Matins in Coco Lounge by Sam Hickford

The only real differences between matins in The Charterhouse of the Annunciation and Saturday night at 12.30 A.M. in Coco Lounge, Rochdale’s free nightclub, are stylistic. Everything else is similar, broadly speaking – the way you shuffle over to these respected night-places for a long half-lit “night”, weary-eyed and essentially comatose, hinging your bets on an extrasensory epiphany. Such an epiphany came sometimes. Yet more often than not it is a feeling of union with the messy darkness, an incense-scattering which eliminates the night-sweats, the involuntary ejaculations and, of course, the scent of nearby incubi.

This is an atmosphere known well to both Carthusian lay-brothers and pissed door-frame fitters. One rather thinks that if these extremes of society were united, they would get on famously. Needless to say, John is usually unaware of the differences between the two apparently dissimilar institutions, despite the fact that he had perhaps the virtually-unique pleasure of being mutually familiar with them. Despite this, definitely in some stages of drunkenness, he was able to imagine both of them breathed in the same moment. One must remember, of course, that Carthusian matins and Saturday night at the Coco Lounge have and do take place at exactly the same time and very close by.

John had probably arrived at this aforementioned level of drunkenness, yet he tried not to remember the similarities as his limbs were dangerous buffetting every other human being around him in Coco Lounge. He was acting like a giraffe on several bouts of experimental psychedelic drugs, not a welcome sight in what is ultimately a relatively small dance floor. This is made more awkward by the fact that, accompanying his complete conspicuousness, his addled mind is stirring with flashbacks to the bloody monastery. In John’s mind (perhaps outside of it), the gentleman doing some strange mockery of the splits – a mating dance of disfigured proportions – ought rightly to be the Prior himself. Fr. Daniel is contorting himself in this form of gymnastic prayer the Order delights in to this today.

Yet John tries to block out these ruminations and appear to be an ordinary frequenter of the Coco Lounge, if there is even such a thing. John sips a beaker of Carling – not quite Carthusian cider – and tries to avoid anyone’s gaze that will detect these unbecoming thoughts. We must remember that Rochdale – unlike London, Oxford or Hull – was not a city forged by frenzied monastics like John. Rather, it was a town built up by uncontemplative grafters, only a marginal percentage of which were familiar with the works of Pseudo-Dionysius. John wants to be one of these people. He maintains a forced, stoic expression, the kind of expression that may well be wielded by someone whose life is an interchange between hard work and hard play.

It is in this guise that John invents his dance moves. These are functional, un-Baroque gestures without the pageantry or pomp of more clerical stock. John’s failure is only semi-conscious; he does not know how completely he is not part of this realm. He protrudes his right knee and twists his left foot at 30 degree angles. He occasionally moves his whole body back and forward, but some restriction of available space combined with this rightful if exaggerated sense that people are looking at him has consumed him. This sense has not disintegrated after three or four vodka-mixed pints. He confines his movements to a series of robotic and localised gestures.

A group of girls is dancing in a vaguely similar fashion over John’s shoulder. John caricatures them all. One of them – a girl with GHDed blonde hair and a vest-top – is clearly exceptionally literate in this activity, and produces a series of carefully-executed dance moves that must definitely have been rehearsed beforehand, perhaps during her working hours. Every song is phonetically rendered at scientific moments, from Girls Aloud’s No Good Advice to Busted’s celebrated Year 3000. John imagines her as the cantor of the group; the rest of the girls are merely mumbling the canticles, whereas she leads the choir forth in praises to the Almighty. John is a strangely self-conscious witness to the temporary dissolution of identity and self-hood as he has always been. Most people have now forgotten the groups they came in, in the usual alone togetherness.

John is repelled by the virtuosity of this particular anchorite’s movements, but makes the decision nonetheless to rotate his body to the other members of the congregation like a turret. Individually he eyes them up, preoccupied above all with the state of their souls. He thinks he would like to try to tally their cardinal sins and see – like Padre Pio – where they would be in thirty years time. John thought once that he could tell in an instant, before he became a coked-up escapee. John eyes up one of the unfortunately anonymous specimens – her hair twisted in red coils – and attempts to practise his telekinetic discernment whilst also markedly wishing to shag her. It is a contradiction he is used to. He studies her hazel eyes, half-studying whether or not she had been possessed. He is unsure about whether or not she would make a good sexual partner or an inspiring Trappist nun.

Worldlessly, he swings his giraffe-body into some intersection of hers. He sees the cosmic potentiality of her red tufts of hair, each confused intersection speaking volumes about the messiness of the created realm. He starts to flail his fist back and forward. After some fumbling he kisses her for ten seconds. This is probably the most successful communion of the night. Lisa finds in this tonguing the future hopes of her genuine transcendence from Rochdale, which has become so hateful to her and yet which she has never been able to escape from. She doesn’t want to know anything concrete about him, but she wants to hear his voice and make sure he is enjoying himself. This is the kind of man she could bring back to her ailing mother and introduce him as the man who would genuinely help them to forge a new destiny. With that temporary energy, she whispers:

  • Where do you live?

Where do you live? This question always knocks John straight back: it changes so much that he can never quite say. Place names have become so arbitrary for him, not to mention how many illusions have been killed by uttering Milnrow at the wrong moment. (Perhaps it can be nice. We’ll always have Milnrow, with an emphasis on the ‘il’.) Understanding that this question had been thoroughly unheard, Lisa whispers another:

  • What do you do?

Even more difficult. John couldn’t think of a single one-word answer, and resented the idea that there was one, especially in this noisy setting where words had only the illusory resonances of pop music. He can’t have a wife to revere and treasure who constantly asks such trying questions. He looks into her now inquisitorial eyes, as if praying desperately for an end to the whispering. She becomes a little hostile.

  • What the fuck is wrong with you?

John tries to kiss her again in a desperate attempt to silence her, but the illusion has already evaporated. She sees beyond his savage and unreal promises of other-worldliness, seeing only the rather futile man he has exposed himself to be. Lisa defects back to her original dancing faction of real, three-dimensional people, and John has returned to the island he was moored in, and in which he will depart clinging to.

Now John is unable to look at these ghastly DJ booths and hordes of real people who have chosen to come here. He throws himself back into the companionable void, despairing of all variegated rites of false togetherness. Lisa despairs of illusions, and in the tequilanity cannot find a suitable perpetrator of this illusion. Is it John? The DJ? Or some shape-shifting deity, speaking in the gin?


Sam Hickford is a poet, freelance writer and journalist. His work has been published in The Guardian, The Tablet and Catholic Herald. His poetic output has been published in Ink, Sweat & Tears.

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