GIN AND PSYCHOPATHS: SUNDAY AT THE IVY
‘It’s going to be difficult to steal these glasses, but we may well have to.’ Liam and I sit under the scorching patio heaters of the smoking ‘garden’ of the Club At The Ivy, drinking complimentary gin and tonics from globular glasses that look like they’ve been loaned out from Snoop’s personal collection. As Liam makes a rolly I look around the walls of the courtyard. Covered in art and ivy, we’re far from the kind of places that Brain Wash adventures usually take us. Then again, maybe people are easily swayed by stated credentials as we do have history of pissing about at places like the ICA, Curzon Soho and Google.
This time I’ve asked for and received entrance to Sunday Wise, a luxurious afternoon of talks, music and comedy at The Ivy. We’re pretty excited as the top speaker on the bill is Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test and Men Who Stare At Goats. Jon’s a fine journalist, but he could probably have a career in stand up if he got bored of solving mysteries of the mind.
‘I don’t think they’ve pissed about with the gin here.’ It’s an odd place to receive something akin to a fishbowl at 1pm on a Sunday but we take what we can.
‘Maybe I’ll find a sugar mummy.’ Liam muses and smokes as we relax into the day after struggling to find the famous venue, mainly due to a lack of any directional sense and also due to our unfamiliarity with fanciness. I personally struggled to even navigate the steps up the place; weird glowing glass slabs with gaps that grabbed at the point of my boots. It’s a good thing we didn’t follow up on my Fear and Loathing At The Ivy plans. My mother-in-law arrives to visit today and my tiny wife had her concerns. As we reached the Ivy, she text me the sweetest thing.
“Please don’t take acid and get monged out.”
I appreciate her sentiment, but she also helped us to force lime wedges into a bottle of Wray and Nephew as we left, so she clearly has her priorities in a slight muddle. However, so far we’ve stayed straight. We entered to a world of dark wood and gave our name at the door. It seemed we were barely judged at all. The ultimate wankiness of the venue was all pretty weird. As we entered the bar we were looking for, the laughs and smiles of the guests hit us immediately. A ‘rah’ apocalypse had broken out and here we were in a world of suits and Sunday best, hiding the holes in our clothing lest we be judged as people who ACTUALLY exist. Going against what I learned from Trading Places and the like, the staff were polite in the extreme, with one guy saying he’ll get us some stools so we don’t have to stand in the crowded room.
Craig scribbling musings
As we walk back in from the smoking area, the guy finds us and tells us where he’s left our seats. Soon we’re perched on bar stools at the back of the room, looking over the well-dressed crowd, sipping on our globes of booze. This is exactly what I learned journalism is all about. My own style of journalism surfaces again when the first guest speaker is brought to the stage and I’m surprised by his appearance, as I’ve done no research whatsoever. Mickey De Hara, writer of Snatch and RocknRolla, is introduced and I expect some kind of pikey gangster to appear. Instead, I get an older guy, mixed race, in a suit.
Instantly charming, Mickey is interviewed by the host Hamish, and is bursting with the kinds of tale you could listen to all day. Growing up in South London, of Gambian heritage with an aggressive drunken playboy father, Mickey has ALL of the anecdotes. Of his father making him fight. Of single parent mayhem. Of stealing food to feed his brothers. Of time in a children’s home. Of becoming a boxer. Of fighting the bullies. Of leaving to be an artist. Of having shares in a porn shop. Of creating ‘Contact’ magazine.
And on the tales go, of Mickey’s security firm and his running of a social room for guys running their daily schemes in the city. He talks of characters like ‘The Laughing Buddha’, 27 stone and 7 feet tall, being on his crew. All the while the impression is of a man of entrepreneurial charm and ingenuity but the underlying story is one of being a really successful scheming gangster. And here he is, telling his tales at The Ivy. His story turns on meeting Guy Ritchie and the ensuing collaborations and success. A young woman turns to her mother as Mickey talks of learning to write movies.
‘Awww…’ How delightfully patronising. Mickey’s tale ends with a fully cinematic turn around; prison followed by the founding of the charity Films4life helping young people escape the bullshit of poverty and make films. What a guy. We plan to get hold of him later.
Introduced next is a young poet called Sirena Reynolds. Another example of someone with a difficult past doing something liberating in the arts, she grabs the room with a performance of a poem called ‘Paper’. It covers the history and uses of the thing we take for granted and looks at how it binds and divides us, as well as talking about what it means on a personal level. I’m entirely reeled in and my mind jumps around history and gets to thinking about how important paper is. We are just nuts-deep in culture today.
