While my friend Sean and I were touring northern France and Belgium in my Datsun 260Z, we found ourselves, for no particular reason, in the Belgian city of Ghent. I parked the car right in front of the City Hall and we climbed out eagerly in search of food and beer after a long day of driving. Nearby we found a suitable café and settled in for a few hours of eating and drinking in the evening sun. Eventually we got talking to some Belgians at the next table and after a few beers, at their invitation, we joined our table with theirs to make one big party of noisy, beer-enhanced international enthusiasm. They were extremely friendly, and as the warm glow of the evening sun turned into the velvety black of the summer night, one of them suggested we go back to his place to carry on drinking. After half a dozen large Belgian beers it seemed like a good idea to get into a car with a bunch of strangers and head off into the suburbs of a city we didn’t know, so we paid our bill and set off into the night with our new drinking pals.
As it turned out the guy’s place was in a backstreet somewhere behind the City Hall so it was actually only a short walk. Our host lived in a tiny studio apartment in the loft of an old building and there were eight or ten of us in the group so it was a bit cramped, but fun nonetheless. I found a seat at the small dining table with three other guys and Sean fell lazily into a large beanbag chair in the corner. Beers appeared and we sat around talking and drinking for a while before one of the Belgian guys was encouraged by the others to do some magic tricks. Apparently he was quite a well-known local magician, and after a few tricks I could see why. Admittedly I did have a very generous helping of Belgian beer on board, but he absolutely amazed me. He passed his hands slowly over neat piles of coins and they disappeared and reappeared in various combinations. He correctly identified my chosen card and then made it fall out through an apparently normal tea cloth held aloft by the corners. He made lighted cigarettes disappear into thin air. The amateur magicians among you know how it’s all done, and since that night I have researched the tricks and techniques involved myself, but you still have to admire the skill required to perform such illusions.
When the magician had finished, “drunk me” decided, very much against the advice of the inner “sober me”, that it was now the Englishmen’s turn to show some talent and entertain the group. At the time my friend Sean and I were keen songwriters and we had our own small recording studio in England. We had also recently secured a small recording contract from a London based record label and we were in the middle of recording some of our best work, so I looked at Sean to gauge his sobriety before deciding what we should play. There was no sobriety, but he was obviously keen to play a few tunes because I could see he was eyeing up a guitar leaning against the wall about four feet to his right. I announced to the group that we would like to play a few of our own songs for their delectation and delight. They were suitably surprised and impressed and a small ripple of expectant applause went round the room. I looked at Sean and motioned with my head for him to pick up the guitar so we could wow our new-found friends with some of our original masterpieces. Sean gave me an elaborate wink and nod, heaved himself forward in the beanbag chair and reached for the guitar. Alas his judgment and balance were woefully impaired so he missed it completely and fell face-first into the carpet, knocking over a table of drinks on the way. He groaned, let out a muffled “f**k”, and then immediately started snoring. There was an embarrassed silence for a few seconds as everyone stared wide-eyed at the back of his head, then our host stood up, stretched theatrically and announced that it was probably time for everyone to leave – everyone meaning me and Sean.
I sheepishly apologised and said goodnight to everyone, then heaved Sean to his feet and dragged him down three flights of stairs to the street where he vomited enthusiastically. We had no idea where the car was so we stumbled off in the direction of the brightest lights and eventually found it. We slept in the car that night in a forest somewhere on the outskirts of Ghent. How we got there I have no idea.