This is the misadventure that my dad freaked out about. I thought he was being fucking ridiculous.1
The year was 1999. I was in London. I was so incredibly drunk, and I was trying to get home.
(I have no idea what I’d been doing that night, but we can assume that I’d been at a hotel to stalk some band or other with my best friend Maelie. We can also assume that I had been drinking vodka or Jack Daniels or some – ugh – pineapple Bacardi Breezers. Or maybe all of them, and probably some beer, and whatever else I was handed. My grandad always told me not to mix my drinks but I was fifteen and I didn’t really have much choice over what I could pilfer from my friends in order to keep myself mercifully inebriated.)
We had made it back to Fenchurch Street from Kilburn or Swiss Cottage or wherever we had been, and all we had to do was walk up some stairs and get on a train. Except, somehow, we had split up. I was by the phones downstairs, and I could hear Maelie calling me from… somewhere. I ignored her. I had to phone my grandad so he could meet me off the train. But – fuck! – I had no change for the phone.
Now, even though I was so incredibly drunk, I had made this journey so many times that I knew how long it would take to get to the platform and I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t have been trying to call home if I didn’t think I had enough time to do so. My only doubt is that my vision might not have been working well enough to read the clock properly.
I needed 10p. I saw a lady enter the station. I walked over to her, intending to politely ask if she could possibly spare ten pence please, so that I could phone home, because I’m clearly a child and I obviously should not be out this late at night, and perhaps put on my biggest, widest, most innocent-looking eyes, and then she’d give me some change for the phone. Judging by the way she recoiled, what actually happened was that I put on my biggest, widest, most innocent-looking eye – the only one I could open without me falling on the floor – and slurred ‘money pleeasssse for phone?’
I somehow got a coin and made it fit in the phone and I assume I called my grandad but I was having a slight walking blackout by now so this bit is missing. In fact, the whole rest of this scene is missing. I remember Maelie screaming my name but I don’t know where I was at this point. She’ll find me. I’m right here, floating…
Sadly for me, I was on the wrong train. I only know this because Maelie had got the correct train, met my grandad at Grays, and they’d searched the carriages for me. I was not there. My grandad walked Maelie home, went back to ours and waited for me to turn up again, because I always managed to turn up again somehow.
Usually, at Fenchurch Street, the first set of stairs took you to the two platforms for the Grays trains and the second set of stairs took you to the two platforms for the not-Grays trains. Either they were doing some kind of engineering works and moved things around for some reason, or I was so incredibly drunk that I missed the first set of stairs entirely and somehow crawl-staggered my way on to one of the not-Grays trains by mistake. I have no idea. I don’t even remember being on a train at all.
Suddenly I’m in a police car. The sirens are on and we appear to be driving really fast because we’re chasing a criminal. I have no fucking clue as to what the fuck is happening. The police officers seem nice.
Suddenly I’m at a police station. I have a black coffee in front of me. This police officer seems less nice. She is unamused by my shenanigans. Somehow I have given her my phone number and she’s calling my grandad. He answers. She introduces herself and says she’s calling from Shoeburyness police station (oh fuck) and then she says she has some girl I’ve never heard of with her.
I tell her my real name.
She is extremely unamused with me now.
My grandad doesn’t drive so he can’t collect me, the police are too busy to take me home right now but they might be able to later, and if all else fails then I can just get the first train home in the morning. She hangs up the phone, and makes me sit in the reception area where she can keep an eye on me.
I slowly start to sober up. Lots of drunk people keep coming in, shouting at the police for arresting their friends. The police shout back. Everyone shouts at each other. This is all quite funny.
A while later, a new group of people come in and start shouting at the police for arresting their friend when all their friend did was punch a bouncer in the face. A woman from the group comes and sits with me and asks what I’m doing there. I explain. She’s appalled. She tells me I can’t stay there all night; I should go with them and have a couple more drinks and then get the train in the morning.
Oh, alright then.
The police officer shouts at me but I’ve already gone.
So I end up in this strange house with some strange men and women, drinking apple juice and vodka (‘is’all we got, sorry’) and watching Children of the Corn. Everyone else goes to bed, leaving me and one of the men downstairs. He cuddles me. I fall asleep.
When I wake up again, Match of the Day is on the TV and one of my arms is stuck underneath the man. It kind of hurts, so I watch the football – which I can only see upside-down from where I am – and try to focus on West Ham (ugh) instead of the burning pins and needles that used to be my hand.
He eventually wakes up. We drink some coffee and steal other people’s cigarettes and then he offers to walk me to the train station. He’s really cute and nice so obviously, because I’m fifteen, I immediately start falling in love with him. I’m so happy. Everything is wonderful.
He walks me to the station. When we get there, he stops and turns to look at me. My heart is pounding. I hope my breath isn’t too bad. He says, ‘So… how old are you?’ and I’m slightly taken aback so I don’t think fast enough to lie and I tell him and then he says, ‘Oh. Well, I hope you get home safely. It was nice to meet you.’ and then he turns and walks away.
I am devastated.
I walk into the train station and my broken heart is temporarily forgotten once I realise that a) I’m in Shoeburyness, and the trains that go from here are not-Grays trains, and b) I have no money to get home. Shit. Perhaps I should have stayed at the police station after all. The only station I know well enough to be certain that there wouldn’t be any ticket barriers is Upminster, so I sneak on to a train and head back towards London.
When I get to Upminster, I manage to ask someone – in a polite way, without repulsing them – if they could spare me 10p to use a phone, and I call my grandad. He complains about having to come and meet me again, but agrees to do it anyway. I can hear him glaring down the phone at me.
I finally get on to a Grays train, where I spend the entire journey mourning my lost love. Why didn’t I just lie? Everything would have been absolutely fine, if only I had tricked the man who was blatantly in his mid-twenties into thinking I was not legally underage. He’d cuddled me and everything. I thought we’d be together forever.
When I arrive at Grays, my grandad is already waiting outside the station for me, glowering under his flat cap. He’s pretty mad.
He tuts at me and says, ‘What have I told you before about mixing your drinks?’
- The really bad thing hadn’t happened yet. At this point, I still believed I was invincible.