by Jon Biddle

When I was young, very young, impressionable and a soldier. We had been on duty all weekend of which abruptly; we found ourselves free on a Sunday afternoon. It was pointless going home all the way to Dorset. A four-hour train ride just for the afternoon, so, as young men, we went to Soho. 

Soho in London the 80s wasn’t the cosmopolitan hub it is today with the trendy bars, swanky restaurants and the boutique hotels. Back then, Soho was a shit hole. Filled with seedy sex clubs, prostitution, sex shops and the great unwashed. We were based in Colchester, about an hour’s drive from London. So we piled into the car, a Rancho. It was a right beast. We looked ridiculous in it, but of course; we thought we were mustard. 

It was a car we had inherited and had become the platoon battle-bus. It had almost no braking, no second gear. We held the exhaust in place by string and the only thing in it of worth was the JVC stereo which, if my memory serves me right, was nicked out of another car. 

So off we went, Hugh Janus (Not his actual name), Seymour Snatch, Moe Lester and Peter File (also not their proper names) with the very little money we had, we pooled into a kitty. The short straw was drawn and Wayne King had drawn it. He was pissed. “Fuckin hell, why have I drawn the short straw?”  

The draw was completely at random, yet he tried all the way to London to change the mind of the rest of the battle bus. Going over and over again that the completely random drawing of the straw was as random as it got. Yet it wasn’t. We had engineered that Wayne King drew the short straw. You see, heading into the big smoke, Wayne was a social hand grenade and simply couldn’t be trusted in public with the opportunity of women and copious amounts of beer. He had to remain sober and drive us back to the barracks.

Moe Lester had produced a couple of bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 – the kind of booze that altered your renal function, kiwi flavour to be more accurate. By the time we hit the M25 underpass, we were already hammered. 

Trundling along the A12 heading to London, the sound of Guns and Roses screaming Take Me To Paradise City blaring, the rattle of the engine and the screeching of Axl Rose was causing the windscreen to wobble in its perished rubber flanges. 

We had no idea where Soho was, I of course had lived in London so knew intimately where it was. Only because me and my mates would head into town after school and interrupt the old ladies knitting in the peep show booths. Dropping ten pence pieces wrapped in tinfoil into the slot so the machine thought the fifty pence. 

But we still got lost. I knew it was up one road from Trafalgar square, Wayne King and Hugh Janus were arguing about whether to get a prozzy. They nicknamed me Victor Mature as I was the sense of reason, way beyond my years for this lot. Sat on the back seat in the middle, both hands on the front seat like some African tribal chief “We only have £48.19p, there’s no chance of getting a prozzy because we need more booze and we need fuel.”

The red light was blinking, and had been for the last twenty miles, reminding us we were inevitably going to be late for battle PT at six in the morning.  

We stumbled onto Soho, I still made it look like I knew where I was going as Wayne King and Moe Lester had entered a full-blown argument on how cheap they could bag a prostitute. It may have been here that I realised that the infantry wasn’t the best choice of a career move for me.

We located a private street. One without parking-metres and quiet enough so not to arouse the suspicions of the law. The Rancho was everything the highway code said you shouldn’t have. Pretending to lock the doors because the lock stopped working circa 1978. We headed into Soho, the first bar we came to was a sex club called Tulips. The inflection of the club’s name was heavily emphasised on the Lips and the logo of the club, in a drab green and red neon of the tulips flower. But the head of the flower being the unmistakable lips of a vagina. Class, right?

I had in my pocket £28.28, I gave Wayne King the other twenty. Reminding him that that was for the fuel. Wiping his nose with the back of his hand, he reluctantly nodded. He was shifting on the balls of his feet like an agitated drug addict. It was here that I should have taken notice, however, the stupidity of youth and the denial of that gnawing inside me I should have acknowledged would return to haunt me.

