone. He was lost into the Cheltenham night.

Subtone stumbled on for a further seven years and according to Wikipedia Darren from Hollyoaks is still in Hollyoaks.

From time to time I will catch his face and listen to him speak on our 32 inch screen and remember his desperate sprint away from us.

RIP Subtone

Backwards

I almost convinced myself that you hadn’t died.
Instead you thawed
and your cold fur warmed
in front of a stranger’s eyes.
 
You raised a paw. Then a second. Third. Fourth.
You closed your glass eyes and blinked twice
stirring beside a waking bird.
You forced your feet to work,
your heart started its beat
the blood retreated into your ear,
your mouth closed and you spun up
onto that bumper
that flipped
you onto your feet.
Where you stood curious on the pavement
Before creeping backwards through the bushes
onto our drive and to our door.
You moonwalked through the flap,
climbing the stairs behind you to your spot
on the bed where I last saw you
and outside it was the darkest black.
splat-first-day

The Sins of the Father

dylanThe first thing I did when I became a father
was to hug and kiss my son.
Sometimes I didn’t let go.
I made a point of telling him each day
how I loved him
and when he cried
I held his chest
to my chest.
Some nights we’d stay awake
when he could not sleep,
I would warm his tiny hands in mine.
And those nights when i daydreamed
of sleep, I would cradle him
and tell him again how i loved him.
Because my father never did.

Confession

You had stopped sending texts
Your silence revealed we were in a mess
and neither of us could acknowledge
what might happen next.
 
You stared so hard at that calendar
doing the Maths and waiting,
waking each morning before checking
and then crying.
 
When we ran out of excuses you went.
Alone.
 
I think I saw you once after that.

Pureheart

The Boys

Scared. Daddy I’m scared

you whisper, edging nearer to me,

too young to care how it might look.

You plug your hands into my ribs

and I hear the words tumble from your lips

onto my shirt like tears.                You dig in,

unaware of how your head hurts my chest.

 

It starts again… and you try so hard to watch

last seconds before you flinch,

watch, flinch again and freeze

Scared. Scared.

I turn your head away as you return to me

Feeling each of your tiny breaths

in a cuddle I could never leave, your chest against my chest.

The Cheltenham Races

In honour of this week’s Cheltenham races I thought I would share an extract from my book, Parhelion, where the narrator spends the day at the races.

The experience changes him for ever as he discovers the uncomfortable truth about his new friend Hugo.

 

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Eight

The Cheltenham races were green and feverous with greed. They were vulgar and pleasurable; a page-spread for the effects of money on each type of man. The faces of the crowd were a blend of life’s uglier emotions: greed, envy, pity, shame, loss. Morals came second to the allure of winning, the thrill of the bet, the shrieking howls of desperation and more greed. Problems could be solved with a flutter or doubled in a second. It was a collage of throbbing veins, flushed cheeks blushing, the escape of dreaming eyes, hands trembling, fingers arthritic with hope. Greed wore a suit or a frock and stumbled from race to race. Greed travelled in packs of notes that sprouted from the hands of sovereign-ringed chancers. We were all clinging to the blur of possibility, always two bets ahead in our dreams, collecting the winnings that would fall into the hands of the bank manager, the mortgage man, the private school bursar, the golf club treasurer, the showroom salesman, the fawning barman, but never the fingertips of sense.

I felt discomfort and anxiety for the whole time I was in our enclosure because something was telling me to look out beyond the course. I had gone from being a general studying the mock-up of a battle, safe in his palace, to standing on the edge of the hill and looking down at the formations of real breathing men.

But no one can see it all. You only see what comes at you: the charge of horses, the rapture of expectation and the horror of loss. Cheltenham was a symbol. A mass of mankind so close to the mountains and the church but seduced by the devil and revelling in its failed moralities.

The experience was pushing me closer to God and I felt uneasy. I stared at the hills and at the church, seemingly more aware of their presence than anyone around me. Possibly more in need of them then I had ever thought.

There was a sensation in my chest that would not cease. It troubled me throughout the day, starting at the races and staying with me throughout. It was not a pain but felt as if fear was being injected into the centre of my body.

At least twenty times that day, or maybe more, I started to leave but could not get further than my thoughts.

