Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Vomit People

The mysterious 'Tom Bailey' (see previous post) made the rather disturbing comment that he didn't like the notion of combining a bar and a library because of the risk of finding the pages of your book stuck together with vomit.

I worry what kind of bars this man knows, where people actually vomit. I haven't vomited in years. I can't readily remember the last time I saw any of my friends vomit. And I can't imagine ever being so far gone that I would vomit on a book!

Even in my adopted 'third world' home, where people do vomit easily, routinely (most of the locals are cursed by a congenitally low capacity for metabolising alcohol - but that just doesn't stop them drinking!), they invariably manage to stagger outside into the street to do it; they don't just deposit their stomach contents wherever they happen to be drinking.... right there in the restaurant.... the bar.... the library.

These unsavoury reflections put me in mind of a favourite story from my Oxford student days.

One of the political clubs was holding its black-tie dinner for the end of term. I knew one or two of the organizers, so wangled an invite for myself, along with a few of my college drinking buddies (who, like me, had no particular political affiliation. It was all about the booze!). It was to be quite a cheap'n'cheerful affair, held in a private room at Maxwell's, a glorified burger joint on the High Street; and it promised to be a good piss-up.

Black-tie affairs were so common in that era - balls, dinners, cocktail parties, debates at The Union (if you were a paper speaker) - that almost everyone shelled out for an evening suit early in their undergraduate career. Many of us even raided the charity shops to find a cheap back-up suit (the so-called 'combat' dinner jacket) for use in ball-crashing, or at drinks parties that threatened to get messy.

Dinners didn't usually get messy. However, realising that this was to be cheaper and more alcoholic than the majority of dinners, and that there was a fairly wild and unrespectable crowd on the invitation list, most of us concluded that this might be an occasion to opt for the 'combat DJ'. Not my good friend, Ned, though. Perhaps he didn't have one. He was always one of my more affluent and stylishly turned out friends: his DJ was very sharp (a vintage one, handed down from his father, I think); and he had an outrageously snazzy pair of patent leather dress shoes; and an absolutely gorgeous cashmere overcoat.

These were not the kind of clothes he should have been wearing to Maxwell's that night. I'm not quite sure how it happened (something to do with the food being cheap, and not very palatable, I think - not very palatable, but extremely missile....), but the thing rapidly developed into a food fight. A really monstrous, unrestrained food fight. A Wild West Saloon bar brawl of a food fight.

One of the early courses featured baked potatoes - that was just asking for trouble. I remember, at one point, I had a baked potato skin adhering to each shoulder of my jacket.... rather like a pair of dead parrots.

Long before the dessert came, Ned had had the foresight to invert his cashmere overcoat, so that only the lining (watered silk - but still, less vulnerable than the fine woollen outer) was exposed (Maxwell's wasn't the kind of place to have a cloakroom, so he had had to drape the coat over the back of his chair). I think he may even have removed his jacket, and hidden it inside the coat.

It didn't do him a lot of good. When we made our escape, his jacket, trousers, shoes were all covered, nay, infused with various kinds of lurid, dubiously edible gunk. Over the next day or so, the poor boy spent quite some time sponging, brushing, chipping, and scraping away at all of this caked-on, soaked-in food debris, just to try to get his clothes to a state where he could present them, without too much shame, to a commercial dry cleaners.

When he was finally ready to do this, we chose a small chain called Bolloms, which had a branch up in Headington, not too far from the East Oxford house we were sharing that year. We were served by a world-weary, middle-aged man who'd obviously been in the business for years and had seen it all before (or, he thought he had; but he was about to get a shock!). Of course, he wasn't about to let us poncy student types off without a heavy display of disgust and scorn. Each new, soiled item Ned produced from his bag - the shirt, the trousers, the cummerbund, the jacket - produced even more sad, disbelieving shaking of the head, even more disapproving tut-tut-tutting. Finally, Ned reached hesitantly to the bottom of his big laundry bag for.... the cashmere coat. The coat appeared quite unscathed. The censorious dry cleaner appeared - very briefly - pleasantly surprised, bemused as to why we had brought it in. Slowly, delicately, nervously, he began to examine it on the counter. The outside was miraculously unsmirched. Then, he gingerly opened it up to look at the lining..... and found the smeary, desiccated remains of what had once been an entire banana split planted squarely between the shoulder blades!!

The poor man stared at this horrendous, swirly, stale dairy collage for a few moments in utter silence, his jaw sagging open in disbelief, incomprehension.

Then he said sternly, "It's not vomit, is it? We don't do vomit. Sketchley's are the vomit people!"

What a wonderful line! I wonder if Sketchley's (the dominant, almost ubiquitous dry cleaning chain in the UK) would ever consider using it in their advertising.


JohnA said...

There is, of course, Volume II to that story - the bit about the police-in-the-nighttime and "the eventual apology".

Froog said...


I think you're confusing your anecdotes there, Mr A. That sounds like the infamous "Candlesticks episode".... which may be a topic for another post one day.

There were never any riotous food fights and ruined dinner jackets at any of the events I organised!