Death of migrant in police raid sparks riots in downtown neighborhood of Madrid

Go Fry Asparagus

Madrid, Mar 16.- A neighborhood in downtown Madrid on Thursday erupted in a flare of collective anger as rioters clashed with hundreds of police officers following the sudden death of a migrant after he had been chased by law enforcement.

The district of Lavapiés was ablaze as dozens of containers were set on fire while protesters lobbed rocks and bottles at police, after Mame Mbaye Ndiaye, a 34-year-old man of Senegalese origin, died of an apparent heart attack when allegedly running from local officers who were pursuing him along with other street vendors peddling their wares illegally.

In the aftermath of Ndiaye’s death, an enraged mob congregated at Lavapiés square and soon began to confront police.

The protests turned into full-blown turmoil when agents from the national police’s riot unit (UIP) rushed to the scene, wearing heavy riot gear and shooting rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

Antifascist groups spread…

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A Brits guide to the Catalonia independence referendum


Left-wing protesters demonstrate in solidarity with Catalonia, Puerta del Sol, Madrid. ©Jake Threadgould

I thought that by leaving Scotland for Spain I would be spared constant referenda. Alas, no. Catalonia, a northeastern region of Spain home to some 7.5 million people, plans to go ahead with a separatist poll on October 1.

Rolling news coverage of the events here in Spain is non-stop, but it has also garnered considerable international attention. The other day, I replied to a tweet shared by the Scottish National Party’s Westminster spokesman (and my MP) Angus Robertson in which I argued that the Catalan referendum was not the same as the 2014 indyref in Scotland.  I was swiftly set-up on by a small group of SNP voters telling me what to think about the situation in Catalonia. It got me to thinking: how are they so informed about what’s going on here? Or are they?

I don’t know where I stand on the independence vote in Catalonia, and thankfully, being neither Catalan nor Spanish, I don’t have to. That’s good, I’m all “referendumed“ out. However, some of you — especially those watching on from the post-Brexit ashes of Britain where ‘referendum’ is a swear word — may be wondering, what is going on exactly? ¿Qué coño está pasando? ¿Què està passant?

Like Scotland, Catalonia has a devolved government. Unlike Scotland, Catalonia’s first minister, or in this case president, is a bloke. A bloke who goes by the name of Carles Puigdemont. He presides over a regional pro-independence party called Junts Pel Sí (Together for Yes, JxS) which has a slight majority in the local parliament — with a little help from his leftist friends.

Puigdemont has long dreamed of Catalonia being an independent republic so, earlier this month, he used that slim majority of his to push the referendum through parliament and write it into local law. Sí voters in Catalonia are a vocal bunch and their movement is intrinsically linked to their distinct culture, language and heritage. Furthermore, the number of pro-unity voters in Catalonia is hard to accurately gauge. Those against independence tend to shy away from even non-binding referenda, which they do not consider to be legitimate. Most polls tentatively suggest a roughly even split. This keeps the Spanish government on its toes.

Another engine driving the independence movement is the fact that many Catalans feel they are unfairly picking up the economic slack of underperforming Spanish regions such. Separatists would rather see their money re-invested in Catalonia, which is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest regions of Spain, jostling for top-spot with the industrial Basque Country and the capital, Madrid.

Some might see a compelling case in Catalonia’s bid for nationhood. It already has many of the foundations required of an independent state: a regional police force (the Mossos d’Esquadra), a judiciary and an autonomous government with all the mod-cons. However, Catalonia’s regional institutions are attached to strings held by officials in Madrid. The process of becoming an independent Catalan state would mean severing those tendrils of power. That hits a nerve. That triggers a response.


Protesters in solidarity with Catalonia face-off with a group of far-right demonstrators, Puerta del Sol, Madrid. ©Jake Threadgould

The vast majority of Spaniards do not think the referendum should go ahead and this sentiment is reflected in the country’s largest political parties and in the judiciary, which has ruled the referendum to be unconstitutional and suspended the legislation. According to the Constitution (which also enshrines Catalonia’s autonomous status), the separatist ballot would need to be greenlighted by the Madrid-based national parliament. This did not happen.

