Strange bedfellows. Freshers Week throws people together. I met Laura at a Pimm’s promotion in the student union. She’d ended the night chucking up into an empty “cocktail bucket”. Turned out this was uncharacteristic. Peer pressure, excitement, and all those new faces. She hardly ever drank. She’d sometimes slip a glass of cheap red with a bowl of complimentary chili upstairs at Ricky’s Nite Club, as we watched the jazz dancers. Mesmerized by shining spats in synchronization. She’d toy with a glass of cheap white in any number of local pubs, while she watched me sink pints.
Enrolled in English Lit. & Drama, her mother had been a model. The eyes and mouth gave it away. Her father was an artist, then teaching. Matt Black of Coldcut counted amongst the alumni of his class. She’d tell me how the DJ would regale them both with stories of acid house, smoke machines and strobes, and how her Dad would chase it back to Situationism and The Theatre Of Spectacle. Acid house sounded pretty interesting to me.
I was puffing loads. If I’m honest, it was nerves. She was so beautiful. So smart. I was punching way above my weight. Out of my class. She was herbal tea and yoga, not coffee and hangovers.
She’d sit there cross-legged, opposite me and intense, and ask me questions about things that I’d never considered. I’d gone to university because it was an easy route out of South London, but what did I want to do with my life?* Where did I see myself in twenty years time?
She’d force me to think. She’d kick me if I wasn’t quick enough to answer or attempted to avoid one with a joke. A good answer would be rewarded with a kiss. She could list her’s by rote.
Laura had maybe ten LPs. Soul, Jazz and Folk. All of them old. `60s, perhaps `70s stuff. Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane. She also had some fancy Hi-Fi, which took time to warm up. Secretly stoned, I’d try not to stare catatonically as the valves on the Quad II amp would start to glow.
Bomb The Bass’ cover of I Say A Little Prayer was a radio hit. If she heard it, which was often, it was hard to avoid, she’d launch into a monologue about the band defiling The First Lady Of Soul. It’d begin “How dare they?” and conclude a couple of minutes later with her looking to me for confirmation. Initially I’d not been sure about the fuss. A tune’s a tune, and I was definitely all for the modern. But listening to Arif Mardin & Tom Dowd’s arrangement of acoustic guitar and piano, the Gospel harmonies, and Aretha alternating between restrained confession and arms wide open joy, powered by those orange coils and the Lowther speaker, there in her room, I had to agree. It was damn near perfect.
I’d so get wasted, though. Then just sit in a restaurant – if I could actually decide on where to go – paranoid and pathetic. Sometimes we`d walk the city centre in circles while the gear got the better of me. She thought I was being stand-off-ish. But often I just couldn’t move. I was surprised when she cried. But not when she dumped me.
For Laura, Aretha, and Burt Bacharach.
*This was back when you could still get a grant.