Next on stage and ‘in conversation’ is Chinese Businessman Sir David Tang (founder of the Shanghai Tang). Another older dude, with a rather British accent and the business/casual/outdoors look that only truly rich people can master, Tang is full of fine tales. Rather than tell us about making millions he stays on trend and talks film, which he fully associates with losing money. The punchlines to his great anecdotes go like this:
“Never invest in a film.”
“Never get involved in, or think you’re going to find enjoyment in, the making of a film.”
Shambling, rambling tales from a quite classically crazy old rich man. The thing we’re left with is that we should look up ‘Lost In Thailand’, a Chinese version of The Hangover which is the highest grossing film in China ever or some shit. Tang’s final thought is:
“The yellow peril is coming!” Which people laugh awkwardly at and he looks delighted with. My drink is gone and I wish I could get another one. It really was the best way to start a Sunday. We make sure we keep hold of the glasses though, as the remaining ice will go nicely with a bit of Wray and the things themselves with go nicely in my kitchen.
Jon Ronson is suddenly on stage and it’s all like a live re-run of the TED talk about the Psychopath Test that Liam showed to me recently. Liam’s always got something good to share, as it seems he knows how to work The Internet. Jon’s tales are of The Psychopath Test and his work for The Men Who Stare At Goats. The best bit in all this is the news that the new version of the DSM (America’s Big Book of Mental Illness) will have over 400 disorders listed in it, which means the population will be over 50% mentally ill. Despite this being due to the strange world of classifying random behaviours as mental disorders, I’ve been outside a lot and I can safely say that most people are crazy as fuck.
Ronson’s talk is as entertaining as ever. I could listen to his hilarious, gentle patter all day but he’s soon off stage and we’re soon in the queue for the toilet. As we debate skinning up in the cubicle we’re queuing for, we top up our glasses with some lime-infused over-proof rum. We often find ourselves getting acquainted with Wray and his Nephews, despite the dangerous levels of booze.
‘Are you guys waiting?’ It’s Jon Ronson. We introduce ourselves and get a copy of The Psychopath Test signed. Conversation is brief as we all need to piss, but somehow we end up talking about David Icke, the man who’s pretty certain that the world is ruled by secret race of paedophile lizards. I share a theory.
‘You know how his hands are all static in front of him, you reckon that’s from constantly pointing his finger at The Man?’
‘It’s probably the arthritis he’s riddled with.’
Jon Ronson is much funnier than I am. Anyway, it’s piss time and this journey gets slightly stranger in the weird cubicle. Shiny black concave walls clash with light and there’s a strange hologram effect and it’s almost like there’s something on my face as I use the toilet. Very strange, I’m pretty glad we didn’t do that acid. I’d have come out of here looking like the crazies that Jon’s used to dealing with. As I exit, I still see fit to warn everyone about the wall behind the toilet.
We stay stealthy with the Wray but still skin up in the smoking yard with its furious heaters and Sirena the recent poet with intricate dark tattoos on her brown skin. We tell the poet we love her work and tell her about Brain Wash. We’re here on Official Business after all. Our aggressive drinks are sipped off and it’s time to get back out into the world away from the tinted glass and meaningless art and topical foliage. We steal the glasses, obviously.
L-R: Jon Ronson, Sirena Reynolds, Mickey De Hara, Hamish Jenkinson
As the Ivy don’t have a lunch menu to suit our budget we get out into the street and look for somewhere to first build our appetite. We head down some back streets to some gardens Liam knows but we take the wrong road around the walled oasis and just have to keep walking rather than loop back. Next we come across a church, with a nice garden yard that will serve our purpose perfectly. There are people milling at the front of the church and we soon realise it’s being used as a soup kitchen or some such homeless-feeding pop up. We pass the assembled bums and head down the side of the church. Take the stairs, don’t jump off the wall, remember the cracked heel of capers past.
Into the church garden and a fine scene is playing out. A children’s playground in one corner and littered bums around the rest of the place; pissed and flaked out on benches and the lawn. Just ahead of us is an entwined couple on the grass, the man holding a bottle of cheap vodka in his hand as he lies in the sun.
‘It’s a Kerouacian nightmare.’
