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 looks like a Magic Numbers tribute band member.
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 17: CUT A SIX INCH VALLEY THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF MY SOUL
Every day over 40 is another day spent feeling like one of the case studies in The Man Who Mistook His Wife For His Hat. Modern culture is conspiring to make me a confused old man. It’s only a few days since I realised that A$AP Rocky isn’t an energy-infused breakfast cereal bar, and now an email is informing me I have to work out what I think of Evil Stö, Stooshe and Dot Rotten. It’s not that I don’t care about Stooshe but… no, actually… now that I stop and think about it, it is completely that I don’t care about Stooshe.
I open a mail that starts telling me about "Plumbeous Bubbles" – a track from 813’s Spectrum Riff EP on Potholes In My Blog, streaming directly from the Donky Pitch Soundcloud – and I’m just about to stab myself in the eye with a screwdriver when I catch a bit of 813’s biog: “The Spectrum Riff EP comes from Moscow-based beat maker and full-time firefighter Alexander Rogyachev, otherwise known as 813.”
I delete the mail and phone my friend Wayne The Fireman. The combination of anger, music and firefighting always makes me want to speak to him. I haven’t seen him since he stayed at my house two years ago. A lot of the Hull lads, including us, all got in to see Pavement at the Brixton Academy with AAA passes. Yarky got lost coming back from the backstage bar and walked out onstage with a tray of lagers and a confused look on his face. But on the last night of Wayne’s stay I was helping promote a gig involving the Australian minimal rock trio My Disco and it all got a little hectic. He got clattered and I had to restrain him from getting on stage and knocking the guitarist out. He objected to the pared down, repetitive style and wanted to take over and give the crowd what he felt they really needed: some smoking J Mascis style soloing. Back at the house that night, things were awkward. He tried to tell me about a mate of his, another fireman, who had died but he was too drunk and I was too sober and angry for it to get anywhere. The next day we sat in silence over breakfast as he copied my 58 Fall CDs to his laptop before he left back for Hull.
When I first met him two decades earlier he was in a band called LIMB, who sounded like Big Black covering Metal Machine Music. He painted the band's name onto a railway bridge one night. A copper clocked him when he was about 90 percent of the way through his act of vandalism, causing him to run off. To this day if you are walking up to De Gray Street from Princes Ave you can still see the word LIMP in massive letters above the road.
I met him in a pub in 1990 and he moved into the flat I was squatting not long after. My aunt, who lived in Childwall in Liverpool, would come over once a month and leave me a sack full of leftover food she got off a dinner lady friend. She did this because she thought (correctly) that I spent all of my dole money on sherry and cigarettes.
Once I arrived back from Cellar Five with a litre of own brand pale cream to find that Wayne had made an entire 1kg cylinder of dried Marvel milk up into liquid form.
Every receptacle in the house was full of lukewarm synthetic milk. The saucepans were full of milk, the mugs, the saucers, the bowls, the casserole dish, the pressure cooker, the washing up bowl were all full of milk. The fucking bin had been emptied and half-filled with milk.
"Look at all the milk," said Wayne with a big smile on his face.
"Why . . . why would you . . ." I started saying but I could tell I was going to start crying so I went upstairs and drank enough sherry to put me to sleep.
The following summer we did get our shit together to throw one of the best parties ever. His friends brewed us several litres of screened ethanol. We lined a bin, poured it in and topped it up with fruit juice. It didn’t taste too bad but you were reduced to a state of frantic imbecility by less than a mug full. Two people brought acid, someone brought pills, everyone brought speed, weed and beer.
All my furniture got put on the bonfire, as did all my spoons and all my toiletries. There were people dancing on the roof and general carousing everywhere.
The next thing I knew I woke up in the back garden next to Wayne. I only had my boxer shorts on and I'd pulled a bike up to my chin like a duvet. Wayne had no shoes on and someone had drawn all over his face in red Biro.
The garden was on fire and there were firemen with breathing equipment everywhere.
"Are you inebriated sir?" asked one of them sternly.
"Take a fucking guess," said Wayne.
I always wonder if it was delayed shame over this incident that made him become a fireman. But after I left Hull he was stationed on the lip of an industrial estate in Immingham. Wayne would complain that there were very few fires, so there was nothing to do, but when there were they tended to be terrifying. A lot of stuff seemed to happen to him. Like once he saved a parrot by giving it the kiss of life and air from his oxygen mask, resuscitating it and landing himself on page three of the Immingham Post.
