Conversation among men is always a competition amongst equals.
Women can spend the rest of measurable
time discussing the endless details of their relationships, other people's relationships, the relationships of
fictitious TV characters and how they secretly dislike an absent friend. Men, however, must talk about solid things, and must
be on a level. If a chap talks cars, or football, or plumbing, I must talk cars, or football, or plumbing, or suffer for it.
I once spent an entertaining two hours in a pub giving my views on heavy lifting machinery. That I didn't have views on heavy
lifting gear before those two hours, and don't now, is irrelevant. That was the topic.
So, now, we were talking about fighting. As a man must, I began searching for fight stories of my own to tell.
I thought about the time when I was 13 and someone threw my homework in the mud: I tried to
fell him in a single blow with a karate chop I had seen on TV. I hurt my hand. He thought I was trying to pick his pocket.
I thought about the time we were set on in Holyhead by Welsh youths who thought one of us looked a bit like someone else
who might have stabbed his mate: good enough reason to beat us all up, just in case. I hit one of them on the shoulder: I hurt
I decided not to say anything.
We moved on. The Reeperbahn exists outside the normal laws of physics or human biology. No matter that anywhere else
I feel tanked out and ready for the scratcher after four pints and midnight, in the Reeperbahn there is always another
drink you could just about fit in, and another five hours that
you could somehow find to do it. I had arrived in Hamburg
exhausted from a full day's travel... when? Half eight last night, and now it was four o'clock in the morning and carried away
with the joy of life I was pogo-dancing alone
on the dance floor as Richard tried to hide behind a barstool.
It all started, as all Hamburg nights must, in the Shamrock Bar. The Shamrock Bar was Irish twenty years ago before "Irish" became
a pre-packaged marketing theme. There isn't a road sign to Lisdoonvarna, or a bicycle, or a lobster pot tied to the ceiling, the
music isn't turned up too loud, and you won't be crushed by throngs of gabbling morons. Just wood panelling, candles and
small groups of people telling quiet lies throughout the night.
We sat at the bar, finding new stories in the dark spaces, in the warm half-light, in the gentle
amber glow of the collected whiskeys of the upper shelves.
I remember a Scotsman telling us about oil rigs, another barman telling about fights the night before (conclusion:
some people shouldn't drink), the German barman with the neon beer sign around his neck ('till he could find a better place').
Bar workers from all over the city would drop into the Shamrock. It is a rest from the drunks and tourists on the main drag.
We drank beer. We held forth on whatever the important topics might be. I talked football. I know no football.
We re-invented the world again and again. Paddy, an Irish carpenter showed up with
his girlfriend Ilke. Two days ago she had suffered a black eye in a basketball accident.
Already half the bars in Hamburg had printed out a picture of them both under the headline
Richard looked as cunning as the day he told me that his success
in life was due to his choice of shoes ('show them only the best will do')
and suggested we look down the street for a 'quick jaegermeister' or two.
There was music somewhere, a roving band from the US pulled in to play in Hamburg for a
couple of weeks. There was slurring. There was wandering around. Confused.
Five hours later, as we evaded the girls of the red light district, who came out to grab us playfully,
hoping to finish their quota for the night and go home to their families, and headed to the
24-hour chip van, I wondered what we should do next.
"Well, firstly finish that sausage before it wakes up, then let's go get a drink."
He eyed me carefully. "You can't throw up yet, you know. It's your round."
Physics and biology have no power over you in the Reeperbahn. I took a deep breath. "Okay."