The other week, however, the place explodes. There’s punch ups everywhere as the country’s titled elite and public schoolboys take on the invading punks, anarchists and ne’er-do-wells in a battle for dominance. Oh, and there’s the rowing regatta as well.
It was into this mix that you throw the local kids. Entrepreneurs to a man, we either got jobs as lowly paid yet hugely tipped waiters to the upper classes getting mind-numbingly drunk on Pimm’s in the Members’ Enclosure,;or charging visiting idiots extortionate rates to park their Range Rovers in the car park of our cadet unit’s drill hall. Every bugger in the town realised there was cash to be made from the Regatta. And having relieved the high-spending visitors of their wedge, this particular bunch of precocius sixteen and seventeen year olds had to spend it somehow.
We took our riches to the off licence.
And got drunk. Very, very drunk. As you do.
Students of the art of teenage boozing will know only too well what will happen next: drunken arsing about.
We went arsing about. In a drunken manner.
As far as I remember, it all started off reasonably well. The usual “I bet you couldn’t jump on that there boat, run round the deck and jump off before the owners twig what’s going on” dare, followed by a certain amount of leering at drunken young ladies, culminating in our ejection from the Wimpy Bar after ordering “A sachet of tomato ketchup and six straws” for only the third time that week.
Drunk and hungry, we ended up on Henley Bridge, scene of some of the more impressive Toffs vs Punx fighting that year. As usual, the Old Bill had won, but the anarchists gave a good account of themselves and the toffs fled for the hills before they even got to try out their masonic handshakes. With cheap larger still coursing through our veins, the drunken arsing about had not yet finished for the evening.
“Y’know,” said Hackett, “You don’t see many people swimming off the bridge these days.”
“That’s true,” said Shed, ever the voice of reason, “that’s cos it’s too blummin’ dangerous.”
“It’s never dangerous,” said Hackett, “It’s well deep out in the middle. I swum out there only a couple of years ago.”
We remembered. We also remembered Hackett almost getting run down by a motor launch and getting fished out by the police.
“I’ll show you how dangerous it is,” he said, climbing up onto the bridge parapet.
It’s amazing how moments like that sober you up. One minute you’re hardly able to walk in a straight line whilst simultaneously looking down the dresses of passing toff-ettes, and next, you’re trying to stop a ragingly intoxicated mate from diving off a thirty foot bridge onto the deck of a passing pleasure craft.
Five of us grabbed Hackett by the ankles, but he jumped anyway. As the boogying hoardes passed beneath us on the “Pink Champagne”, we held an inverted Hackett over their heads as spare change rained down on them.
“You fuckers!” he screamed, oblivious to the fate we had saved him from - if it wasn’t instant death, it was a cold buffet and Huey Lewis and the News, “I want a swim!”
Now, here’s the rub. Have you ever tried to drag a dead weight back over a wall? Even with the five of us rapidly sobering up, it seemed nigh on impossible. We pulled and we pulled and nothing seemed to be happening except the swearing getting louder.
A crowd began to gather. Not to help, mind you, just to watch the high comedy of a group of dickie-bowed drunks trying to help a sixth pissant back over the parapet. Something had to give.
Hackett’s boot came off in my hand. Jez and I stared at it as his free leg now flailed wildly in the air. We had to do something and quick, or the day would be lost. So we threw his boot in the river and called Hackett a cunt. That certainly did the trick. Enraged at the loss of his boot, he suddenly became cooperative and about ten stone lighter. In no time he was back on terra-almost-firma hopping around and cursing Jez, me and the world in general for losing his boot. There’s gratitude for you. Some of the crowd were applauding the free show, but however affluent they were, no offers of free footwear were forthcoming.
We were drunk, it was late, and at least one of our number was rambling around in circles mumbling to himself and wondering why he had nothing in his pockets. Common sense dictated that this would be a good time to cut our losses and go home.
So that’s why Hackett went downstream shouting at passing boats to look for the Great Lost Boot, which had sunk like a stone, never to be seen again; while the rest of us went to the funfair and got even more outrageously drunk, bowking rich brown vomit well into the night from the top of the Waltzer.
I’m not proud enough to say that I spent most of the following day bowking up even more rich brown vomit while my mother repeatedly told me “That’ll teach you to go out drinking.”
Blummin’ Henry, they actually have classes on getting drunk? Where do I sign up?
Thank you to Diamond Geezer for reminding me that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Orwell, author of 1984, Animal Farm and Down and Out in London and Paris.
By way of a tribute to his most famous work, I bring you THIS.
First class ticket to Hell, please.