Boys and girls go out to play:NEWCASTLE

From the Tyne to the Thames, they're getting ready for the weekend in their own special way. For rich and poor, black and white, lads and lasses, ladies and gentlemen, the fun starts here ...
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It's eight o'clock in the already packed quayside pub we arranged to meet in. The arrival of the final stragglers gives us a total of 17. Most live in Newcastle, a couple have come up from Sunderland and there are those who long ago left for London - all back for a lads' night out on the last weekend of the football season. "Toon-toon black 'n' white army!" mixes with Oasis as we plan the night: "What we'll do is drink steady till about 10. If we haven't tapped off, we'll get mortal." This makes sense: strike a balance between having the courage to talk to girls without being so drunk that they won't have anything to do with you.

Higgy's up for it, but his fate mirrors Newcastle United's season. Having started his evening at one this afternoon, he's peaked too early. We lose him shortly afterwards somewhere on the way to the infamous Bigg Market or "Gazza Strip". The Bigg Market is as close as you can get to Benidorm without boarding a plane; nowhere else matches that live-for- the-minute hedonism.

The jokes are true. There are bouncers on the curry houses. You have to queue for each of the countless bars. The girls wear as little as possible, even in bitter winter. It is an offence to venture out with a coat. Smuff wore a leather jacket and suffered a night of heat exhaustion and piss- take.

But it's commonsense, not Geordie machismo, that dictates these rituals. The bars boil with heat, each crammed with young people who drink, laugh and dance under the flashing lights and "no dancing" signs. Martha's, the most popular hot spot, takes up to pounds 18,000 a night. You only have one drink in each bar so the queues move quickly and offer the chance to chat up the opposite sex without having to shout. Lads and lasses fill the streets, moving the few yards from bar to bar.

We push our way to the front of the queue at Yel!, smile our way past the bouncers and troop down stairs. Inside, the bar staff wear even less than the punters and an effervescent DJ works the crowd with a dexterity Mussolini would have been proud of. Girls fight to climb on to a platform and "wiggle-wiggle-wiggle" with him. "Lucky bastard," says Pete.

Our hen party count for the night is six. The ones from Newcastle are in home-made outfits and tissue hats, others are from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Leeds, reflecting the big-night-out reputation that the city now possesses. Tom the photographer has his genitals squeezed and a couple of girls jot their names down on my notepad. Dean grabs it and heads off into the fray: "It's a fanny-magnet man!"

Several bars later we head for "the boat", the huge floating club moored under the Tyne Bridge. Its revolving dancefloor and starboard list prove as stern as a marines' admission test if you've had one pint too many. The sight of the queue sends us back to town.

Never mind. The night finishes with Dean stripped stark naked in front of St James's Park and a couple of the lads exchanging kebab-flavoured snogs with last-dance specials.

"You two sisters?" enquires Mick the Mackem.

"Aye."

"See you left Cinderella at home then." Romance.

"Been a quiet night," the cabbie says on the way home. Why did I ever leave?

Nick Donaldson

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