Back in the present, I'm on the phone to Wayne. We both had babies about seven months ago, so we have a pleasant chat about it. We both agree it’s better for people like us – idiots that is – to have children at a later age. Life has beaten so much of the resistance out of us that we literally don’t have anything better to do than look after babies and go to work. Even if we wanted to do anything else, that is, which we quite happily admit we don’t. He’s just taken his final plumber’s exams and is waiting on the results. It’s good to be this age and to be speaking to Wayne about baby gates and weaning methods instead of how we’re going to raise enough money to buy tobacco and alcohol. I tell him about the stabbing pains I get in my chest when I walk up stairs and how afraid I am of having to play football with Little John when he turns ten and I’m 50.
The talk turns to work. I’m trying to hip him to Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats but really it’s better to let him talk, given that he’s got a proper job where exciting stuff actually happens. He starts telling me about when he first qualified to drive the fire engine: “We were looking for somewhere secret to go and have an ice-cream. I’d bought everyone a treat because it was my first day driving the tender, but we couldn’t accidentally get seen by management standing round eating ice-creams. In the morning you’d do this thing called topography, going round the local area, fitting fire alarms, looking at big risk sites, stuff like that. And if you’d finish early you’d just bimble about, get some ice-creams or maybe a pastry.
“I remembered that once we went to this amazing place down a road which led to this secluded beach. A little haven in the middle of all these industrial estates. But when I tried to find it I got the wrong turning and it was just someone’s house at the end of a really long road that turned into a cul-de-sac. There wasn’t even anywhere to turn round. Some of the lads got out and were eating their ice-creams. I knew I couldn’t reverse out of there; the road was too thin and I couldn’t see anything out of the mirror.
“My officer was just a kid and couldn’t drive himself but he was a bit of a gobshite. He was going, ‘Look, just spin it around. It’s only like a big car.’ So stupidly I did. I started to drive through 360 degrees on this guy’s lawn at the end of the cul-de-sac, but there wasn’t enough room. The second the engine got on the grass it just started sinking. The guy must have kept his lawn really well watered. Everyone was screaming at me, ‘Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ But the tender weighs 14 tonnes. I was flooring it and the wheels were churning up this guy’s beautiful front lawn. It was like Passchendale. I was trying to shift the engine but there were just jets of mud flying up into the air. Then the bloke came running out of his house screaming, ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ There were just all firemen stood around in full uniform eating ice-creams pointing at me. I got out eventually in a 14-point turn. We went back to have a look at his garden, the holes were three foot deep in parts. We started trying to pat it all back down with spades but he just told us to fuck off.”
Eventually I tell him what I’ve rung for; to apologise for not making a better effort to listen to him when he was telling me about his mate dying. He tells me that when he last saw me, it had only just happened and it was fresh in his mind. The guy was helping Wayne do some work on his house and had popped round to pick up his money and then when he left, he got knocked off his motorbike and killed.
Wayne says: “I offered to give him the cash in work but he was picking up a battery for his bike so he was near mine anyway, he said it was easy for him to pop round. I saw him in the afternoon and he were dead just after tea. I didn’t find out until work the next day. The day it happened, I heard a funny story that night in the pub and I was texting him because I knew it would make him laugh. But he was already dead. The worst thing was I was only just getting to know him. It was like, ‘I’ve never met your lass. You should come round ours for a barbeque and bring her with you.’ Well, that’s not going to happen then, is it?”
I apologise again and Wayne starts laughing and says it’s OK because I was all stressed out from trying to stop him punching one of My Disco and taking his guitar off him. He adds: “You know, my grandparents had died before but he was my first mate to die. He was quite young. It really got to me and it was making me think about stuff.”
He drives me round the bend sometimes Wayne, but it occurred to me recently that I should be writing about him and not Bobby Gillespie. He fell through the roof of a blazing derelict building in Bransholme once while he was trying to put a fire out. That didn’t make the papers, not even the Immingham Post. And it hasn’t made the papers when he’s saved peoples' lives. There aren’t enough people writing about the heroic stuff he does, and that includes me. That said, I remember once about nine years ago I promised him that I’d stop telling people about him filling our bin with Marvel Milk. “It makes me sound fucking mental”, said Wayne at the time.
Looks like I owe him another apology.
Previously: Menk - I Betrayed You. You Trusted Me and I Betrayed You. Menk will return in the New Year.