On the way to the Paradise Club

We’d called into Control at midnight and had been given the location for that night’s manifestation of the Paradise Club – a Second World War airbase in rural Essex. Since then it seemed, how long? Two hours, five? The first few roadblocks had pushed us into Hertfordshire and sectioned the convoy up into smaller and smaller segments. The last roadblock had pushed us into a cornfield where we’d spent a bad thirty seconds slewing and careering through acres of breakfast cereal until we hit a minor road that nobody could find on any of the maps we’d brought along. We were alone. I was sitting in the passenger seat beside Gavin – who was driving. I couldn’t recall the last time we’d passed an intersection, or seen another car. From time to time I attempted to find the point at which we’d left the A road but the road atlas was a mess of veinous spaghetti, and it was lying, and further more my attention kept slipping over to the petrol gauge, which was empty. It had been on empty for some time.

Image by Chris Page

How much longer? I wondered. Gavin consulted the rev counter. Twelve, he said. Twelve what? Light years. Light years? To the nearest inhabited planet. This was sobering news. I changed the tape in the quad. A dark question asked itself: what would we find when we arrived? A happy face, a funkin’ bass, a happy race? When I closed my eyes I could sometimes receive flashes of the answer – the warm oozing crowd, the dissolution and escape it offered, the fire dancers and the brilliant birds. The only way is UP!

But was this all? Was there something I wasn’t taking into account?

There was a strange mood in the car. Everyone was sitting in a heavy silence, broken only by the music, the clatter of level crossings, and the soft crump of rabbits hitting the radiator grille. Perhaps the President’s announcement of the death of history has affected us more than we realised. Perhaps it was because we were alone.

On impulse I eased myself out from under Tikki’s slender bottom and levered myself – oof! How many people were in this car? – into the backseat beside Ricky. If anyone could give me a clue it was Ricky. He was our in-group’s token outgroup, and eager debater, a liberal consumer of Irish stout, solitary reader in Sunday afternoon public bars, unregenerated Socialist, sceptical of all things we held dear. I woke him up and offered him a cigarette, which he refused. Ricky, I asked, where do you think we’re going? He rubbed his pudgy eyes under his NHS glasses. Round in circles, he replied. Now this was an unusually uncommunicative utterance from Ricky, but I’d know him for so long, that I could easily elaborate on anything he said, or even invent it from nothing.

I pulled some foam out of the bullet hole in the offside of the backseat. Ricky doesn’t trust us because he senses we have no direction, and are therefore unlikely to arrive anywhere anyway. We point out the tie-in with Green politics, we show him our planet consciousness, our many fine T-shirts with their slogans such as: Save the Rainforests! Ban the Use of CFCs in Fridges! Green is Good! He is unimpressed. We point out to him that direction implies a narrowing, and we tell him of the beautiful thing that happens when consciousnesses expand spherically and meet. He snorts, and later in the evening refers to us as ‘trippers’, which we take to mean hippies who have tuned in, turned on and sold out. At other times he has called us Beats in the fast lane of the M25, living on the edge of a six-inch drop into a pole-vault mattress. We find these comments wounding. It is true our movement began in the suburbs, is based on private transport, and that a tab of E costs eighteen quid, but nevertheless, we do, it seems, represent a threat to the Stockbroker Belt (flame-haired Junior Environment Minister Virginia Bottomley even referred to us as ‘terrorists’, while Brian Hayes, Chief Constable of Surrey, has called for our organisers to be imprisoned). Ricky is unconvinced; it is his contention that Southern England is simply one of the West’s most intolerant societies, and the battle of the Wiltshire bean-field is not, perhaps, far from his thoughts. Howard passes me a joint over the sleeping form of Consuela; I take a token toke and pass it on to Lucinda Gomez y Theotocopolous, who is swabbing her arm with whiskey.

We do not take Ricky seriously of course. Now that History is finally over (and now that Society never existed at all) Ricky understands that the Story is over too. Goodbye to the Story! Ricky stands on the misty morning platform and waves his mottled handkerchief as it pulls away; some of those of us who notice wave too, but it leaves us with more space to dance. In any case, there was nothing that any of us could have done, was there?

Gavin has fallen asleep at the wheel. My hand is slippery as I light another cigarette. What was the Story about, anyway? I feel, or think I feel, Tikki’s hand, transparent with darkness, touch my thigh, or someone’s thigh. Horace wonders to himself if the bullet might still be in Lucinda, somewhere. Consuela awoke and began singing along to the music from the quad: as long as spring rolls / as long as fountains bark / I will be there for you Lady Costly (this is a John Dowland ballad performed on a moog, with a sampled car factory – vibrant melancholy!). The story, Ricky seemed to say, is of the heroic overcoming of adversity by whatever constitutes the Hero. He lights the Old Holborn he has been fumbling with all this while. Round in circles, he seems to repeat himself. I hear the back buzz of tiredness behind his eyes. Waves of grey slag, hurry by the dim windows. The original question asks me to rephrase myself. I am sure it’s there, the chimerical wedding in the hanger, the mystic communism of togetherness, the wasteland behind us, the sky as ineffable as it ever was…

Forget it Ricky says, or would have said, and blows a soot-soft plume of smoke over our slumbering driver. In the city 47% of all public surfaces buttonhole you into buying, or wanting to buy, something you didn’t need in the shopping malls springing up from the fields like Bucky Fuller puffballs while the Megalopolis is falling towards us through time like four hundred square miles of grand piano. My hand is slippery with blood, but how? Are we moving at all?

We are no longer defined by our essence, but by consumption (this perhaps, is why all our poets are dying). You’re just pissed off because History’s dead, and because you don’t have a job or a car, I perhaps said to Ricky, who may have remained apparently silent. When History was alive, I knew people had danced during times of great stress, during plagues and revolutions, Versailles and Vienna, in which sense was ending.

Lucinda made a rattling sound and passed out, I lunged out and uprighted the whiskey bottle. Both of my hands were covered in blood. We recrossed the level crossing. I had never really understood about History, although I had been by its bedside every moment of its last years. I had never known whether it was a crime, conspiracy or code, or maybe something else beginning with c, like Christian, or chaos, or casual. I felt a spasm of terror – perhaps it had died too soon…But it was true that all our stories were at last over. That at least was a relief. And here I was, in the dark, almost like a metaphor…

After History there is only working, and dancing, these are the only two verbs we really need. I tried to look out of the windows but they had failed. Horace began to snore. Howard had dropped out of sight. Tkki’s hand fell. Gavin slumped to the floor, his head pillowed on the accelerator pedal. I hoped I would arrive soon.

Image by Chris Page

Story: Dave Rogers

On the way to the Paradise Club first appeared in Dig Magazine, issue 8, 1991

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