The Spanish government is currently run as a minority by the right-wing Popular Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (think: Jacob Rees-Mogg/Nigel Farage lovechild). The PP will not sign off a referendum in Catalonia in case it back-fires Brexit-style. Remember those silent pro-unity voters in Catalonia? They are the PP’s damsels in distress.

So, what has the Spanish state done in retaliation to the unilateral independence developments in Catalonia? Several things. First, around 700 Catalan mayors who agreed to make polling stations available for the vote were issued court summons. The militarized Guardia Civil moved in to confiscate all referendum-related material. While ransacking the regional government offices, they took the opportunity to arrest a dozen or so Catalan officials on suspicion that they were involved in preparing the vote. The Spanish interior ministry activated a mechanism to assume control of the Mossos. There was even talk of sedition charges.

How did Catalonia react to this? The mayors kept quiet. The detainees were freed or fired by their peers to avoid fines. The Mossos rejected the national police takeover bid (although that one still hangs ambiguously in the balance). The sedition chat has been put on the back-burner for now.

If it sounds heavy-handed, it’s because it probably is. Yet, although it may be presented by some in the international press as a hark back to the days of Franco, it raises very few eyebrows among Spaniards. Part of that may have something to do with how it is normalized in the national press but another part comes down to the fact that the vast majority of people outside Catalonia simply disagree with the referendum. To them, Catalonia is a region of Spain. A region of Spain cannot just unilaterally declare independence and wander off.

Imagine if Nicola Sturgeon used her Holyrood majority to push through an indyref2 bill and write a separatist poll into local law. Imagine the SNP then vowed to unilaterally declare independence with immediate effect, even if yes voters only won by 1%. How would it feel for the no voters being whisked away from their beloved Blighty? The rest of the UK would be up in arms because you can’t just do that. That’s not how things work.


Iñigo Errejón, a key strategist and on of the most recognizable faces in Podemos, attends a Catalonia solidatrity rally in Puerta del Sol, Madrid. ©Jake Threadguould

Surely not everyone outside of Catalonia is against the referendum? Correct, there is a group of mainly left-wing movements that have advocated for dialogue and the negotiated legalization of the vote. The grassroots Podemos, the third political force in the national parliament, occupies a funny half-way position between the regional separatists and the common narrative in Spain. They do not back a unilateral referendum, however. The main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) and the center-right, freshly ironed suit types in Ciudadanos – Spain’s fourth largest party – are in agreement with the PP government on the topic. That puts PSOE in a slightly awkward position.

But the Catalan referendum transcends traditional left-right politics in Spain. It sends shudders down the spine national identity in a country where, for many, even flying the national flag conjures up connotations of the dictatorship.

What is certain is that a huge portion of people in Catalonia have never felt comfortable in Spanish skin. What is also certain is that a huge portion of people in Spain cannot bear to see Catalonia walk away. There’s a good chance the referendum will be blocked. How that will happen is yet to be established — as has my opinion.

If they ever build a fence between Spain and Catalonia, I’ll be on it.