Wayne King shuffled off, not sure why, I think he was hungry. Moe Lester, Peter File, Seymour Snatch along with Hugh Janus nodded to the burly meathead standing by the doorway to the Tulip Club. The worn sticky carpet led the way down a dimly lit stairwell. My hand touched the polished mahogany bannister, realising that the polished surface was in fact as sticky as the worn out carpet. There was just enough room to fit my shoulders through, and I wasn’t the biggest. Hugh Janus, although shorter, had the surrounding girth to make up for his shortness, with a salty attitude. I should have changed his name to Rumplestiltskin – he had to walk down the stairs sideways. What if there was a fire? Remember this was the 1980s, human life had a different currency back then and health and safety kind of didn’t exist.

The club stank of bleach and lager, smoke hung heavy in the air, the lighting was low, moody, the sticky carpet made my trainers feel like they had Velcro on the soles, it was probably a good thing that the lights were low. The audience was a mix of businessmen, hookers and sex pests. I expected to see Rolf Harris in the crowd. 

A stained pink Devan sat in the middle of the room, yellowed spot light’s illuminated the bed. It felt a bit weird if I’m honest; they showed us a table by a gum chewing woman. She blew a gum bubble as we took our seats, handed around the drinks menu. Laminated and as sticky as the carpet.

“What can I get ya?” She said. I scanned the menu, it was over-priced cheap beers.

“I’m good thanks?” I said to her, handing her back the menu. She didn’t take it.

“Soz mate,” she said, over chewing the gum as another bubble had stuck to her face, “you can’t be in ‘ere and not buy a drink.”

I scanned the menu again, there were cokes, you know the shitty small ones you get in trendy restaurants.

“I’ll have a coke?” I said.

“What about ya mates?” She asked, looking round the table. Moe Lester, Peter File and Seymour Snatch were scanning the menu, “we’ll share it?” I said. I felt like golden balls, clever bastard, Moe Lester burst out laughing, the laughing was cut short.

“Can’t,” the woman said flatly. She took a sharp draw in breath, I could now smell the strawberry Hubba-Bubba, she blew again.

“What do you mean can’t?” Peter File said.

 “Can’t,” she said, shrugging.

Seymour Snatch slammed the menu on the table, I clocked a meathead slide off the bar stool; we had to simmer down quickly.

“Can you elaborate?” I asked.

“Sure, to get a cheap seat in the club, you have to drink?” 

“We’ll just leave then.” Said I.

The server shrugged,  “you can leave, but you have to leave through the back,” she said nodding to the back door. A green light that said it was the fire exit was covered by three big dudes. The three big dudes had already clocked us, either they had a nose for changes in the atmospherics of the club or they were all mic’ed up. We had no choice, we had to have a drink.

“Okay, four cokes.”

“Coming right up,” she said, turning on her heels.

We sat back and waited. The drinks took an age to get to us as the audience was filling up and the smoke was getting thicker. Returning, the waitress came with the drinks, and still in the cans. The glasses were mostly chipped and had seen the inside of a dishwasher too many times. The sparkle had gone out of them, like the inside of this club. She put the bill on the table, “My boss said you guys have to pay straight away or there’ll be trouble if you see what I mean?”

Moe Lester bristled, “what do you mean trouble?

“Well, they think you’re here to cause trouble and they want you to pay now before things kick off, know what I mean?”

“Not really?” I said, reaching for the bill. My eyes on stalks almost touched the beige cheap paper of the bill. Each coke cost eight quid. This was 1988, the equivalent would be around thirty pounds in today’s money. We didn’t have it. We had the £28 in our kitty, Wayne King, that had buggered off had the other £20 for gas to get home. 

“These drinks are astronomical, we haven’t got that kind of cash on us?” I said, flicking the bill to the centre of the table. Peter File snatched it from the table and read, “fuck this, I ain’t paying, we’re leaving” he said standing. He picked the can of coke up and walked to the back door. We filed in behind Seymour Snatch, always the rear gunner, took up the rear and walked backwards out covering our rears. I was close to Peter File. Now Peter File was a tasty bastard, he loved a good punch up and any excuse to scrap was like a red rag to a bull. Some of us were going to get the kicking of our lives, but the meathead’s on the door aren’t ever going to forget us. 

