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Menk, by John Doran

Half-Shut Eyes Don’t See Who You Hit

House parties are hellish.

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 has given up trying. 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.”



I could smell the gas from the street outside. It was 2005 and Maria and I had just got back to my flat in Leytonstone from a weekend away. But instead of being able to go inside, run a bath and make some food, I had to tell her to go to the pub while I worked out what was going on. Walking up the stairs, I fully expected to find my landlord Sam dead in the kitchen, but it was empty. One of the hob rings had evidently been on but unlit for a few days. I turned it off, opened all the windows and went to the Northcote Arms for a few pints. I confronted Sam when he turned up. He said, “Oh I wondered what that smell was. It got so bad I was having to lean out of the window to smoke.” I realised then that I couldn’t put off moving out any longer.

I think I mentioned before that Sam’s brackets had been loosened drastically by a decade sat in front of a giant radar dish, decoding Soviet weather reports when he was an RAF spook. This had left him with a terrible thirst, debilitating night terrors, a functional pension and a high-level security clearance. He was too unbalanced to put it to any worthwhile use, though, so he drifted into security work. As I heard it, he didn’t even last one shift when he was contracted to work for the Tate Modern. His job simply involved walking through all the giant exhibition rooms on one floor once an hour, using a scanner to swipe sensors in each area to prove that he’d done his rounds. One of the shows on his patch featured work by the renowned artist Anya Gallaccio. She had spent months weaving and hand-knotting a gold lame fishing net which hung in splendour from the gallery ceiling. Halfway through the room, Sam’s torch failed, he tripped and fell headlong into the artwork and lay in it, thrashing and screaming in the dark – much as he did in his room every night I lived with him – until there was a giant, idiot-shaped hole in the beautiful and massively expensive exhibit. They frogmarched him out of the building and deposited him into the freezing cold night.


I was thrown a lifeline by my brother Manish Agarwal. I say brother, we’re not actually related, he watches too much Sex And The City for us to be actual blood kin and no one should own more than one Harry Nilsson album, but you know what I’m saying. It was a great time when we lived together. We’d get up late and then listen to six Killing Joke albums back-to-back or watch every single David Bowie video in consecutive order while eating cheese on toast.

Being a music journalist when you’re an adult is kind of like publically admitting you have low-level mental health problems. It doesn’t matter how you cut it, there’s something odd, bordering on wrong, about it. Really the key for me has become doing the job while maintaining the maximum amount of dignity possible; which is certainly not the way I entered the profession.

While Manish would be the first to admit he was probably suffering from slight OCD when I lived with him (his album filing system was like something out of Driller Killer) he was on the side of those doing music writing for the right reasons. After a while he started rubbing off on me and I started dealing with my cynicism and taking my job seriously for the first time ever.

Shamefully we would both take cruel advantage of each other’s mental infirmities, though. When I was on a catastrophic comedown he would wage sonic warfare on me. One Monday morning, after three nights out clubbing and no sleep, he insisted on playing me all of The Drift by Scott Walker at full volume. When it ended he said, “That was amazing. Let’s listen to it again.”


Every fifth of November we threw a party because it was his birthday. He’d always work himself up into a state beforehand. On one of these days he was doing my head in, flapping about food and people coming round. He was pacing up and down getting stressed out about what crisps to buy. I knew I had to get him out of the flat for a bit so I said, “You know how people are about crisps. Get some of all of the varieties you can find. Then you can’t go wrong.” He disappeared for ages, only coming back to the flat when he was laden down with bin bags full of snacks, as I knew he would. There were a lot more than I had envisaged though, and when I saw all the crisps I started having a panic attack.

“Ahhh dear God, look at all the crisps,” I said, scrabbling for my asthma inhaler. “What shall we do with them?” said Manish pacing up and down, getting even more frantic. We opted for filling a bin bag in the corner of the kitchen with bags of crisps and then using multi-bag packs and individual packets to build a kind of big, omni-directional, crisp bag slope leading up the sides to the plateau. On the plus side we had Worcester Sauce French Fries, something of a rare treat these days I’m sure you’ll agree.

At first it ended up being a good party. The flat was rammed and we were listening to Volume Four by Black Sabbath, but then after a while there was a commotion. This roaring oaf of a ukulele salesman was trying to kick the bathroom door down. He claimed he had to get his coat and wouldn’t wait for the girl inside to finish up. After some fine negotiation work he was calmed down and then Manish suggested he should leave. I returned to my pint of red wine and Quaver sandwich in the kitchen, when he came blazing into the room behind me, upset at being chucked out, swinging his fists wildly and shouting at Manish. Luckily my man Danny was there – a tough, ursine guy who drinks cider and listens to stone cold funk rock, seriously, you wouldn’t fucking mess – but between both of us we could barely hold onto him. He slipped my grip, and before I had chance to grab him again he landed a punch square on Manish’s jaw.

In my mind’s eye, I can see my flatmate flying through the air backwards in slow motion, just to land square in the middle of all the crisps, his impact being absorbed by hundreds of bursting bags and thousands of critically impacting Space Raiders and Nice ‘n’ Spicy Nik Naks. In my head I can see him lying amidst all the crisp carnage laughing as we bundled the guy out of the flat. Apparently he’d been drinking on medication, but given that as soon as he was outside he punched his girlfriend hard in the face, it’s safe to say his factory setting was Pure Knob Rash, regardless. It took something like another hour to sort the whole mess out but we still managed to get another hour or two out of the party until someone set my amplifier on fire and then it really was time to call it a night.

Something awesome always happens at Manish’s parties though. Last year, when I was having a minor psychedelic meltdown at 5AM, Angus, the landlord of one of my favourite pubs, The Mucky Pup, told us that he hadn’t drunk water since Live Aid. Probably the most impressive thing anyone’s ever told me. And at the time the most upsetting as well.

On Saturday it was his birthday again so we took Little John round to his flat during the afternoon. And while I think that a child should learn to adapt to its parents’ lifestyle to a certain degree, that shouldn’t include fighting wired Ukulele salesmen, so we left at 7.30PM. Instead we had a sedate afternoon with cups of tea and some top-tier chocolate cake. We moaned about music a lot, but it was great to see Manish; the best annual traditions are worth preserving no matter what.