Mad Alex and The Moral Panics
By Jude O'Flynn
Since recording the vocals for ‘Mischief Night’ I’ve spent every night causing mischief to my liver. The cleaner didn’t even bother knocking the other morning or afternoon or whenever it was. She just hoovered and wiped around me. My room was spotless but sadly I was not: typically fully-clothed, refugee chic, fragments of crisps clinging to my pathetic ginger stubble. I dreamt about a human-sized rat chasing me whilst yelling ‘clarify your thoughts’ and ‘justify your position’. My current position is horizontal and the justification is Bombay Sapphire Gin sloshing on a bed of Napoleon Brandy and Heineken.
Is it any wonder that so many people have left The Moral Panics? I’m probably riddled with asbestos now and the only consolation is that Alex is too. We could have a joint funeral soundtracked by one of our – his – morbid songs. How romantic…
Where’s Charlotte? Maybe she’s been ‘sent down’ – a Cambridge term that has another more pretentious synonym: ‘rustication’, which is to be temporarily sent away. I became aware of the definition when I overheard a pair of chaps outside King’s College talking about ‘poor Benedict’ jeopardising a career in law due to an ‘incident’ involving a statue, the flag of a small European nation, and a broom handle. ‘Hardly worth being rusticated for!’
She can’t have been sent down. I would have heard someone gossiping about it by now. The main subject that’s on everyone’s lips is the ‘Hallowe’en Bop’. Ah, ‘bop’, let me count the ways that your strained cuteness makes mine eyes bond with pins! But there’s nothing else in my social calendar and the party’s on my doorstep. I’ve got a few hours to shake off this hangover before I start cultivating another one. Fancy dress is compulsory, though my regular terrible appearance will, for one night only, not be frightening enough. I could get the bus into town and spend a small fortune on a costume I’d wear only once or I could remove the sheet from my bed, cut two holes in it, and pretend I’m a ghost. What if they charge me for the damage? But how would they ever identify that I was the culprit? God knows how many ways the linen in a hall of residence is rendered unusable. To be a fly on the wall and see how selfishly the youth of today disregard the college’s property! I’d give anything to disregard college property with someone else, but right now I need to poke holes on my own. I presume my mum packed the scissors that I eventually find: a huge pair (oh yes) that seem fit to hack off talons or create 50-feet long collages. Anyway, they do the job. I put on the holy canopy and head for the disco.
Being careful not to fall flat on my face, I inch up the path, gently sweeping forward as a normal ghost should. I expect to become part of a swarm of blood-lusty students, but the only person I can see is Clifton sitting on the bench by the Great Hall entrance. I last saw him when I was abruptly done with Donne. I still haven’t done any essays. At least I’m unrecognisable in this ingenious shroud!
What? How is this possible?
‘I’ll hopefully see you for supervision. We’ll be discussing late Victorian poets.’
Why is he here? Shouldn’t he be writing bibliographies or something? If I acknowledge him, I’ll have to actually go to his office and talk about more poets I haven’t read. I say the most appropriate thing on this occasion:
I dash through the doors, trip, and fall into the building. The corridor up to the bar is festooned in fake cobwebs and hanging plastic pumpkins. I’m tempted to find my regular table in the corner and cry inside my costume, but I can hear the distinct timbre of cheerful female hollering next door. Sounds like the hall is absolutely rammed. A vampire is standing at the door holding an ice-cream box. She looks nice despite all that make-up.
‘Hello,’ and I try to wave at the same time, but as she cannot see my arms, it looks like I have a sporadic hernia.
‘Do you have a ticket?’
Of course I don’t have a ticket. To have one would suggest that I’m organised.
‘I don’t have any pockets,’ and I shrug. She’s just about to explain the importance of a piece of paper to enable entry but the cast from Scooby Doo burst through the doors and, while they cause merry mayhem for a moment, I sneak into the hall. ‘I got away with it because of you pesky kids!’ How no one laughed!