Peter File got to the door. He reached, and one of the meathead’s snatched his hand and pushed him back. 

“Pay for your fackin’ drinks” he said, the East End cockney was strong, his cheeks wobbled like a British Bulldog. I clocked the rings around his fingers, he was packing a knuckle duster, that was gonna hurt if he wielded it. 

“I haven’t opened it” Peter File said, “‘ave it back, you mong” he screamed, smashing the can into the face of the meat head that was still sitting on the bar stool. He pumped him again with the can spreading his nose across his face, the meat head falling off the stool and to the floor. He then turned to the other one who’s was already swinging. I managed the get one hook on his jaw. It was a solid punch. He felt it and faltered backwards.

I knew it was a knockout punch because it bloody hurt me, but he kept coming.

Peter File opened the can and shook it, the sugary drink sputtering everywhere like a bottle of Champaign, head-butted the stunned meathead then kneed him in the balls. Another came running over, tables and chairs clattering everywhere. 

Now the challenge here is, when you have four infantry soldiers that had just returned recently from combat operations, you ought not to pick a fight with. Seymour Snatch at the rear gave us the heads up. He picked up a chair and hurled into the approaching thugs, following the chair with a blood-curdling scream, arms going like a windmill. He connected with two of them, staggering back, trying to stop the onslaught from Seymour Snatch.

I opened the door and grabbed Peter File who was still busy finishing the second meathead, Moe Lester grabbed a beer from one table, kicking the table over to fight off the suited businessman in there for a cheap thrill, running past me and up the stairs. I held the door open for the others to pop- smoke and leave. They filed past; I stood and surveyed the damage. They would not be calling the law. No way. We sprawled four bouncers across the floor, and the audience seemed to not bother with the chaos we had caused. I realised that I was missing Hugh Janus. I ran back in, hopping over the groaning bouncers. I found him chatting with a toothless transvestite sitting at the bar. He was smashed. I grabbed him, dragging him off the bar stool. He rounded the corner of the bar and saw the melee on the floor.

“What the fuck happened here?” He said. 

“Oi,” the barman screamed, “stop that man, he has to pay for his drinks.”

Another bouncer came out of the back office. A thick gold chain was so tight, it was strangling the man. Sovereign rings on each finger, his wrists dripping in gold. He was holding a hammer. I thought, that’s it, I’m dead. That hammer is going through my head any second. He looked at Hugh Janus, wobbling on his feet, too pissed to have caused the carnage. He looked around the room and saw his mates. It occurred to me – he thinks I created this mess on my own. He must have thought I was the most dangerous man on the planet.

I looked at him, blood pumping through me like hot lava, I was going to go down fighting whatever, “do your fucking worst?” I calmly said, spittle hanging off my chin. My cheesecloth shirt that cost a bomb in Burtons had the blood stains of his comrades on. He looked at the hammer, looked at me, looked at the hammer, then looked about the room again.

He had weighed his options, and luckily for me, it was in my favour. 

“Turned to the side to let me through “fack orf” he said, waving us through with the hammer like a traffic cop.

We clambered out and up the piss smelling stair well. The others were waiting at the top on the street level. Wayne King had also caught up with us. He looked flushed and happy.

We laughed our way back to the car, spending the £28 on a couple of beers and a kebab, Wayne King happily joining in. When we got back to the car and things turned into a sour note. 

The £20 that Wayne King had been given for gas, as he was the designated driver, had spent it!

“On fucking what,” I screamed. 

“I had a blowie from a prozzy and took her for a couple of drinks after, she fleeced me for the rest.”

“So we have no money?” 

“What about the cash machine?” I said.

Shaking of heads.

