My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 40-year-old man who can't leave the house without Rennies.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, ‘menk’ is Scouse/ Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal.”
MENK 19: HOW CAN YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT?
Maria has been taking Little John to London Zoo and Whipsnade quite a lot recently. I’m not sure to what extent a nine-month-old can really appreciate a well-stocked aviary or reptile house but Maria assures me he does. I do miss him when he’s not there but obviously it’s easier for me to get more work done when he’s not hanging off my beard like a tiny, winter Alpinist ascending a giant hair glacier. I have been with Maria to London Zoo before. The first time was mind-blowing. I had no idea that giraffes were that big. I just presumed they were like donkeys with long necks and strange ears. But in reality its tongue alone was probably three-foot-long. There are lots of animals I’ve only seen in the flesh recently – and this is despite the fact I used to work in Knowsley Safari Park.
I worked as a ride operator, in the funfair and amusements section of the park for the first half of 1989. It was during the run-up to my A levels and I worked long weekends. The words “fun” and “amusement” had been stretched way beyond breaking point by this dour fibreglass and concrete distraction zone. There was a long, red, bumpy slide, which was sun-bleached pale pink at the knuckles. It had a tendency, when freshly waxed, to eject the slidee in a violent arc over the safety mat and straight onto the gravel. And it was often freshly waxed. There were spinning teacups that you could sit in that went round in a lugubrious, extremely safe, circle. We had the world’s smallest Ferris wheel and the world’s smallest roller coaster. There was a bouncy castle which was, strictly speaking, actually a giant bouncy donkey. And there was also a 15-inch gauge miniature steam train that was very easy to derail. We were paid one pound per hour, in the knowledge that three shifts added up to £21, which was the most you could earn while receiving income support without incurring any kind of deduction. Most people who worked there were signing on and after my exams finished in Easter, I was as well.
I wasn’t really interested in animals and only went further into the park than the ride section on one occasion and even that wasn’t by choice. A well-spoken guy in a flatbed Land Rover who looked very official borrowed me as an odd body one day. He drove us along a long gravel road to a field that contained two rhinos. While they were certainly different to any other animals I’d seen before, they didn’t really do anything of note. Which was just as well. The two cables that made up the electric fence were snapped and the beast nearest to us could have just wandered out if it wanted but it just stayed where it was sniffing at a tree trunk. I had to hand the man a series of tools with insulated grips while he repaired the electric fence. After finishing, he started up an interminably long conversation on his walkie-talkie so I wandered a bit further up the road. There was an elephant in the field. It wandered over to have a look at me. I do remember that its eyelashes were probably four inches long but other than that I felt short-changed at how unsurprising seeing an actual elephant was.
Nowadays I probably wouldn’t set foot in anywhere that wasn’t a rescue zoo but this said, the rhinos and the elephants at Knowsley seemed relatively happy as far as I could tell. That is to say, as much as a disinterested 17-year-old non-expert can judge the happiness of a giant pachyderm standing in a field in Kirby. They certainly seemed happier than the sunburned bellends who would shout at us about their kids and how far they’d driven and how much their kids loved trains on the days that the locomotive was derailed, or the bellowing dads going on about the windscreen wipers that the mischievous baboons had torn from their Volvos.
I’m certain I was working at the Safari Park on the 15th of April, but I can’t remember anything about the shift. As soon as I got back home I phoned my mate Steve to see what time we were going to the pub. He was really odd and quiet and eventually told me that his mate had been crushed to death at a Liverpool game in Sheffield that afternoon. He’d been drinking with him the night before. Your first experience of the death of someone close – when they aren’t old – is always going to be abysmal; I don’t even want to think what it must be like when you realise you’ve just watched it live on TV.
At college on Monday, one of my teachers said we didn’t have to stay in class if we didn’t want to, but if we did we could we read in silence as he was feeling out of sorts. It wasn’t long before he started talking, though, telling us everything that he’d seen happen, his eyes full and watery but not brimming over. He kept on shaking his head and looking out of the window anxiously as he talked as if he was watching something awful unfold in the distance across a field full of golden rape seed.
