14 AUGUST 2004, Page 45

Band aid

Jeremy Clarke

Iwent to a five-band ska night with Sharon the other night. Ska is a sort of brassy reggae, popular with skinheads in the Sixties, that is virtually impossible not to dance to. Top of the bill was Bad Manners. fronted by Buster Bloodvessel. Buster's party trick is lewdly to poke out his tongue, which is abnormally long, between songs. Another enduring Bad Manners tradition is that the audience chants 'you fat bastard' at him — even though he has lost a lot of weight recently.

Bad Manners is Sharon's all-time number one favourite band and she was wearing her You Fat Bastard T-shirt! Poor Sharon deserved a treat. She's been crying her eyes out for days over the death of her most recent boyfriend, a shop-fitter. She'd walked past the shop he was fitting, said hello, as she does, and that was it. They'd been seeing each other, on and off, for six tumultuous weeks, including a week in Tunisia, and there was already talk of him having his vasectomy reversed. Then, three days before the ska night, she'd had a text from his brother telling her he'd been killed in a car crash.

She was in such a terrible state I was on the verge of giving away our tickets — which weren't cheap either, Then, on the day of the gig, the shop-fitter boyfriend rings up and says sorry, babes, I was only pretending to be dead. I did it to test the strength of your love for me, Please try to understand. So even by Sharon's standards, she'd had an emotional roller-coaster of a week. A fiveband ska extravaganza, headed by her beloved Bad Manners, was just what was needed to wipe away the tears.

It was a terrific, sweaty evening. I was on speed — ska goes best with speed, and in any case it was all I could get and I danced like a hen on a hot griddle all night. Buster Bloodvessel stuck out his great yellow tongue and waggled it at us whenever he

had a moment to spare. And in between numbers we chanted 'you fat bastard' at him until we were hoarse. Sharon took to the dance floor only for the Bad Manners set. The moment she stepped on, a smooth-looking chap with sunglasses on his head hoved to, and that was it. We had a re-run of Diana Broughton and Joss Erroll first clapping eyes on each other at the Muthaiga Club, and they spent the rest of the set canoodling happily together at the edge of the dance floor.

After the show Sharon and I went to a birthday party on the third floor of a Victorian poorhouse, recently converted to luxury flats. We arrived, however, to find the door secured on the outside by a large padlock. I knocked anyway and immediately we heard muffled shouting from the other side. It was Trevor — Sharon's exfiance. He'd gone to the lavatory during the birthday party, he explained through the door, and when he came out he'd found himself locked inside a deserted flat. He sounded hysterical. 'Kick the door down!' he said. 'You kick the door down,' we said. (With Trevor's reputation for violence, surely he'd be better at it than we were.) 'I can't,' he whined, 'I'm too drunk and I'm wearing sandals.'

It was late. Apart from Trevor's muffled shouting, the building was silent. Everyone was tucked up and fast asleep in their refurbished cells. I aimed and kicked, and kicked again. The acoustics of concrete stairwell and bare communal landings made the impact of shoe and wood reverberate through the building like naval gunnery practice.

There was one other door on the top landing. As I prepared for another assault, this door opened and a large man with a low brow and army tattoos emerged. Without a word, he bent to examine minutely the damage I'd inflicted on his neighbour's front door. After half-a-dozen kicks I'd split the door frame from top to bottom, but the padlock showed no signs of giving way. Then, again without a word, he went back inside his flat. 'I expect he's gone to call the police,' said Sharon, letting her shoulders droop at the tedium of it all. But two seconds later the man re-emerged with a claw hammer and a small brass water pipe, lit. Handing me the claw hammer and Sharon the water pipe, he said humbly, 'I'm one of those tiresome, nosey neighbours. Always complaining about the noise, that's me. When you've finished breaking in, perhaps you'll both come in for a coffee and a few pipes. Any company's better than none, sometimes, at 1.30 in the morning.'

I levered off the padlock with the claw hammer, released the foaming captive, and we trooped next door. We were still there when the sun came up. 'Oh, yes,' said the man, refilling, lighting and passing me yet another pipe. 'I'm one of those nosey, complaining neighbours you keep hearing about.'