Moe Lester had an idea. He had his cheque book in the battle bus. On further investigation, Moe Lester thought that having cheques in your cheque book meant you had money in your account and in fact there was no money in the account and didn’t understand the concept about basic banking physics. Having a full cheque book doesn’t mean that your bank account is full – we were infantry, remember. Most of us didn’t develop cognitively until our thirties. 

My parents lived in North London, I thought about heading up there and tapping my mum for some money, of course, my father would have other ideas about that.

“We’ll have to nick the fuel?” Wayne King said. 

“Great idea, let syphon the fuel out of a car?” Hugh Janus said. We had a hosepipe in the back of the battle bus, apparently for this eventuality. Hugh Janus had been driving for four years now and had never bought gasoline. Only stole it.

We found a 5 series BMW four cars down from ours. The light was terrible, Wayne King was hanging back trying to keep watch, Hugh Janus protested, “why am I doing this when Wayne King was the one that spent the money. We all looked at each other and agreed it was Wayne King that should syphon the fuel.

“No chance,” he said. He stood his ground and then when we piled on top of him and then dragged him to the Beamer. “Suck,” Seymour Snatch screamed. A couple were walking past, the look of concern written across their faces. Four burley blokes stood over Wayne King, a hose pipe stuck in his mouth shouting “Suck”.

“Nothin to see here,” Moe Lester said, “move along,” he said, ushering them along.

“Hurry, they’ll be on the blower to the law.”

Hugh Janus boinked Wayne King on his head and shouted, “Suck,” again.

He started sucking, the fuel bubbled in the tank, “suck not blow you idiot?” Moe Lester shouted, but it was too late. The back pressure of the fuel in the tank built and shot out of the end. The pipe couldn’t be removed, quick enough from Wayne King’s mouth, he drank about half a litre of gasoline before snatching the pipe from his mouth. We stuck the running gas pipe into a fuel can. Wayne King sat on the floor, gasoline dripping for his mouth, Moe Lester was stood over him with a cigarette going “fuck me, that’s nasty, I wouldn’t have done that mate,” he said.

“Put that fag out,” I shouted, “you’ll blow him up.”

“Shit,” Moe Lester said.

Wayne King was pale, his eyes worried, I was worried; I thought he was going to die. There was no Google, it was 1988. “Shall we take him to the hospital?” one asked

We all looked down at the poor soul, burping gasoline fumes up. Didn’t really know what to do because it was getting late now; we had to get back to camp. Wayne King was the designated driver, he couldn’t go to the hospital. He’d have to suck it up.

“You have to drive us,” Hugh Janus said, “otherwise we’ll all be in the shit.”

Wayne King nodded. He took one for the team, and penance for his selfish stupidity. We helped him up to his feet. He staggered to the car and sat in the driver’s seat. He fired the engine up while we tried to fill the car, spilling most of the fuel that we had nicked. We kept that to ourselves, that might upset Wayne King. 

We piled into the car and slowly snaked our way out of London. The odd burp from Wayne King up the front belched out. The stink of gasoline was too much. None of us could smoke, which made us all irritable and angry. Halfway up the A12, the dual carriageway that fed into London from East Anglia, “my guts are in threaders,” Wayne King said, “I think I’m gonna die,” he said pitifully. 

“Keep going mate, you can die when you get us back to Colchester.”

“I might need to stop and have a tactical shit,” which means a poo in the bushes. 

I tapped my watch; we had to get back; we had PT at 6AM in the morning and it was already 3AM. There was no time to stop. 

It was approximately four minutes later that I regretted this decision. The car veered as Wayne King groaned in agony, then suddenly I heard the pop pop of Wayne King’s watery anus.  A jet of liquid feces bubbled up between his legs. The stench was something that I have never experienced since. 

“Oh, you dirty bastard,” I said.

