I had a long list of things to achieve before I was 30. The usual stuff, publish novel, win BAFTA, marry Ashley Judd. I compiled this list when I was 20, and ten years seemed like ample time to achieve all my lifelong dreams. I would then retire early, and lose half my fortune to Ashley in exchange for my new squeeze Milla Jovovich. Life was to be good.
Certain things got in the way. Paying rent, needing a job, getting fat and lazy, drinking too much and a spectacular lack of meaningful success with women. In fact, there was barely any meaningless success with women either. As I approached my thirtieth birthday, the fact I had survived my twenties was one of the few achievements to speak of.
But before I reached that milestone, an acquaintance I shall call The Ginger Man was celebrating a more significant and advanced birthday, and myself and some mutual friends were out in Soho on a Friday night to celebrate.
Now I don’t want to get into trouble with the Ginger Mafia over my vaguely racial nickname for this fellow. He was just very ginger. It was the most notable thing about him, there were no other prominent gingers in our circle. He was like the token ginger, but he was ginger through and through. He was balding, but even if he went completely bald, you could have still spotted a mile away that he was ginger. He didn’t just have the ginger genes he had the whole outfit. His ancestors were probably among the first gingers, who crawled out of a cave somewhere in Ireland to attempt to make a futile peace with the glowing orb in the sky.
It’s not the first time I’ve been involved in racial slurs. When I was at school there was just one non-white kid in the whole school. Oh don’t worry he didn’t get bullied, he was fucking enormous. He could buy cigarettes and booze when he was about 12. He had a nickname for me. Ghosty. Because of my incredibly pale skin. Yes, I was called a name derived from the colour of my skin by the only brown kid in the whole school…
Anyway, by the time I arrived The Ginger Man was already quite well-oiled, having already unbuttoned a higher-than-socially-acceptable number of top buttons on his shirt, baring more pube-like ginger chest hair than anyone was willing to see. I didn’t know him that well, only socially, so I spent much of the evening with other friends, occasionally checking in with him on his progress towards a night he wouldn’t remember.
It wasn’t long before I was also quite drunk. I’d have unbuttoned my shirt and shown some chest hair too, if I’d had any… It got to closing time in the bar, and everyone started to say their goodbyes to The Ginger Man. As is usually the way in such scenarios, I didn’t quite know when to leave, so I attached myself to an increasingly-decreasing group of stragglers in the faint hope there would some “going on afterwards” going on. There wasn’t, everyone just fucked off home. It was just me and The Ginger Man.
He was determined to eke as much debauchery out of his milestone birthday as he could, and I was his only party buddy left. He suggested we go on to a gentleman’s establishment. I was quite drunk, and had never been, I thought it would be an interesting thing to do, although I’d always had the suspicion such places might not be my cup of tea. I imagined myself talking to the naked ladies about their goals and ambitions, plans for the future, hopes and dreams, probably paying for them to go to college, buying them flowers…
I let him make all the arrangements, he knew a place – this did not surprise me. He was a senior IT executive. I imagined he knew many such places; I left myself in his capable hands, a position some ladies were shortly going to find themselves in also.
We got a cab and arrived at the establishment. My ginger sleaze facilitator led the way. He spoke to the doorman about getting a nice table; the doorman mumbled something about £500. Ha! Silly money. The Ginger Man took him to one side, presumably to explain he was a regular, knew the boss, that it was his birthday and such fees should be waived. Eventually, we were let in and shown to a nice table by the stage. The Ginger Man clearly had contacts. Actually he did have contacts because he was complaining about how dry they were getting in the bar beforehand.
His first order of business was to get a £200 bottle of champagne. Well, I thought, if he wants to throw his money round like that, it’s up to him. I would have been fine with a tequila and coke, I’m not a big fan of champagne anyway and I was already quite seriously drunk, it was very very late.
The finances of the whole situation escaped me as I didn’t recall paying to get in. When two exotic ladies, who had just been dancing on the stage joined us, I wondered if they were “included” on the entry price. The Ginger Man poured them some champagne and invited his to dance for him.
I asked mine to sit next to me, and started chatting to her about … yeah you guessed it, hopes and dreams, education, career goals, upbringing, favourite colour of wool, all the things. I realised as soon as the girls came over I was just not comfortable with this set-up of giving girls money to “be all sexy in my vicinity”. My partner in crime (and indeed I was still unsure whether what we were doing was legal) was enjoying it a little too much, with seedy groans and awkward leg-shifting as the dancer did her “thang”.
Our girls left just as I was telling mine about my taste in music. A nice girl-next-door horsey type took the stage, someone who most men would probably say “wasn’t hot enough” to be in a place like this, but was just my type. I watched her dance hypnotically on the stage for some time.
What felt like moments later, I felt light shining in my eyes and The Ginger Man was shaking me. I had passed out. It was nearly 8am.
I got up in a daze and grabbed my stuff and made my way out into the light. I lit a cigarette outside and got my bearings. I had sobered up a little bit. Just like the time in the dentist’s chair years later, I had passed out in the most unlikely of places. The Ginger Man told me he had taken care of our bill but I needed to set him straight with my share.
The bill was £1800.
I have never gotten so sober or so awake so quickly in my life. “…the fuck?!” I said. “How did we spend £1800? No hang on, how did YOU spend £1800?!”
“Well, it was £500 upfront for that table you know, those seats aren’t cheap – then £200 for each bottle of champagne, then on top of that all the dances we had.”
“All the dances we had? More like all the dance. And she didn’t even dance for me? She just sat there looking interested in my conversation drinking our champagne. And how many bottles of champagne did “we” have?”
“Oh we had a few,” he confessed, “Plus obviously the dancers were having some too.”
I rewound a little bit, “And wait a minute, I thought you were chatting to that guy about the silly-money table price. At no point did you say to me, oh it’s £500 is that OK with you, I thought you bunged him a tenner and a nudge and a wink!”
“It took a bit of schmoozing even to get the table for £500.”
Basically The Ginger Man had gone nuts on celebrations for his birthday spending shitloads of money which he had foolishly assumed I was paying half of. He’d consulted me on none of the key – and fucking mental – decisions he had made regarding table outlay and ludicrous champagne purchasing. And he had somehow managed to spend at least £800 while I was fucking asleep on the couch next to him.
He insisted at the very least I give him £750 but said I could pay him in instalments. I was too overwhelmed to discuss the matter more, so I got a cab home and piled into bed. Over the next weeks he constantly harassed me for the money, and I sought counsel from some other friends who had been there earlier in the night. One told me “you know there’s a reason none of us stuck around and you were the only one left.” I intended to pay him something, but there was no way I was paying him £750 for an evening I spent mostly asleep. Word got around, via The Ginger Man’s propaganda network, that I was one of those people who goes halves on an evening’s entertainment and then runs off without paying my share.
My reputation was tarnished, I convened some of our mutual friends, who were annoyed with me about what they heard via the red-top’s sensationalist story. But he had been very cagey about the details with them.
When I was confronted with accusations of “Why did you leave him to pay everything, why didn’t you pay your share?” I responded with:
“Do you guys have any idea how much that fat ginger fuck spent that night? No? He didn’t say? EIGHTEEN HUNDRED FUCKING POUNDS!”
Popular opinion was back on my side. I had decided, in consultation with the friends, that a token sum of around £300 was fair, given that he had sought my agreement on absolutely none of the costs associated with this sleazy project and it had gone massively over-budget under his watch. I paid him, and whilst he wasn’t happy, bygones were bygones and things were once again peaceful between the ginger race and the humans.