Photo reproduced without the kind permission of Steve A. J. Beijer
The building absorbs the force of yet another blast, and the light of the neon flickers back into life. My eyes fall open, as I list like a drunk, soaking up the aftershock. All around me I can see bodies, soft pale bodies, writhing in ecstasy all over the dirty dusty dance-floor. I can see friends, drawn together from across the decades, finding each other just for tonight, and losing it together once again.
For a derelict farm building, the Love Hotel makes one hell of a club. The dance-floor is small enough to fill, large enough to lose yourself on, and has nothing but night sky for a ceiling. Walled in by the hard-working bar and a host of bunker-like boudoirs, each furnished with faux antiquities and decorated with a better class of graffiti, it looks like everybody here is on their honeymoon.
Me, I’m bouncing round the dance-floor like a spaghetti pinball. Looking up, I can see the DJ dropping bombs from atop of his towering scaffold, musical hand grenades for us to jump on as soon as they hit the floor, sending limbs into the dirty air, slamming bodies against the bare concrete walls. I can see one of the ‘wasabi peas’ up there, bobbing around behind the turntables. There are five of them, at the last count, scattered around the grounds of this 16th Century Hertfordshire manor. They’re wearing green one-piece speed-skating outfits and scandalising passers-by with the unnatural contours of their drug-addled genitalia. Like the eighteen hundred other people who made it along for the weekend, they’re bringing their own little piece of Japan to the party.
We may be in costume, but this is no dress rehearsal. It’s Standon Calling, one of the smallest most perfectly formed festivals here or hereabouts. By which I mean on this planet, or any that happen to be nearby. Some take the view that it’s nothing more than a glorified birthday party, one that’s spiralled wilfully out of control ever since the young and impetuous Alexander Trenchard Esq. turned twenty one, seven long years ago.
I’m here to tell you that it’s very much under control, executed with the discipline and military precision you’d expect from somebody whose great grandfather founded a little flying outfit some of us know as the RAF. What would the late Viscount Trenchard think, were he here today? Surely he’d like our fighting spirit, we flying aces, who go up tiddly up up, and down diddly down, but never, ever say die.
He wouldn’t have been crazy about Marko. Not because Marko’s housed inside the flame-licked exterior of a Japanese fighter plane, with a Tesco carrier bag tied bandana-style around his head and a yellow kimono hanging from his comically elongated body. Not because Marko’s looking to go kamikaze on some poor unsuspecting Tokyo schoolgirl, with a wildness in his eyes promising dishonour before death. Just because, beneath all the bodywork and bravado, Marko’s French.
He’s just one of the stray dogs, the kind of gifted degenerate it’s good to swim with on days like these. We’ve been mooching around since midday, kicking our heels and catching up with one another, here to meet the people we’ve become. We’ve gotten our bearings, blown away the cobwebs, and charged our glasses with the choice of a thousand poisons.
Now we’re tearing up the script on the dance-floor, scribbling out our own impulsive little libretto, orchestrated in the moment. I can feel the music in my bones, this soundtrack to my life, a roadmap to the memories it recalls. Each song belongs to a time, a place, a person, some of whom are here to share it with me, one of whom has been here for as long as I have, even though I only got to know her ten happy years ago. Every time I look into her eyes I see a kaleidoscope of memories, stretching back over a decade. Deep brown eyes, smiling like rubies, full of light and colour stolen from the lollapalooza of life.
This post was supposed to be about Standon, but really its about her. In a way, they all are. She’s the energy and the inspiration, the muse to whatever artistry there is in me, and the colour on my palette. I’ve made my share of mistakes in this life, and I’m sure I’ll make plenty more, but whatever words I found ten years ago to convince her that I was worth being with, worth staying with, were the most important words I’ve ever spoken, or written down. It was the rightest thing I’ve ever done. It got me a room at the Love Hotel, and I’m never checking out.
Emma and I met ten years ago to the day, and have been married for exactly five. I’m not sure I’ll ever find the words to tell her – or you – what she means to me, but I’ll keep looking.