Jeremy Corbyn, beware the personality cult

The most memorable chorus at Glastonbury this year was undoubtedly the chant of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.” Clips of the crowd singing the Labour leader’s name went viral. Something incredible has happened; June 8 saw the return of a populist Left in the UK. Odd, perhaps, that the shift was spearheaded by one of the country’s traditional parties, which tend to only dip one toe in the extreme while always courting the center ground.
Lacking support from media and even his own party, Corbyn was left largely to his own devices to get his message of hope and alternative governance across. He breathed that message into Britain’s dejected and forgotten corners and Corbynism blossomed into a chorus. He arrived back in parliament an easy-going celebrity, buoyant on a grassroots support and with a whole new Labour Party at his feet; one that belonged to the people.
Across the Commons floor, Theresa May is still standing, albeit with a slaughter date branded on her head. The raucous Tory backbenchers in the driving seat will put her to pasture (perhaps a nice wheat field?) in due course and replace her with another unelected Tory leader. In the meantime, however, they are back to focusing on destroying the country with their pursuit of a hard Brexit. They have decided no to heed the advice of trade experts, economists, academics, and (most) world leaders.
As a side, what era of British history do the rabid Brexiteers so desperately pine for? Is it the post-war idyll of village greens and local butchers? That would be apt, for British global trade was teetering on the brink then, too. But, however nihilistic their venture may be, Tory backbenchers are at least vociferous. The same cannot be said for Labour. Some of the 50 Labour MPs who voted against pulling out of the EU single market in yesterday’s vote were sacked by Corbyn.
Perhaps Corbyn is stifling them as a reprisal for their revolt last year, perhaps the unions are doing that for him, or maybe the centrists are still reticent to accept such a left-wing leader. Whatever the reason, there must be a compromise. The Labour Party as a whole needs to be more vocal. Corbyn needs more teammates.
Although he has support at a grassroots level and looks to be enjoying his new-found life as an internet meme, populism is a bucking bronco and personality cults are fleeting – like fidget spinners. I would ask whether those who voted Labour, voted for the party or for its leader? Furthermore, how many of you have fidget spinners? The latter being of personal interest.
While the populist bubble that holds Corbyn aloft is a truly admirable feat, it has the potential to leave him exposed in the Commons. A shift in public sentiment or a return to apathy would see the bubble pop and send the Labour leader tumbling back down onto an unforgiving terrain. To avoid that, he must continue in his public relations, a feature that really sets him apart from the Tory robots in the government benches. But he must also soften his back-bench in the event of a fall from grace.
Perhaps he should be careful where he points that pro-Brexit stance of his. It could take someone’s eye out.

Dis May

It has been a while since I’ve written anything serious. Seriously. But with just 24 hours until Britain’s electoral crunch time, I thought now more than ever would be a good time to continue that trend.

I’m writing from the standpoint of a British journalist working in a foreign, and soon to be more foreign, land – Spain. The UK is no stranger to Spain; Britain has a centuries-old official claim to the southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar. Meanwhile, centuries-old Brits have an unofficial claim to the surrounding lands – the Costa del Sol, which in Lancastrian English means “the price uh’ sun;” a question we’re sure to answer in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

But while Brexit gets passed around between campaigning politicians in the UK like a bottle of Tesco own brand champagne, for British workers in Spain, where there is no Tesco, it looms over the horizon of our livelihoods like an embarrassing itch. Could be nothing, could be fatal.

And this itch is scratched and scraped and stretched by the powers that be thousands of miles away, back home. Our futures working in a Spanish office with our Spanish friends drinking our Spanish beers and paying our Spanish taxes is now leverage in a political arena where we have little to no clout. We must sit and wait for the chess master.

At least I had the privilege to up and move to Spain. But what would await me should I be forced to move home? A village green stained with the blood of red foxes?

Even from Spain, we can smell the grizzly breath of the British tabloid media. It creeps into my office from time to time. Its rancid tendrils drift over the continent, picking up comments from Brussels to Berlin, before retreating across the Channel to twist and turn their meaning. It presents those skewed facts to millions, who drink it up like vultures feasting on fear.

A casual gander over to the Express and you’ll see some obscure former MEP from Slovenia SLAMMING Juncker. In the Sun, a comment made by Spain’s top diplomat turned into a call for war – UP YOURS SEÑORS, read the headline said – misspelled. According to the Mail (in fact all of them), the EU will be paying the Brexit bill. Propaganda.

That propaganda holds people hostage and its is powerful. Our own prime minister daren’t denounce the degradation of women, racist fear-mongering, and breaches of privacy proffered by this putrid portion of the press.  Again, civilians have little to no clout in this arena.

In fact, the far-right press coins the language later to be adopted in parliament as if we live in some topsy-turvy world. It bemoans the bremoaners and belittles those who demand proof. Now MPs warn against catastrophizing and insist we need to get on with it.

The propaganda press drives the narrative in Britain to such an extent that one report prompted Theresa May to speak out against Brussels for shining a negative light on Brexit in UK media. It whipped the British public into such a fury over Gibraltar that the Spanish government had to allay fears over the rock’s fate.