I did not care for the races, the people or the horses. I wasn’t really sure why I went, except for that I had never been and knew I would not go again quite in the same way I had arrived.

 

 

 

Notorious B.I.G. (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997)

big

 

 

2o years ago last Thursday.

I still remember the first time I heard you growl on the radio. It was Westwood, only ever Westwood, on Capital Radio’s hip hop show and I was fifteen years old growing up in Sutton.

When he introduced you I remember the crackle on my shit FM radio. Even the white noise was in awe.

What followed was incredible. It was as deep as it was raw. The flow, the delivery and charisma that I still don’t believe has been matched in hip hop since.

Still one of my heroes

RIP Biggie Smalls

(May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997)

1 – The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

gatsby-covergatsby-leo

Dear ______________

The problem with lists is that you can’t please everyone. I could say that something is the greatest thing since sliced bread and someone else will be allergic to wheat. Lists are like that. They are as divisive as they are unifying.

I remember when I was a kid listening to Capital Radio’s annual countdown of the top 1000 songs of all time. They would play hours of classic songs every day over Christmas, leading up to the New Year. I still remember the anticipation of waiting to see what would be number 1 that year. Would it be `Bohemian Rhapsody`? Or `Imagine`. Perhaps even `Stairway to Heaven`?

But there was one year when the listeners, or staff at Capital Radio went off piste. They chose something else, something quite horribly vile. I think they chose… `Angels` by Robbie Williams. That was the moment when I stopped believing in the magic of other people’s lists.

Doing this for World Book Day has been cathartic. I feel like it’s ok to think again about my ex-books. For inspiration I revisited all of the books on my bookshelf at home, plus the  ones in my cupboard at school. I even walked laps of the school library reminiscing about those books that I had once loved, whilst fluttering my eyelashes at some new ones that caught my eye.

`The Great Gatsby` is one of the loves of my life. It inspired me to write my own book and for that I will be forever grateful.

I still remember the moment in `The Great Gatsby` when I realised it was different from the rest. Up until that point it can only be compared to the early days of a relationship. I was nervous and unsure whether it was lust or the real thing? I was young and often easily pleased.

Then I read these words:

“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

That was the first paragraph of Chapter 3 and it was the moment when I knew.

Sometimes I don’t tell you enough but I love you The Great Gatsby. I love you lots and lots. I’m sorry if I take you for granted. Thank you for inspiring me to be a writer.

Mwah.

SWALK

AB  xx

2 – The Norton Anthology of English Literature

the-norton-anthology-of-english-literature-single-volume-8th-edition-a3fa0083e4697d9124d88981735a7a7d

Do you remember university? Four hours of lectures every week, Tesco Value bread for that cheese on toast, the over-priced shop on campus, the town pubs you wouldn’t go near, Fresher’s Week, Wednesday was Cheese Night, the SU Bar, halls of residence, your dissertation…

Do you remember the Norton Anthology?

If you do –  then you must have done an English degree.

The Norton Anthology is one of the best kept secrets in Literature. Since its first edition in 1962 it has been the staple of English students around the world.

You should have done an English degree. We had reading time instead of lectures. Some of us even had whole weeks devoted to turning the odd page from time to time and looking intellectual. I won’t lie to you, I couldn’t count the amount of classic books I read back then. If I’m being really honest 1999-2001 was a bit of a blur, hence my 2:2.

If you haven’t heard of The Norton Anthology let me tell a few details. Firstly, it was a real brick of a book, but filled with these incredibly thin tracing-paper pages. It was also 20,000 pages long stuffed with prose, poetry and biographies of all of the greats of English Literature.

In 1998 it cost me a whopping £30 to buy. To put that into perspective that was the equivalent of about fifteen pints of snakebite and blacks in the Student Union bar.

I still remember the sound of my heart breaking as I parted with the cash in the Waterstones that dominated the centre of our campus.

And where is my copy of the Norton Anthology now, almost twenty years after leaving university?  I can tell you. I’m looking at it right now. It’s on my bookshelf in my front room, where else? It’s a multi-functional gem: collecting dust and making me look clever at the same time? I get it out from time to time but only to ask people, “Do you remember the Norton Anthology?”