Who Owns That Head Upon the Bed Where My Old Head Should Be
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 remember 1992.
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 24: WHO OWNS THAT HEAD UPON THE BED WHERE MY OLD HEAD SHOULD BE
George Orwell said we all get the kind of face we deserve by the time we turn 40. I had mine hammered irreversibly into place by my 25th birthday. Ostensibly I looked like the same person, but somehow as if reflected in the back of a rusty dessert spoon instead of a mirror. I’m now used to what I look like. Or rather the part of my brain that’s supposed to care about these things has hyper-atrophied into petrified uselessness. And now I’m in middle age, the point at which you’re supposed to stop giving a fuck entirely about what you look like and just settle for becoming content with still being alive.
However, as I’ve just learned, there’s nothing like seeing yourself on film to kick a hole in your entire week. For the last few weeks I’ve been appearing on this music panel show for internet TV called Noisey Talks. I’m paid to sit on a chair that’s too small for me behind a table that’s too close to the ground next to normal-sized people who throw my freakishly outsize frame into sharp relief. I look like a partially domesticated long-haired sloth with the first signs of facial alopecia and galloping obesity, crammed into an Anaal Nathrakh T-shirt performing simple tricks for plantain, cheese toasties and Haribo.
It came as quite a shock to see what I actually look like in real life. I kind of thought I was a bit like Thurston Moore with stubble but no, it turns out I look like a Hawkwind roadie who’s been hit by a cement mixer. Talking of Hawkwind, there’s a giant carbuncle on my face on the right hand side of my nose. I’m super getting that removed the second I get some money saved up. I hope it’s the thin end of the wedge – that I get addicted to plastic surgery and end up looking like a cross between Katie Price, Genesis P. Orridge and Pete Burns. I tried to remove the offending mole once myself in 1991 using a Stanley Knife. It was fucking horrible and it hurt a lot even though I was really drunk. There was a lot of blood in the bath and all for no good reason, as after the giant wound on my face healed properly and I took the plaster off, the thing had grown back exactly the same as before. I have no idea how moles and minor facial disfigurements work. I’m not a surgeon now and I certainly wasn’t then. (I was a drunk in a squat.)
There was blood in the bath a lot that year. I came in one night, drunk as hell and my flatmate was missing. There was a matted clump of hair, treacly, clotting blood, a smashed mirror and a pair of scissors scattered and splashed over the chipped enamel of the tub. The window was broken as well, and there were bloody palm prints on the frame. I looked up and down the train tracks at the back of the house and rang her friends but couldn’t find her. She came back a week later, seemingly right as rain and it wasn’t mentioned. Well, she asked me a few days later to put a bit more effort into cleaning the bathroom but I think that was an entirely separate issue. Then her friend the nurse had to come and stay with us after her boyfriend – a fucking giant, heroin-depraved, site labourer – had kicked her head in trying to get her wages off her. She couldn’t open her eyes when she arrived and took some cleaning up. She looked a million dollars when she left a few weeks later. We asked her not to go back to him but we were pretty sure that was where she’d end up. “She’s like Florence Nightingale,” said my flatmate, “But with a smackhead for a boyfriend.”
Five years earlier, when I was 15, I was not exactly beautiful, but had a clear, milk white, smooth complexion and only weighed ten stone. (I’m the same height and almost twice that weight now.) And being a big fan of David Bowie and The Cure, I used to wear a lot of eye makeup. I could turn a few heads back then, even if they nearly always seemed to belong to middle-aged men.
I used to do the gardens of some of the older people on the estate for pin money. One man in particular used to like his garden kept extra tidy and my services were required on a regular basis. Once after finishing the mowing I went into the kitchen where he was leaning over the sink with a bright red face looking out of the window: “You know John... it looks hot out there. Do you ever think you might be more comfortable doing the work wearing shorts and a vest?” I told him I was wearing shorts. He wiped a bead of sweat off the end of his nose and let out a strangulated reply: “No, I mean really short shorts and a tight string vest. I’ve got some upstairs you can borrow if you like.” I turned down his offer but the following week it was very hot so I did his garden wearing just a pair of Daisy Duke’s and some toe-capped boots. He looked extra crimson when I picked up my wages that afternoon and gave me a one-pound tip.
To be fair, being scared of getting beaten up in Liverpool meant I mainly drank in gay bars during the day, which in retrospect would kind of explain why I got hit on by men occasionally. This is not to say it was any less scary in Jody’s than it was on the streets outside. This was a no-nonsense watering hole that had a proud 12” awning of rubber cocks standing to attention above the bar and two toilets, both marked "Gentlemen" but with fairy lights round only one of the doors. One of the barmen was usually in some pretty bracing bondage gear/ biker leather combo and used to carry a riding crop with a feather attached to the end of it. If he was happy with you, he’d tickle you with the feather – if you weren’t drinking quickly enough, he’d apply the crop with a biblical force.
Once into my twenties I no longer got hit on that much by older men, even though I worked behind the bar of a gay club once a week. I couldn’t even tell you the last time it happened to be honest. There was an act of kindness that I nearly misinterpreted in 1994, but that was something else entirely.
Very early one morning, while attempting to walk away from the wreckage of an all-day drinking session in St Helens town centre to a mate’s flat nine miles away, I ended up crashing on a bench near The Bird I’th Hand pub. When I woke up I was indoors on a fold-out couch in a bedsit. I was fully-clothed but with a crochet blanket over me. Next to me in a chair by the bed was an old-ish looking guy, probably mid-60s. He had ill-fitting false teeth, his neck was in a brace and he was wearing thick bi-focals. There was a cat sat in his lap.
“You were on a bench outside,” he said, nodding at the door.
My head was swimming. I still didn’t really know what was happening or even what city I was in.
“Do you like tea?” he said.
I nodded dumbly and he poured me a strong brew out of a teapot which had been sitting next to him.
“My name’s George,” he said. “Do you like cats?”
I nodded again and took the mug off him. I was having vague flashbacks to some nonsense. Walking down Prescot Road, falling over a lot, needing to sit down for a rest. A welcoming bench...
I looked at the clock on the wall. 6.05AM. Either side of the clock there were big Athena posters of muscular and well-oiled sailors in suggestive poses, with massive bulges in their underwear. You could only really tell they were sailors due to their headwear.
“Do you like sailors?” said George.
“Where’s your bathroom?” I snapped at him.
He nodded through the kitchen at another door. I stumbled inside and pulled the lock shut.
Inside I pressed my head against the freezing cold of the cistern until my eyeballs ached. I wanted to sprint out of the toilet, past George, through his front door and out into the street. But standing was barely an option.
After some time I walked back out. " I suppose you'll be going," said George, clearly miffed.
"I’m sorry about that. I don’t feel very well. I'd like to stay for a bit if that's alright," I mumbled, sitting back down on the bed. "I don't feel very well. Would you mind making me another cup of tea?"
He nodded and poured me one.
"I can't stop drinking," I started saying to him, but I started crying and had to stop talking for a bit.
After a long time I started to feel a bit less gruesome. I nodded at the posters: "Do you know George, I’m starting to think they aren’t real sailors."
He smiled slightly and said: “Y’know, that thought has crossed my mind as well.”
Then we sat in silence looking at his posters until the buses started running again.
Photograph by Al Overdrive
Find a trove of all the previous Menks here.
Watch John Doran being funny on the latest Noisey Talks here.