A rancid spiral of sensationalism in UK politics and the country’s media would make the most hardened Brussels bureaucrat blush.

Things are only going to get choppier in those Britishest of Isles. No deal is better than a bad deal, says our leader, with her back turned to some of the most intelligent and experienced contemporary politicians on Earth. We will not pay a cent, barks the right-wing press.

But, whatever happens in the future (bad things will happen), the Brexiteers will never take responsibility for their actions. They will always point their crooked claw of blame at Europe.

Remember, just because a political party and its press wing mirrors how you feel or makes you comfortable in your own skin, it does not mean they’re in this with you. Those at the top will happily burn the bridges to the EU for you and walk away unsinged.

The stripes of the Union Jack melt from my skin in utter shame.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just stand back and take everything in with a long exhale? Or, I don’t know, do something crazy like run through a field of wheat.

When in Romania


USR members in the Chamber of Deputies

“It’s like if you catch a robber in the act, and he gives you your stuff back, that’s still not okay.”

I was speaking to Adrian. He was tall, scruffy-bearded, and wore a knitted brown hat to protect him from the cold blue Bucharest sky. The swelling crowds that had packed the capital’s Victory Square several weeks prior, had abated. A motley gathering of Rezist activists had taken it upon themselves to keep the protest alive, however. The toots from the passing cars pointed to their wider support.

At the turn of the year, the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) exposed some of the ghosts wandering the Romanian halls of power when it attempted to push a new corruption law out as an emergency decree. The legislation would have absolved anyone who had defrauded the state for less than €44,000 ($46K). It was met with crowds of demonstrators in numbers unseen since the fall of Communism in this southeast Balkan state.

Pushing a law through the backdoor is nothing unusual for a Romanian government. This time, it was merely a misjudgment of a changing audience. The political generation gap that exists almost universally is particularly pronounced here. A tech-savvy, English-speaking, westward-looking youth are returning, or deciding to stay put, in growing numbers. They are less receptive to government propaganda that abounds in the media. The older generation, in contrast, born under the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, were largely confused by the demonstrations. Parents would question their children as they headed out the front door, armed with flags and placards. They´re simply not used to it.

The government’s grip on the media is astounding. The owner of two of Romania’s major TV channels, a former politician who is behind bars for corruption, still holds huge sway over what the average Romanian family sees every day on the box. Indeed, when the protests broke, the airwaves were chock-a-block with George Soros conspiracy theories- that old trope. Reports focused on some of the boisterous thugs in the crowd and tarred the whole revolt with the same brush. When President Klaus Iohannis, whose office is largely ceremonial, came out against the corruption decree, the media turned on him.

But the crowds persisted.

Several weeks later, the PSD yanked the legislation and hung their justice minister out to dry. The demonstrators called it a day. The robbers had given back the stuff.

But for many, it wasn´t enough.


Rezist protesters at Victory Square, Bucharest

I asked Adrian what his group hoped to achieve from their presence in Victory Square. He told me Romania needed a transparent parliamentary system. Electronic voting, too, perhaps. How do you go about making the change? That seemed less clear.

An alternative political option is beginning to take root in Romania however, and one of its members, a clean-cut and well-dressed man, was stood watching my conversation – Cornel Zainea of the Save Romania Union (USR) party.

The USR shouldered its way onto the political scene when, in 2016, it landed 43 parliamentary seats_ 30 lower, 13 upper_ in the legislative elections, becoming the country’s third biggest party. It sought to change policies from the inside – a daunting task in Romania’s Parliament, with friends like those.

The USR’s syncretic style, its emphasis on cleaning up the environment and dodgy bank accounts, won the support of over 600,000 people. The party is young, unorganized, but aspirational.

Over a beer and lunch just off Victory square, Zainea told me about his transition into politics from a comfortable software engineering job he shared with his wife, Alina. He had been involved with the Save Bucharest Movement under the direction of its mathematician-turned-politician leader Nicusur Dan, for whom he had limitless praise. This is a common pattern from the top down in the USR. Young professionals, not politicians, comprise the rank and file of the party. A blessing and a curse. The party is squeaky clean. A breath of fresh air in those haunted halls of power. But the USR members are having to learn quickly. They are up against the veterans.

