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Menk, by John Doran

It's Midnight... I'm On the Soul Train!

I spent far too long living in a prostitute-sodden suburbia, building every day around my flask of whiskey.

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 41-year-old who fucking loves biscuits.

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."



When you’re asleep, you have a circle round you. You’re in a chain of hours. A chain of years. A chain of planetary positions. And when you wake up, there is a fraction of a second when you have to place yourself on that chain. Where on the planet are you? What time of day is it? What year is it? And during the night, the deeper you have flung yourself into the void before sleep, the more difficult it is to place yourself on that chain. A lifeline is thrown into the blackness to pull you out. You’re so far away that you could never do it on your own. An alarm clock goes off. A lover elbows you in the ribs. Curtains are thrown open. A light switch is flicked on. A policeman shines a torch in your face.

And there is a rush of civilisations screaming before you. And all of your days and hours and places rush before you, but where have you woken up? And when? And what time is it?

And now, when I wake with a start and I’m in bed in Hackney and it’s 2012 and 5.45am and I can hear my boy’s ululations coming through the baby monitor I immediately feel good. And then I feel relieved because it is here and now; not then and there. Because then, when I woke with a shout or a scream in bed in Welwyn Garden City, in 1995 at 5.25am with the piercing screech of the alarm clock, I couldn’t imagine feeling worse. With only four hours sleep and several mugs worth of unprocessed, cheap whisky still sloshing round my belly, too sick for breakfast, too late to shower, every step between my bed and punching in at the warehouse at 5.58am was sheer fucking agony.


If you fly over Ebenezer Howard’s 1920s utopian Hertfordshire new town, heading South away from the Satanic mills of the North, it looks like an inverted crucifix. Perhaps this is a Northern perspective, because most of the inhabitants of this god-forsaken place fled up from London, approaching from the South. It was the first small town in England to develop a bad heroin problem – but was that because of or in spite of its Quakerite lack of pubs in the cross-shaped, manicured centre? The relative scarcity of pubs in WGC didn’t make them any friendlier, however. In the few ale houses there were dotted round the perimeter, you could always look forward to seeing a fight, even if other types of entertainment were thin on the ground. Well, maybe not in The Pear Tree, where they had the same incidental music that is played in the psychiatric wards featured in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest on a constant loop in the background during licensing hours.

A few months after arriving in town, when they opened the huge logistics centre and bonded warehouse on Black Fan Road near Panshanger, I got a job as a shop floor goods-in clerk, working the early shift one week and late the next. When I went for a celebratory drink on my way back from the temp agency that found me the work, I luckily chose the Pear Tree, because on revealing my good news, I was only surrounded by high blood pressure, shaven-headed herberts in canary yellow shirts chanting things like, “Southern jobs for Southern lads, not Northern cunts” at me while I supped up quickly and left. The pacifying effect of the syrupy, faux-classical music piped in through the idiot-calming ducts just about prevented them from erupting into actual violence. This peace was not something that would pervade the actual job, however.


Early shifts are worse than night shifts. Or, at least, they are if you go to the pub at 2.30PM straight after work, promising yourself you’ll be home by 9PM at the latest but then never are. I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush or indulge in stereotyping, but, at the same time, I’m pretty sure there are a few postmen out there who know what I’m talking about. Sweating cheap whiskey through cheap clerical clothes in an air hangar covered city scape constructed of tower blocks of cheap whiskey, writing down numbers on sheets of paper, trying not to vomit when bottles smashed on the floor near me, was all I did for the first year.

They’re odd places, bonded warehouses. They’re officially Customs property and, as I understand it, police cannot enter the premises. Despite rigorous searches at the only gate in and out and CCTV cameras absolutely everywhere, a lot of people (bar me, I hasten to add) were trying to smuggle cases of alcohol out of the place. When caught most people would hold their hands up, despite the fact that even getting nabbed with a trunk full of Bells just before Christmas could possibly land you in jail. There were however a sizeable number of stupid people working there as well who seemed unable to comprehend that just because there were never any police on the actual site, that this didn’t make it like Deadwood or the Mos Eisley Spaceport. Big Customs and Excise security guys with glittering eyes would properly row with these men who were deranged by constant night work, hangovers and thirstiness and not in the possession of clear long-term planning. These guys with their hangdog looks who were pathetically trying to steal bottles of cheap liqueur they probably didn’t even like that much, to sell on in pubs – they didn’t stand a chance. Blood would sometimes be spilled on concrete flags at Godly hours of the day as policemen stood outside the chain link fence, leaning on cars, smoking cigarettes, waiting to be handed their new charges.