‘Fuck off, nobhead.’ A response from the vodka man. ‘You fucking fat Jew!’ He continues to shout but we continue to walk and find a bench to perch on. We take stock of the strange scene and start up our afternoon spliff.
‘Was that guy talking to us?’ With that he’s shouting again. But it seems it’s all aimed at a fat man sleeping on a bench.
‘You fat bastard! Call yourself a pisshead!?’
‘Fuck off! Cunt!’ Thick Scouse noise as the fat bum stirs from his stupour. Liam makes a video documentary as the pairs’ argument escalates. Soon the fat man is up and bumbling about, taking a fighting stance and launching himself towards the vodka bum. We can’t see the vodka guy but soon he’s up from behind a bush and heading over to square up to the Scouser. At the critical moment they hold each other and fall about laughing. The vodka bum is young and loud and soon turning to us. Liam ends the video and we casually brace ourselves.
‘’Ere mate, you wanna come for a drink? It’s been my twenty-third birthday for the last two weeks and I haven’t been sober once. I’ve got whiskey, I’ve got vodka, I’ve got weed, cocaine, MDMA…’ He’s staggering over and all I can think to do is just keep smoking the zoot, it can only help. The bum is young but jaded looking, with sharp brown teeth and a leary vibe of aggression and sadness. He wades over but the fat man is struggling to change direction.
The young bum comes close and begins to tell us some random shit before launching in to his credentials.
‘My dad’s killed fourteen people and never been to jail once.’ A classic social opener. ‘I’m twenty-three today, been drinking all week. Can’t celebrate on a Sunday. SUICIDE SUNDAY. Had two litres of Glen’s, two of Bell’s, got a girl over there who I don’t even know, passed out pissed. She’s only drank this much.’ He gesture’s a few inches. ‘I’ve drank six litres and it hasn’t touched me.’ He puts his arms out and looks at the floor around his feet and behind him. Displaying is balance? Or just showing off how he’s yet to entirely fall off the world?
I make friendly remarks but there’s little I really need to say as this guy is wasted and loud and mainly just wants to tell. Out of further politeness we share his terrible vodka, which he pulls from his back pocket. He then unfurls a story about how he’s actually a millionaire. Everything is backed up with fact and figures and details of schemes and websites. It seems he’s making money in various ways. Firstly, the manufacture and distribution of mephedrone (you remember that right? Kiddy crack. The dirtiest of highs). Secondly, he’s a master of the internet, and makes money by having licenses on every transaction made online. He quotes license numbers and details of his Cayman Island accounts.
‘I’ve got 10.2 million in the Caymans. I’ve made about 34,000 quid just today bruv.’
‘I reckon I’ll be minus about 15 quid by the time I get home.’ I presume this guy is charlatan and a full-on mentalist but I indulge his bullshit as he seems crazy as fuck. We do not want to be bottled today. Luckily, Liam has the same idea and we don’t do any “let’s escape eyes,” at each other so the guy stays pretty friendly. Somewhere in all of the noise, he laid out that he is indeed a paranoid schizophrenic, so we must tred lightly.
The fat Scouser is over and trying to bum weed.
‘I’m from Toxteth. Can I have a smoke of tha?’ A deeply incomprehendable people at the best of times, but this Liverpudlian is fall-about pissed.
‘Hang on, he’s not had a smoke yet.’ I pass the joint to Liam, careful to be fairly nice to the guy. He said Toxteth and all I can think about is the kid killed in the park by other kids with an axe, purely for being black. Not to stereotype anyone but it’s well known that Liverpool is the home of the aggressive white scally. Manchester does its bit, but Liverpool is just above and beyond.
Soon the Scouse man has the zoot and has moved off to flop on the grass. He has a toke and passes out. The still mobile, wily pissed man with the sharp teeth gets the joint back from the lips of the fat man and hands it back to us.
‘Can’t smoke it. Makes me go mad.’ I fully expect him to take a toke and murder us with the cheap vodka right there. He doesn’t. He just tells us at length about his multiple personas he has that keep him out of prison. I don’t make any jokes about him having a split personality or anything, as I feel that would truly bring Suicide Sunday upon us. He shows me his ID, a prison card with a picture of him looking much younger on it.
‘That’s only one of the names I’ve told them.’ It’s probably just his name. ‘I’ve never been in prison longer than 20 days. Only costs 12 grand to pay off a barrister.’ We endure more tales from the impossibly wealthy bum and make our excuses to leave. NEVER have we walked so fast.