The state media, in the hands of the government, gives little airtime to the USR, unless it’s negative. Yet the technocratic upstarts of the USR were ruffling the feathers in the Chamber of Deputies by holding sit-in protests, by filming procedures in the name of transparency, and by being vocal.

“They hate us because we are very different, we don’t respect the rules,” Zainea told me.

“And because [the USR] share what they see in the Parliament, they are honest with the people,” Alina chipped in.

With four years until the next slated elections, the USR must keep momentum.

It is battling external challenges from the PSD that are positively Trumpesque, but it also has to focus on keeping the party united. It is open to defectors, but wary of adopting some of their unbecoming traits. Further, in order to grow, the USR must expand its manifesto beyond environmentalism and corruption. It needs to win the vote of those under the sway of the state media. Its message needs to reach beyond the educated middle-class urbanites. The party must take on soaring poverty rates, inadequate health-care standards, the brain drain, apathy. No mean feat.

Zainea was acutely aware of all of this when he began his career in politics. He was under no illusion that the party could simply stroll to power. And yet he was determined to make change happen in Romania; so determined that he took the gamble of a career change and spent his life’s savings on the campaign that got him elected to party deputy.

Though the tide of demonstrators in Victory Square has ebbed, a youthful public eye holds a steady gaze over the government’s comings and goings, aided by the transparency efforts of the USR and Rezist. Both factions now must have faith that, when the time is right, those half a million people who filled the streets to shout down the PSD won’t only protest, but also vote.

Until then, the USR has to get itself ready to expose the robber the second they catch them in the act again.


Cornel Zainea,  Save Romania Union, in Victory Square, Bucharest.

The UK’s latest Brexit fad, like a crap game of Monopoly, will be over half an hour. Hopefully.

My relationship with the UK is a bit like the kind of relationship you might have with a duty-free aftershave. It lingers, even if you don’t know how you feel about it. I like my country. But at a distance. Like how one observes a swan,  no closer than a nice two-hour Ryanair flight away from the long-necked nutjob.

But that swan (my country), for me (me), is now a distant speck on the horizon.

My future is presently being gently caressed by the soft, wrinkly and unelected hands of the House of Lords. That future of mine will soon be sent back to the soft, slightly less wrinkly, dirty mitts in the House of Commons. Passed back and forth like a yeast infection.

We’ll give your lot the right to live here when your lot give Jake the right to live there, they’ll say. I should note here that I’ve used my name collectively to refer to all UK citizens in the EU and not just me, whose name is actually Jake (although I fancied myself more of a Clive).

The UK is soon to the roll the dice in the biggest game of monopoly the world has ever seen, making the transition from Great Britain to Alright Britain. And just like with your average game of monopoly, someone is bound to lose their nut and trash the board about half an hour into the two-year negotiation timeframe.

I don’t want to play. Even if I get to be the hat, I don’t want to play. I’ll just watch, thanks.

If memory serves, living in the UK plays out thusly; you run down to the Spar on a rainy Sunday night to scout out a dented tin of beans in the reduced aisle and then you run back past a row of closed shops, dodging hordes of trembling elderly people and immigrants, before slamming your bedroom door and cracking into the newly purchased beans with an unclean plastic spoon whilst watching Netflix on your laptop which is actually just an old takeaway pizza box propped open against twelve bottles of piss. Rinse (if you can afford soap, you toff) and repeat.

Some of the details may be a little off. It’s been almost three years since I lived there.

Yet, contrary to what the Brexit press would have you believe, life isn’t all that peachy here on the continent. We do have great peaches, though. No, when I turned 26, my all-access public transport card went up from 20 EUR a month to 54 EUR. I kid you not. And, if anything, the people are too welcoming. Creepy.

Brexit is on the tip of everyone’s tongues, lest ye forget.