The razor wire-topped perimeter fence was far too high to be worth throwing bottles over, but once at Christmas, I saw some frozen turkeys achieve the kind of escape velocity and flight paths that would have proved impossible for them while they were alive.

Not everyone in Welwyn hated me, though. I was good friends with four of the guys who worked in the warehouse. Two of them had girlfriends who were prostitutes. And one of the other two guys who were single was sleeping with one of the prostitutes, but in a not on the books, not on the meter and not with knowledge of the boyfriend kind of way. I was, let’s say, conflicted by all of this. While I prided myself on coming from a working class family and kidded myself that I was pretty street smart, I also acknowledged that it felt like I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, that I was somewhat out of my comfort zone. No disrespect to anyone who was born in WGC and works in a factory there – after all, I’m from St Helens – but I later realised that the wrong turn I’d taken was at Junction Four of the M1 for Hatfield. I should have stayed on the motorway until it penetrated the heart of London. I was disconsolate about the high percentage of prostitutes I knew – they weren’t even nice people like they would have been in the Bible or a Ken Loach film. I was kind of stunned that no one else seemed to feel the same way. Every time the fourth guy went on a date, I would become irrationally afraid that she would end up on the game as well.


It’s one of those things I’m really embarrassed about, but everyone else there pretty much hated me. Some giant, bald, ex-army prick with a chin that looked like a snow plough who worked on the pallet trucks used to call me Fenian scum on account of my surname. He’d done several tours of Northern Ireland, like this was somehow relevant to me. When my friend committed suicide, I was stupid enough to not keep this entirely to myself and he was one of several people who turned it into a running joke. I was sick of the way he curried favour with the other drivers at my expense; they already disliked me enough as it was without him sticking his jaw in. I decided an act of largesse on my part was necessary.

One late shift, the unthinkable happened and we actually got finished by about 10.30PM. People were in a giddy frame of mind. We were going to get off shift well over two hours early. I had a brain wave. I said I’d run over the road to the Attimore Hall pub and get a couple of pints in for everyone and they could settle up with me when they came over after putting the battery trucks on to charge for the night.

I jogged over to the pub, hitting the bar at 10.45. I ordered 27 pints of Stella, nine bottles of Bud, four whiskeys and six Jack and cokes.

“Is that all?” asked the barman.

“No. I’ll have a bag of Frazzles as well please”, I said.

“Would you like a tray?” he added.

He was OK, the barman. He even gave me a hand carrying the giant round to a long table at the back of the pub. But as soon as he left me, he went to fetch the landlord. I looked at all the gallons of ale in front of me and felt a massive amount of tension lift from my shoulders. I could imagine Lance Corporal Bollock Face taking them all to the Ludwick Arms instead just to drop me in it, but I didn’t care.


The landlord was a touch passive aggressive when he turned up. “There’s not going to be any trouble, is there”, he said, pitched half way between a statement and a question and stood hovering a few feet away from the table, unsure of what to do.

I downed a pint in one and looked at him without saying anything. I imagined the headline on the front of the following day’s Welwyn And Hatfield Times: “Northern Idiot Dies In Ill Advised Last Orders Stunt”.

“As soon as it turns 20 past, I’m calling the police”, he added, walking over to stand by the beige payphone bolted to the wall.

But the rest of the shift barrelled through the door at 10 past eleven and got stuck into their drinks. Aggravatingly, I’d already finished all three of mine and I had to sit round watching everyone else sipping away at theirs.

Little by little, the knives were being slid back into my flesh. When I first sat at the table surrounded by 37 drinks, I initially felt free, but now I just felt trapped again, watching these clowns drink them all… far too slowly. I only had to wait for another 20 minutes before we’d all get thrown out, though and then I could go home. I slid my hand into my work bag and stroked my Thermos Flask.  As soon as I got back to my flat, I’d open it and pour myself the first of many well deserved whiskies and not stop until I slipped into the deepest of voids. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it as I was already dreading waking up the following day.

Previously: I'm Half Crazy All for the Love of You

You can read all the previous editions of John's Menk column here.