Through the gloom, I can still make out the paintings on the wall: former principals frowning at the debauchery beneath them and an enormous street scene that apparently cost a million pounds. The naff light show and monologue at the end of ‘Thriller’ transport me back to being a child in the 80s. A stage has been constructed and I’ve either missed the band or they’ll be playing after we’ve had the usual fix of songs with tenuously scary titles. Yep, thought so: ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries kicks in and, having heard it enough times in my life, and seeing everyone absorbed in their own happy cliques, I think I should whoosh towards the exit. But I decide to linger, as the vampire might catch me and demand some of my valuable beer tokens. Damn it, I should have bought a pint beforehand. I’ll have to remain sober or ask someone to get my drink for me, which will be quite hard to do with this sheet over my face. What a truly dark night…
‘Hello you crazy people, are we having a good time?’ It’s Beatnik again. The music is turned down so his inane ramblings can get the airing they don’t deserve.
‘It’s time for the main act! Are you ready? So many great bands have played here, including the one and only Pink Floyd! Now it’s time to welcome the next big thing: The Exploding Spiders!’
Cue lots of cheering for a band no one has head of. Just as I head for the door, I’m stopped by the sight of Charlotte picking up a guitar and stepping towards the mic. She and the other three band members are dressed entirely in black. Whilst entirely unoriginal, it is at least appropriate for this particular ‘bop’, and they’ve even gone to the trouble of affixing extra limbs to themselves to look like spiders. I presume that this is the intended effect. The bass player’s have become twisted so that instead he looks like a walking swastika. If he wants Nuremberg-style discipline, he’s come to the wrong place: everyone is well on the way to oblivion, except me, but it doesn’t matter because Charlotte is here…
‘This one’s called Bad Ceremony…’
I glide nearer to the stage, doing my best to avoid debris, spillages, and stupid bodies. I want to chant all the lyrics but I don’t know them, which is just as well, as they’re spellbindingly awful. But I don’t care about the message, if there is one, I just care about the messenger…
The star gazing is ended by the re-appearance of Beatnik.
‘Oh my word! Give it up for The Exploding Spiders! Fantastic!’
Most of the audience have just enough coordination to connect one palm with the other. Charlotte is heading off stage right. Must speak with her. Must move quickly but am trapped…Oh sod it, I yank the sheet off and hurl it in the direction of a couple who are clearly keen to start a family soon.
Is she pretending not to hear me? Some bright spark has decided to play the Inspector Gadget theme tune. It has nothing to do with Hallowe’en and it’s too bloody loud. Sack the DJ!
‘Charlotte!’ Finally, she turns around.
‘Great set by the way,’ and I realise that this could be interpreted wrongly. ‘Great set of tunes.’ Eurgh. How very Ibiza ’98. Unfortunately, I can’t excuse my appalling choice of words on dangerous substances.
‘Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.’
‘I didn’t know you were in a band.’
‘Yeah, we’ve just got together.’
Ouch. ‘Together’ but not with reference to us.
‘Cool. Did you know…’ – what am I saying? – ‘I’m in a band too.’
‘Oh wow. What’s it called?’
I don’t think ’Stanley Cohen and The Moral Panics’ is going to appeal much to someone who’s probably got a Slayer tattoo on their shin.
Need to think of something else to say. The conversation’s heading into no man’s bland…
‘I’d better go…’
‘Where are you going?’ I say with lashings of desperation.
‘We need to get the equipment in the van…’
‘I can help!’
‘Thank you, but we’ll manage.’
She’s walking away and I’m standing there like a zombie. Quick, say something else, you’ve already let this happen before!
‘When’s your next gig?’ I shout. Inspector Gadget has been replaced by Alice Deejay's ‘Better Off Alone’, which isn’t especially helpful at this moment.
‘Oh, um, Emma College. Next week…’ and she disappears.
Thankfully, the vampire isn’t by the door waiting to charge me retrospectively for the pleasure of watching other people have a good time. It’s freezing and I’m tired but I’m already looking forward to seeing Charlotte again. As I begin to draft a list of exciting topics to share with her, I spot a group outside halls, which includes the girl from Bible Study. The list will have to wait while I retain the image of her smashing pumpkins. However, this usually simple task becomes exceptionally difficult due to the hysterical screaming of a girl in the foyer. She twirls around for a bit then sprints zig-zaggedly out of the building. This isn’t regular Hallowe’en japes and I think I know why.