One afternoon, a kettle faced woman and a big red man came in The Eight Kings. Big red went to the bar and kettle face came to the window and sat down on one of the stools facing the sea. He brought their drinks. She had a small white and he had a Bloody Mary that he stirred like a Turkish man might do with a coffee; very slowly and meticulously, as if in a dream. They chatted. Every so often she would glance over at me and after several passages of time, said, “It’s Darren, isn’t it?” I shook my head. “Really?” she said.
“I know you from somewhere though,” she said. The man said nothing, just stared, stirring. I looked at her and she looked at me and shortly we agreed, albeit vaguely, that maybe we had met before.
“But where?” she said. I said I didn’t know. The man licked the stirrer, said nothing. It turned out, after some back and forth, that there was, perhaps, a connection. We settled, uncertainly, eventually, on a couple of familiar sounding names and then a mention of another town a long, long way away, seemed, for a while, to seal it. Suddenly, and with some relief, the kettle faced woman said, “That has to be it.” She tapped the red man’s hand and introduced him as Fat Matt. He had a slippery grip. She told me her name was Caroline.
The drinks disappeared and piece by piece it became apparent that there had been some misunderstanding after all and that actually we didn’t know each other. We shrugged it off, started again and soon settled into some small conversations about not very much.
A raincloud blew in across the bay, so we took some more drinks.
It turned out that we had all been to the Dogweed Festival several times over the years and that this might be the connection after all. None of us seemed too convinced. However, anyone that has been to that festival has their own collection of tales and we traded, speaking like old friends.
The two of them had been getting into The Dogweed for free the last couple of years as volunteers. In exchange for a few hours work in the dance tent they received free entry, some backstage camping, a breakfast, a dinner and access to slightly less crowded toilet facilities.
“It’s just standing around really,” said Fat Matt. “You’re not supposed to get too out of it. But no one really cares.”
By the time we left The Eight Kings it was dark. The rain had stopped and we found that we were all walking in a similar direction toward the centre of the town. They were off to score and I was off home. When we reached Queen’s Gardens I stopped and we started to wind up our meeting, saying our goodbyes.
“Where do you live?”
“I’m up here,” I said, nodding Princes Street.
“So are we,” said Fat Matt. “Number six.”
“Ha! I’m at twelve,” I said.
The following summer I joined them and a few dozen others at The Dogweed. Everything they had said about the experience was true: the hours, the camping, the food, the toilets. But after one session I decided it wasn’t for me. You see, you had to wear this fluorescent tabard with the word SECURITY printed across both front and back and be available, with a selection of code words, on a walkie-talkie. It didn’t sit well. I felt like a policeman, a copper, a pig, a fascist; someone not to be trusted by partygoers. And once that feeling had settled, I just couldn’t shake it off. I felt sixteen thousand eyes on me. By the end of the first day, I packed my tent away during one of the free periods, penned an I and an N in front of SECURITY and slipped out of the backstage area and into the crowd unnoticed.
I didn’t see Fat Matt ever again. But one night, months later, I spotted Caroline in The Eight Kings. I went over and, despite the noise, tried to explain my disappearance from the festival.
“Do I know you?” she said.