‘I thought we were going to be bottled.’ Liam looks over his shoulder. Through the railings of the church yard we can see that the young bum is up and leaving too. We give it some real pace and head back to the safety of the Ivy. And so the day is awash with white mess and ironies.
‘Shit, we need lunch.’
‘HomeSlice is round the corner. May get free eats.’ As nobody pays writers anymore, I’ve made most of my rent helping on street food stalls all over London. Last summer I made a LOT of woodfired pizza, but my employers have now graduated to a fancy shop whilst I’m still in the street with other people that need a half-decent cook that isn’t always late. We find the pizza place hidden away in Neal’s Yard and I chat to the cook who I used to work with. Some grumpy charmless dude who I don’t know seems to be running things so we pay for our slices and eat them in the sun. Sat on the Seven Dials monument we think ourselves lucky, and life is back to the warm pretensions of the middle class, rather than drinking awful vodka with the waste of the world.
As we head back to the Ivy we still can’t quite get over the weirdness of the day, which of course had twisted in a little bit by early day booze and a sunshine spliff. As we turn into the street where the Ivy lives, I see a man walking towards us putting on a baseball cap. It’s Jon Ronson. He absolutely has to hear this tale.
‘It’s Jon Ronson again.’ He looks up. ‘Hi Jon, the strangest thing just happened.’
‘Oh really? I’m just off the watch the game actually.’
‘We had a run in with a psychopath. Well, a deluded park bum at least.’ With this he looks sort of interested and gives me the time to quickly tell the tale. ‘I won’t lie to you, we were looking for a place to smoke a joint…’ I get the crux of the story out quickly which is fairly unusual. I talk of this man’s fictions and his fascination with facts. ‘I presume he’s just been in prison for ages and got well rehearsed in his fictions.’
‘I’m looking into a new condition actually. Where people have delusions that can be real. Rather than the usual grand delusions that are clearly unusual.’ Mention of David Icke again. ‘Like a man who’s convinced that his wife is cheating on him when she certainly isn’t.’ Jon tells us more about his new work, we say our farewells and he’s off to watch Arsenal try to save their season. As he leaves, Jon says something over his shoulder that we don’t quite catch, an acronym we’re not familiar with. SOYG? SAYG?* I can’t be sure. I scribble them down. Spit On Your Grave? Did he hate us? Who’s to know? Maybe it was a test.
Post Homeslice desert
Back in the cosy confines of the Ivy, everyone seems really down. It seems they’ve just watched a dark and depressing short film. They should’ve got us to curate, then everyone would be feeling pleasantly unsettled and bewildered. Next on the bill of entertainment is some stand up comedy. The floor seats are mainly taken so we sit in a booth at the back of the room, facing away from the stage. We can absorb the comedy from here and I can get my notes down. As I’m scribbling about the millionaire mentalist, I realise the table is the sort of green room for the comics, and that they’re sat around doing final notes.
‘Maybe I should just say I thought I was on the bill and then just tell this story about the brown teeth millionaire.’
‘Probably be funnier than these guys.’
The guys are fairly funny, but for me the best joke of the day comes just before the last comic takes to the stage (front of the room). He’s been sat near us on the table for a while, laughing and finishing his notes. When his time comes to go on stage, he gathers up his possessions and leans over to us.
‘Are you guys going to be here for a bit?’ As in, for his show, the final act of the day. Liam replies:
‘Nah, might go and watch the football.’
‘Ah, ok, no worries.’ Awkward and hilarious, just the way I like life. We actually end up staying and the guy is pretty funny. I get down my story of drinking vodka with bums and it’s time to get out of this strange place. As we exit we have a chat to Mickey De Hara, who’s pretty seriously charming. We take a flyer and tell him about Brain Wash. We don’t have any cards because we’re chuckleheads.
We head back to the grey North West of London and have a zoot and a tea and try to recover from the most eventful Sunday in a long time. I make quesadillas and burritos to fight off the munchies and it’s service time just as my girl gets home, along with her mother who’s over from Australia. I give them a fancy lunch, tell tales of psychopaths and I’m not ‘monged out on acid.’ We’ll chalk this is up as a decent day.
‘Would you like some wine? We stole some lovely glasses.’
*COYG – Come On You Gunners, obviously.
WORDS: CRAIG BALLINGER
THE IVY ART GALLERY
SCROLL RIGHT →