Andrews on fire. Its lucky I came down for a drink after dehydration struck, because hes ablaze. I run into the kitchen, fill a pint glass with water, and throw it on his smouldering back in a splashy hiss. He wakes up, lifts his face to me, his glasses at a mad angle to his swollen, tired eyes ‘Wazzit?’ he says ‘You fell asleep in front of the fire, you drunk sod’. He rolls over, and goes back to sleep, oblivious to the peril he has avoided.
Welcome to Andrew, one of the strangest Beestonians ever.
I met him in the Vic, when my girlfriend at the time took pity on him. He appeared to have been dumped, at one point in the night, his male friend storming off, leaving him in tears and ordering a bottle of red for himself. She went to chat with him, and eventually bought him over to our table. He was dressed in flamboyant attire, trousers just a tad tighter than Oxford Bags, a pinstripe shirt, and a long grey check overcoat with a thick patterned scarf. He was nervous, chatted politely, and then thanked us and took his nearly empty bottle home.
A few weeks later, Im househunting, and the first door I knock on is answered by Andrew. We laugh at the coincidence, and after a brief tour of the house, decide to move in with him. I signed the contract, not realising what insanity awaited.
Andrew was an frustrated actor with rather serious booze habit. He smoked intensely, and not just in front of gas fires. He was also the campest man in the world. A bundle of foppish blousiness, a mincing, flouncing wonder. A intoxicating and intoxicated mix of Kenneth Williams, John Inman and Larry Grayson. I half expected him to speak fluent Polari. I asked him about boyfriends one day.
‘What do you mean?’ he replied, in rapt horror.
‘Just wondering how many you have had over the years, just being nosey’
‘Did you say BOYfriends?’
‘Erm, yes Andrew’
He let his jaw drop, exhaled, and with a exasperated pout, he flounced off, his scarf flapping behind him. Oops.
He forgave me my assumptions, and we went on to live in a sort of happy hedonistic harmony. We would throw huge house parties which would often end in food fights or a repaint of the walls. The young German girl I was with at the time adored him and his outrageous mannerisms, and I found myself getting fond. He taught me there was good white wine, and I still enjoy a glass of Viognier. We’d sit in front of the TV on a weeknight getting progressively drunker, or weekends in pubs and nightclubs dancing without shame, mounting podiums, stealing and swinging glo-sticks and trying to antagonize the bouncers at the end of the night by pretending we were ‘doing bits and bobs for the DJ’ and seeing how long it took for them to realise.
He would tell me stories from his bizarre life, how he got arrested in Venice for stealing and joy-riding a Gondola down the canals, or the time he dropped acid and walked through his parents French Windows, mistaking the plate glass for air.
Heady, halycon days.
Things started to unravel after a few months. Andrew’s drinking was spiralling out of control, and he was getting banned from so many pubs for his antics it was becoming difficult to go out anywhere, and nervy when we did should he decide to add the surroundings to his list. Weekends would be spent in pubs, throwing up on the way home in the neighbours hedge, then collapsing in the front room, routinely near-immolating.
His drinking then seeped into the week. One very early Wednesday morning, he collapsed onto the sofa, but not before putting on his new favourite song ‘Poor Leno’ by Roysksopp and cranking the amp up to 11. I walk downstairs ,turn it down, say ‘not on a bloody schoolday, twat’ and back to bed.
Ten seconds into my resumed dream, Im thrown awake as it goes back up to maximum volume. I go down, unplug the hi-fi, and back to bed.
Back on it goes , the bass rattling the frame of my bed. I storm down, take the CD out, re-case it, turn the hi-fi off, unscrew the plug, remove the fuse, throw the fuse across the street into a neighbours privet hedge, and go to bed.
Half an hour later, after hearing the door go, I look out my window and see him outside, on hands and knees, desperately scrabbling in the undergrowth.
I decided soon after to move out, and this infuriated him. He acted like a betrayed wife, begging me he could change, we could make it work, things would be different. I stayed resolute, and left.
We stayed friends, closer than ever now I felt his antics could be observed from a safe distance. He decided after much chiding from me to take up acting, and he duly took a part in Lady Windermere’s Fan, a bit of Oscar Wilde a perfect place to exhibit his mastery of the thespian arts. I helped him rehearse, often in pubs where our growing extravagance in the witty pithiness of the lines were met with bemused stares from those who had come to have a quiet pint.
Eventually, the opening night came, and Andrew was decked out in Victorian finery, and stole the show with his natural feel of the part. I sat in the audience, proud that at last, he had his niche. I envisaged an eventual elevation to the RSC, then TV, BAFTAs, Oscars, gold stars lain in Beeston Square and a blue plaque on our once shared house on Trevor Road.
Then, on the last day, I get a phone call at 6pm, an hour before he was due in costume.
‘Oh god. What?’
‘I’m in Wetherspoons. In a toilet cubicle. I appear to have been drugged by someone putting something in my drink. I just woke up, minus my wallet, and, well..’
‘I have pissed myself. Quite severely’
So I found myself in the bizarre situation of finding myself selecting my most generously waisted trousers- the booze had gave him a portly lower body-a pair of clean shorts and running to The Last Post. He changed, but was still entirely drunk.
At the theatre, they were just about to go on with a reader to replace Andrew, as he had no understudy, when five minutes before curtain up, a shambling Andrew crashes through the door, fag in mouth, stinking of booze, after jumping a taxi. ‘The show, the show MUST go on’ he exclaimed, before pulling on his pantaloons.
His part in the play was secondary, a guest at the eponymous Windermere’s party, and as such it required a Wildean mildly drunk wit to carry off the role, hence his previous success. What it got that night however was a unsteady, ad-libbing madman, frequently stumbling over the scenery and at one point exclaiming that Lady Windermere ‘cheer the fuck up, love’, a line that Wilde seems to have omitted from the original script. The audiences reaction was, as I wasn’t part of it, unrecorded. But after the final curtain, he was told he’d ‘Never act on a Nottingham stage again’ to which news he reacted by trying to headbutt the director, missing, and falling over a chair.
I don’t see him anymore. He came out eventually, to no-ones surprise, made up for a decades worth of celibacy with a blitz on Gaydar, and we fell out after his drunken rants eventually led to me deciding he was a sociopath, and he hit me with a roast potato over sunday lunch.
I see him here and there, he lives in The Park now, and Beestonia is poorer for his move. We do occasionally bump into each other on occasion, and after politely saying hello, a smatter of smalltalk, and I see him wanting to ask me to the pub. Before he does, I make my excuses and leave, as I know I would be so tempted. Every Withnail has his I, and I couldn’t be that anymore.
He may read this, and if you are Andrew, I’m sorry for this indiscretion. You know I have left out the most terrible stuff, the most intense fringes of your personality. You also know, as our mutual hero Wilde did, that their is one thing worse than being talked about, and thats not being talked about. Cheers, you shabby, shambling mess. I suppose I miss you.