Moe Lester was sparked out in the front, the stench wafted across his nose, the nasal nares flaring in his sleep quickly woke him up. He looked to Wayne King, pale, almost dead like. Half slumped against the steering wheel, the car slowly coming to a halt in the middle of the carriageway. Luckily for us, the road was dead quiet. The loudest fart erupted from Wayne King. More liquid poo slopped onto the floor in the driver’s cockpit, Moe Lester took a couple of minutes to realise what was going on. Turned to look at me, and projectile vomited into the back seat. Hugh Janus was the next to wake up, reciprocated the vomiting and puked down the back of Wayne King. I had to get out, the panic in me. It was like a scene from 28 Days. 

The Rage!

I scrambled to the back screaming, my hands grabbing at anything that could open. My fingers located the rear trunk catch, trembling, opened the trunk. The groaning and spattering on bodily fluids was all too much for me. The door swung open; I climbed out and the wash of the East Anglian breeze suddenly made everything okay, although it wasn’t okay. I surveyed the inside of the car like it was some hellish macabre scene from the worst horror film that you have ever seen. The men inside were in a zombielike state, covered in excrement and vomit.

Wayne King had got out of the car, on his hands and knees, looking like death. His trousers weirdly had come off and had projectile diarrhoea. A stream of poop about half a meter trajectory fired out of his bum, slapping onto the floor. He groaned. He was talking to God, kept saying “Oh God, Oh God” begging for mercy and repent from his sins. A car pulled up, the driver benevolently wound his window down “need a hand?” He asked. Wayne King then came around the front of the car still on his hands and knees, no pants, a jet of poop streaming out, “never mind,” the guy said, wheels spinning off leaving us in the darkness of the early morning.

I peered into the car. There was still no way that I could drive with the booze that I had consumed. The driver’s seat was made of faux leatherette, a waterproof material. Poop, still in liquid form, was a deep puddle. It had formed a skin like a rice pudding. The high sides of the seat were the bowl for the excrement. Moe Lester looked like he had contacted the bubonic plague. He couldn’t even look into the car. Half of his body was hanging out of the window, his body convulsing.

The only person who didn’t seem bothered was Seymour Snatch. He was sitting there eating the remains of his cold kebab. 

“How the fuck can you eat that?’ I asked, staring at him with incredulity all over my face.

He shrugged, took another bite, “When you have had your demented nan living with you, flicking her own poo at you at the dinner table, things like this seem little trivial.”

I turned to Wayne King, “right, you have to get a grip, it’s only fifteen miles to the camp, you’re gonna have to get on it and drive the car.”

Wayne King snivelled, bless him. He had been crying as he got to the door of the car and looked at the lake of poo in the seat. Grabbing his AA road map and scooped the excess out onto the road like it was the morning frost. He then sat in the car, the seat squelching which set Moe Lester off again, “I can’t be sick anymore, there’s nothing left,” he said, his voice trailing off exhausted dry retching.

We finally got back to camp. It was near 6AM. The platoon sergeant was standing on the step of the accommodation, looking at his watch as we turned the corner.

The state inside the car was something that just couldn’t be explained. Without missing a beat or wanting an explanation of the carnage that was inside the car, he told us to go get our running kit on, ten miler before 7:30AM.

Wayne King shuffled past. His skin had taken the colour of the gasoline, differing shades of blues and greens. 

“What’s up with you?” He asked.

Wayne King went to speak – “on second thoughts, best I don’t know, hurry up,” he said.

It’s quite normal to think that the run didn’t go so well. Wayne King and Moe Lester were at the front. About 500 metres into the run, Wayne King’s guts exploded again, causing the entire platoon to fall about laughing and puking. 

I have never seen Soho in the same light ever again, nor do I travel the A12. I chose a different route as the trauma of that night is still raw in me. The thought of Marks Tey and Whitchurch conjures a level of anxiety in me that’s difficult to shift. 

I will also never go to a sex club again, so if anyone out there is offering. I will decline your offer. 

The Rancho was given an appropriate send off. We blew it up. It died a Viking death on the Salisbury Plane by firing a missile into it. It served us well, but those stains never came out and the stench of shit was too overpowering. 



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