Monday, May 08, 2006

The Hug Collector of Harry Street

"Is it your birthday, or something?" this large hairy gentleman clad in black leather and occasional metal studs asked me.


"So why are you doing it?"

"I just am. Lookit... Your girlfriend has already done it with me. Are you going to or what? I haven't got all night."

The girlfriend grinned at him. He added up the balance of staying hairy and macho or keeping the girlfriend happy. He reached a conclusion. Two large arms wrapped around me and bear-hugged me into a Brut-infested chest.

It was the late 1980s and I was standing by the lower door of Flanders lounge in Bruxelles of Harry Street. Bored and drunk, I had decided to hug everyone I knew and then start hugging everyone I didn't know.

"Excuse me. I'm collecting hugs tonight. Would you like to donate?"

Some people looked at me aghast. There was a certain panache one adopted on entering the place which was being entirely ruined on meeting me unexpectedly at the foot of the steps politely asking for a hug. It was not what one expected in the stuffy, over-heated, smoky basement.

Hugs came in various shapes and sizes. Generally the women were quite happy to wrap arms around neck and hang on tight. Their menfolk on the other hand were stiff and defensive, half-expecting some attack.

Rumour spread about the pub. A bouncer appeared and asked me what I was at.

"Hello. I'm collecting hugs tonight. Would you like to donate?"

He looked at me and decided I was in that category reserved for window-lickers and religious experimentation, marked "Harmless."

Two giant hands reached out and squashed me into a heavy-duty jumper.

By the end of the night I had collected 42 hugs and had closed up shop to go home. It no longer mattered that drunken people were milling around on the stairs and outside the pub asking:

"Who's the fucker collecting hugs? I didn't get a hug!"

I had completed my quota for the evening and I meandered to the quays for the last bus.

I may reprise the role in the staff restaurant one day, starting with the County Manager. Consider yourselves warned.

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