The rest of the summer was mainly great. I fell out with my dad over some bullshit. He said some mean-spirited things to me and I tried, very half-heartedly, to hit him with a big spanner. I’m really glad I missed. I left home under a bit of a cloud and didn’t really talk to him for quite a while afterwards. But I did well in my exams, I saw a lot of good bands, I got drunk every day. One afternoon at the safari park the train was piloted full throttle – 13mph – at closed points and within the hour we had been told unceremoniously to fuck off and not come back. I didn’t care. I knew I was leaving St Helens and didn’t particularly feel the need to act graciously about the fact.
I moved to Hull with Steve in September and we got stuck into getting properly fucked up. The second Friday we were there we had a great day exploring the pubs of the old town – the Steam Tavern, The Old Black Boy, The Bluebell, The William IV, The Green Bricks and a small bar that served 40 different types of schnapps. At the end of it we were clattered and should have gone home, but we were passing a waterfront nightclub with some spurious fresher offers on combat lager and were dragged in as if by tractor beam. Inside it was a pine, chrome and mirror disaster area, packed full of busy looking herberts freshly arrived in town, dressed up to the nines in ironed denim shirts with button down collars and patent leather shoes custom built for the kind of fighting popular in new towns. After a miserable couple of hours of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and "Love Cats" by The Cure, the DJ flung us without warning into the end of evening erection section. After "Let’s Get It On" we were treated to the charity version of "Ferry Cross The Mersey" that had recently been at number one, and within seconds Steve was marauding across the dance floor, steaming a path through abysmally drunk couples attempting to recreate They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, to the DJ booth. He screamed: “Turn this off you fucking cunt. This isn’t… entertainment.” The DJ, to be fair to him, seemed genuinely confused as to what his point was, and to be honest, 22 years later it doesn’t seem like the apocalyptic act of provocation that it did back then. But there was no turning back. He was red in the face and yelling blue murder while a bunch of lads slowly gathered round him mimicking him in over-exaggerated Scouse accents. I stepped in and immediately made the situation much worse.
A bunch of us were thrown out onto the cobbled street. Steve was in tears by this point, with a bunch of lads circling nearby yelling shit at him about the people who had died. All sorts of dark, rage-inducing, fight-igniting ideas were being given voice to. Not their own ideas, though; they were merely cracked mirrors reflecting the astonishing moral abyss at the core of Kelvin MacKenzie. They were conduits for a hatred that they barely understood or registered. I was ready to fight and I had little or no appreciation of the mechanics that had brought me to that point.
Healthy sexual energy corrupted. Lager-sodden and punch drunk. Bang your head against a brick wall or pummel your fists into your neighbour’s face. Boys just being boys. Boys just beating boys. There is no progress in Britain. Nothing about this fucking country ever gets any better.
I moved around a lot when I was a teenager and in my twenties, and I saw fighting everywhere I lived as well as in a lot of the places I visited. All of it was senseless. You get so used to it you start seeing the funny side. I was walking through Stockport one night in 1994 after falling asleep on the bus, when I came across two lads leathering a prone figure on the floor in a shop doorway. Drunk as a lord, I said: “Lads! You shouldn’t be fighting! It’s Saturday night, you should be having a drink together…” And the guy on the floor taking a kicking, who had blood pouring out of his nose, said: “Fuck off you Scouse cunt.”
I used to think this was hilarious. Not so much any more, though.
Back in Hull, outside the club in 1989, the situation fizzled out into nothing. Luckily for us things were taken down a notch or two by a bunch of girls piling out into the street singing. Steve and I beat a hasty retreat back towards our flat and the lads rolled off in the other direction. The bouncer who had kicked us out watched us all slope off and spat after us: “Bunch of fucking animals.”