Once I’d decided I was going to give up Christianity in favour of juvenile drinking, a pattern developed to my Friday and Saturday nights. It went like this: meet my friends at the marina, hang out at the amusement arcade until we could get an older boy to go to the off-licence for us, drink hideous peach- or strawberry-flavoured wine out of mugs in Steve’s parents’ wool shop, then head out again into the cold to meet up with others. There were not a whole bunch of options at this point and time was limited. So, we’d go to this drop-in place called 6A, which was run by the King’s Fellowship. (I was never really clear who they were or why they were different from ordinary Christians.) They provided tea, coffee and biscuits, as well as an array of old sofas and a roof over our heads. We got all that; they got to lock the door for fifteen minutes while they evangelised us. I remember being sympathetic to them the first time I showed up, awkward, self-conscious, sober. Because I was sitting by myself, I took out my notebook and worked on some cringey teenage poetry. One of the 6A men sat down next to me and asked if he could see what I was writing, and I said “Sorry, it’s personal.” I may have had some issues at that age, but I had a decent grasp of personal boundaries. He worked it into his sermon that evening: “And I have seen arrogance here tonight! ‘You can’t see this, it’s personal! It’s private!’” From then on, I had little interest in what they had to say. They’d lock the door and commence the sermon and I’d close my eyes and picture myself spinning backwards through space.
Anyway, at around eleven, 6A would close and everybody would troop around the corner to hang out on the steps of the toy shop. The 6A people would bring a hostess trolley and hand out free coffee, and someone would set up a flipchart in the street and draw cartoons in marker pen to illustrate their points about God. It was out here that I met #5. I think he was in his late teens and had long hair and wore combats. He was originally from Austria although he had lived here for many years, so you couldn’t tell from his accent. He taught me to say “Die Fußen sind kald”, although I’m not sure if I even remember it right. When I was getting ready to leave, he asked, drunkenly, “Nine, can I snog you?” So we did. Thanks to the alcohol-infused blur, I wondered for a few weeks whether there could’ve been something there, but when I eventually ran into him again, months or maybe a year later, he wasn’t my type.