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Chapter no 24

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

@johnnieLrocks

Farewell Pilgrim Pioneers gig alert! Ending on a bang not a whimper. Details to follow.

#dontmissit #gigofthecentury #ditchingthedeadwood

THIS TIME, IT WAS going to be perfect. I’d seen his tweet, and then, only hours later, my eyes locked onto the small poster in the window of the independent record shop near the office. His handsome face stopped me dead in my tracks. Two weeks’ time. A Tuesday night. Perfect. The hand of fate once again, moving us like chesspieces. I had the king in my sight.

Remembering my error from The Cuttings, I memorized the name of the venue and, as soon as I got home, booked two tickets via their website, the second one as backup in case I lost the first. Perhaps Raymond could use it, come with me; although, on reflection, perhaps not. I wouldn’t want him cramping my style. Purchasing two tickets turned out to be unnecessary, however, as it was only after the transaction was completed that I noticed the tickets were to be collected in person on the night. No matter.

After dinner and The Archers, I sat down with a pencil and a notepad and made a list of all the things I’d need to do in order to prepare. The most important thing, after securing the tickets, was to conduct a reconnaissance visit to the venue, to make sure everything would go smoothly on the night and avoid any unpleasant surprises. Here, at least, I felt Raymond could be of some assistance. We could go together to a different gig, perhaps tomorrow or the following day, and this would afford me the opportunity to scope out the setting for my forthcoming encounter with destiny.

After checking that tickets were still available for a gig scheduled for tomorrow evening, I sent an electronic message:

Dear Raymond, would you like to come to Rank Dan’s with me tomorrow night? E

He replied straight away.

Who’s on?

What on earth did it matter? Surely Raymond could have googled this, if it was of such importance to him? I replied:

Agents of Insanity

Several minutes went by.

WTF Eleanor – didn’t know you were into that stuff? Not really my thing, TBH, but I’ll come along with you – it’s ages since I’ve been to a gig. Have you got tix?

Why, oh why, could he not type in full and proper English sentences?

Yes. Meet you there at 7pm. E

After five minutes had passed, I received the following:

Cool c u then

I had almost become inured to his illiterate way of communicating by the end of this exchange. It’s both good and bad, how humans can learn to tolerate pretty much anything, if they have to.

The following night, Raymond arrived late, as usual. He looked ridiculous – a black sweatshirt with a hood, and a denim jacket over the top. The sweatshirt had a skull on the front.

‘Thought I’d try and look the part,’ he said, beaming, as he stood beside me in the doorway.

I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. We went in, and I collected the tickets I’d purchased online. The bar was poorly lit and, as implied by the name, utterly filthy. Loutish, unkempt people of both genders sat around in Stygian gloom, and the music from the stereo system was both unfeasibly loud and unspeakably terrible.

We went downstairs to the venue. It was already almost full. As I’d stood waiting for Raymond in the doorway, I’d noticed a procession of ridiculous-looking young people entering the premises – this, it transpired, was where they were going. We were surrounded by black – black clothes, black hair, spiked and shaved and sculpted. Black makeup on both men and women, applied in a way that Bobbi Brown would not

have endorsed. There were a lot of spikes everywhere, too – hair, jewellery, even on backpacks. Almost no one wore normal-soled shoes – they were all tottering on thick platforms. All Hallows’ Eve, I thought. Raymond returned from the bar with a plastic pint of beer for himself and, without having asked, something paler for me.

‘Cider?’ I shouted, over the din. ‘But, Raymond. I don’t drink cider!’ ‘What do you think Magners is, you daft bint?’ he said, nudging me

gently with his elbow.

I sipped reluctantly – it wasn’t as nice as Magners, but it would do. It was too loud to converse, so I scanned the room. The stage was small and raised only a metre or so from the floor. When I came back here, assuming Johnnie Lomond would be standing front and centre, he’d be able to see me easily, even if I were forced to position myself halfway back in the crowd. Cupid does, presumably, need a tiny nudge sometimes.

The audience started making a collective animal noise and surged forward. We stayed where we were – the musicians were now on stage and had begun to play. I put my hands to my ears, unable to believe what I was hearing. Without exaggeration, it could only be described as the cacophonous din of Hell. What on earth was wrong with these people? The ‘singer’ alternated between screaming and growling.

I couldn’t bear it a moment longer and ran upstairs, rushing outside into the street, panting and shaking my head like a dog in an attempt to rid my ears of the sound. Raymond followed shortly afterwards.

‘What’s wrong, Eleanor?’ he said, looking concerned. ‘Are you OK?’ I wiped the tears from my face.

‘That wasn’t music, that was … oh, I don’t know. The horror, Raymond! The horror!’

Raymond started to laugh, proper belly laughs (for which he was very well equipped), until he was actually bent over and struggling to breathe. ‘Oh, Eleanor,’ he said, wheezing. ‘I knew you weren’t a fan of

grindcore! What the fuck were you thinking?’ He started giggling again. ‘I just wanted to see the venue, listen to a band,’ I said. ‘That such

sounds could exist – it’s beyond human imagining.’ Raymond had recovered himself.

‘Aye well – what is it that they say? – try everything once, except incest and morris dancing. Maybe we should add death metal to the list, eh?’

I shook my head.

‘I have literally no idea what you are talking about – none of those words make any sense,’ I said. I took several deep breaths, until I felt almost calm again.

‘Let us retire to an inn or public house, Raymond – a quiet one – and please, allow me to buy you some beer in recompense for this wasted evening.’

‘Oh, it wasn’t wasted, Eleanor,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Your face!

This is one of the best nights out I’ve had in ages.’

He started to laugh again, and, much to my surprise, I found myself joining in. It was amusing that I had so comprehensively misunderstood the genre of music being performed. I had a lot to learn about music, I realized, and it would be important to do so in order to interact appropriately with the musician.

‘Have you heard of Johnnie Lomond and the Pilgrim Pioneers?’ I asked him. He shook his head. ‘Why?’ he said. I took out my phone and navigated to the singer’s web page. Raymond scrolled down for a few moments, reading the text, then popped in his earphones and listened for a minute or two.

‘Sounds shit,’ he said dismissively, handing me back my phone. This from a man in a skull sweatshirt!

‘Really?’ I said.

‘He’s got a standard-issue beard, an expensive guitar he doesn’t know how to play and a fake American accent. Trying to make out he’s from the South … aye right, South Lanarkshire,’ Raymond said, blowing smoke out of the corner of his mouth with a smirk. I wasn’t sufficiently well-informed to be able to agree or disagree, so I kept quiet. Either way, I needed to know at least a few salient facts about popular music, and, recent aberrant opinions aside, I suspected that Raymond was my best source.

‘Do you know much about music, then?’ I asked, as we walked towards a pub which Raymond assured me was quiet – ‘A proper old man’s pub,’ he said, whatever that was.

‘Eh, aye, I guess,’ he said.

‘Wonderful,’ I said. ‘Now please: tell me everything.’

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