The other day,  I bumped into to my head of HR in the lift heading to my job, where I work so I can pay taxes (the only difference being that I pay for Marisol’s new dentures, rather than Moira’s. Unless there’s a woman called Moira on the Costa del Sol who’s just got a new set of teeth, then I paid for Moira’s too, in that case). She greeted me in Spanish and caught my gaze (also in Spanish) and pulled the air through her teeth in that way that lets your interlocutor know you’re about to say the B-word.
“Hopefully they’ll figure something out, they have two years, I’m quietly hopeful,” I said, anticipating what she was about to say.
“Everything going well James? Sorry, two years? For what?” she said.
“It’s Jake, and nevermi- I thought you were going to mention- nevermind. ” I replied, wishing I had said Clive instead.

He Took the Pill and Waited (Writing Prompt)

Wrtiting Prompt: “He took the pill and waited”

Writing time: 3 hours

Editing time: cuppla bloody minutes

Mark took the pill and waited. He had never done it before; the truth is that he had never wanted to. He didn’t even like music festivals very much, and yet here he was as well. He had good reason, and bad reason, to be. He was here because Jessica, his girlfriend of 2 years, was there too. She came every year; this was his first.

She enjoyed this type of thing more than he did; drugs, clubbing, booze. He preferred Friday nights in with a bottle of wine, or Saturday nights out at Guliano’s, the Italian on the High Street. “The only decent carbonara I’ve had in the UK, they do it the Italian way- without the cream,” he said every time he proposed it to Jess, as if he had to justify taming her night.

And yet he loved her for her hedonism. Most of the time, at least. She was deeply ingrained in her group of friends, who made her very happy, which made him happy. Mark knew a few of them from school, but lost contact with most people in the town when he went to university. He sat on the outside of the group, usually, talking to one or two. The atmosphere was most often respectful but, disinterested. He sometimes felt hurt at the lack of attention she’d give him in these social situations.  He was sure they asked Jess why she was with him when he wasn’t there.

What Jess didn´t know was that whenever she went out with her friends, he would never fall asleep until he heard her come back in the door. As soon as she’d climb into bed- breathing deeply and reeking of gin, he’d finally doze off. The nights she didn’t come home were hell. Genuine hell. There is no way that she would ever do anything stupid, he knew that and believed that truly and thoroughly. It was his own problem. Given too much space, his brain had a tendency to wander. It was a master at painting scenarios in his head. Of Jess doing coke in some bathroom and keeling over. Or of Jess drunkenly being taken advantage of in a taxi. Or of Jess meeting some French hunk called Antoine (he even had a name for him) at The Den, booking a train to Paris to live with this turtle-neck wearing, poetry writing twat forever more. That there would be no French hunk at that shithole club was beside the point- his imagination was that good.

He could never tell her this, of course. He capitalised on her hangovers by asking passive aggressive questions about the night before, in the hope that she could tell he was struggling with something. To say it out loud would be to out himself as a psycho: goodbye Jess, goodbye stability, farewell self-esteem. She never clocked it, to his knowledge. In actual fact she did. But to her it was a minor issue.

One morning after, Mark let himself slip out of his mask. Jess had stayed on Stephen’s couch the night before (or so she said). He had no reason to not believe her. And, in truth, Stephen was pleasant in the eyes of Mark. Jess had known him since she was at primary school, her family were friends with his, they even went to the same university where they dated for three years. That was the hurdle (or mountain) that he had to mentally jump.

“Why did she still have to go for Sunday lunch at Stephen’s place like it’s some sort of fucking religion?” he had said. “Is it him who you message all the time? You probably tell him goodnight”. She didn’t talk to him for the rest of the day. Rightly so.

Mark used the thought of Stephen to torture himself at night when Jess was late home. “He’s better looking than I am, his arms make mine look like strands of wool, as does his no-doubt gargantuan penis,” and on, and on until Jess’ entrance into the bed snuffed out the darkness.

When Jess had courteously suggested the Mark should come to the festival, he said: yes. Stephen would definitely be there and he was the default tent-sharing option. With Mark there, however, everyone would think it abnormal if the couple didn’t share at tent. Mark even bought the tent to make sure they’d have to sleep together.

He felt terrible about this. Jess had no idea of his motives. If she found out, not that she ever could unless he said something—he was a good actor, by now—she would be perfectly in the right to break up with him. He would expect that, actually. Which made it all the more important to keep up the façade, to pretend to have fun, to try make conversation, even with Stephen if he had to. Most important and most secret of all; to keep an eye on Jess.

Did this mean he didn’t trust her? He supposed so. He often worried he loved her too much, but he also worried that he was just controlling. The irony was that whenever he had a dark moment, where a sort of grief boiled up at the imaginary scenarios he so masterfully created in his head, he knew it meant nothing. And yet, if he was alone, they had genuine mental consequences. He felt under attack. Fighting against his own brain to keep his head above sanity.

– – – – – – –

He took the pill and waited. He bided his time, holding it in his teeth for a minute or so, but the taste was so awful and, unable to spit it out without making a scene, he swallowed.

Sat in a circle in Mike’s tent, Jess and Stephen, Mike and Isabel had all done the same. Jess was sat next to Stephen, rather than himself, Mark noted, and she had linked her arm under his. Nothing, he thought, look at Mike and Isabel, try to make conversation with them.

They were too busy kissing. Mark couldn’t hear what Jess and Stephen were talking about, so he couldn’t properly join in. He found himself awkwardly poised in the group of friends, as if nobody actually wanted him there at all. He didn’t want to be there, but we’ve touched on that.

Half an hour passed and Mark had literally not said a word. Would anybody know if he left? He wanted to, but his desire to watch Jess was stronger. He felt a cold pang go through his stomach and down to his knees. Did it feel good? He didn’t really know. Everybody was by now looking at him, so he got up to leave the tent.

It was confusing outside. The overcast sky betrayed a setting sun. People were walking through the gaps between the rows of tents, tripping over guy-lines and singing the songs they expected to hear that evening. He felt sick, and spinny. He didn’t feel good; he knew that for sure.

He needed to leave. Find a porta-loo, sit down for a bit, just get out of whatever patch of air he was currently in. He trusted Jess again, he was being stupid before.

He wandered out, trying not to make eye contact with any of the fellow revellers. He trudged down the stinking, muddy trail to the row of stinking, muddy porta-loos. A queue, of course. He waited in line.

His head was thumping and waves of nausea lapped at the back of his eyes. He felt like death. Did Jess feel like this? Oh, fuck- Stephen! He’s probably shagging her already, he thought.

He locked the plastic handle and sat down on the seat. He definitely felt like he was going to spew. His hands were in his head and… wait.

He pulled his trousers down and pulled them back up and pulled them back down.

He threw up between his feet, into his boxers.

“Y’alrite mate?” someone called from outside.

He struggled a “fine” and drifted off.

No messages, no missed calls. To be fair, only an hour had passed. He tried to wipe his boxer somewhat clean. Thankfully it was mainly cider, but the smell of it made him gag again.

His head was, by now, pounding, but he okay. Okay enough to walk back up to the tent, at least. It was dark now and most of the revellers he saw sat outside their tents earlier were at the main stage. He was sure that people were looking at him worriedly as he clambered back up to Mike’s big orange tent. It was empty, of course. He looked around, saw Jess’ crumpled bottle of Strongbow, her cigarette butts and her jumper.

He picked up the jumper and smelled it. For a moment he was comforted by the smell of the perfume he’d bought her for Christmas. “She wouldn’t wear it if she didn’t love me,” he thought. He no longer had the mental strength to paint the horrific images of Jess’ dead body, or Jess kissing Stephen, or Jess meeting Antoine in his head. He simply stumbled next door and climbed into the tent he had bought for them.

He stared at the ceiling, counting the squares on the roof of the tent, flicking his lighter on and off, until he burnt his hand on the metal. He hated this. Really hated this. Perhaps I should just go, he thought. Leave now and see if Jess even bothers to text me in the morning. I bet she wouldn’t, he lamented.

He pulled the sleeping back over his head and held his breath for as long as he could. He might as well be at home, he could be with his brother, at Guliano’s, or watching Netflix.

The tent unzipped and he held perfectly still. A long drawn “Heyyyy” issued from Jess’s contorted mouth. She smiled at him and passed out.

He pressed his hand to hers through the sleeping bag and fell asleep.