You don't have to have money to have style, that's what they say around here. It's just as well. You get to know all the other VIP club members - the big hitters, and the rest. Bob is by the pillar, he's big in fire insulation for factories. Brian owns his own hairdresser's, or he did once; I heard recently that he's currently unemployed. But he can get in here for nothing, and he can make half a lager last a very long time. Some other VIP will always buy him a drink.
I'm standing here enjoying the ambience when Bolt the bouncer comes up to me wearing a sort of startled expression, as if he has just seen something truly awful. He asks me to turn around. I think for a second that somebody must have been sick over my back. "Do you know that you've got creases all down the back of your jacket?" he says.
"Never," I say.
"I know exactly what you need," says Bolt, taking hold of my arm, "some upmarket clobber. Some top-notch gear. Do you know that I could get you an Yves St Laurent for a hundred quid, or a Louis Feraud for one hundred and fifty?"
I have never heard of Louis Feraud, but I thnk it might be because of how he is saying it. I ask him to spell it out for me. He struggles after the "o". He gets a little defensive. "You've never heard of Louis Feraud? You'll be telling me next that you've never heard of Bruno Kirches or Van Kollem? What about Armani, have you heard of that?" I say I have heard of Armani. "Thank God for that. I thought that you might be into Man at C&A for a moment there." He starts smoothing the creases in my suit.
"Look, you can sleep in the back of your car with the quality of suit that I'm offering you. Wake up, give it a shake, and there won't be a crease in it. Not like that crap you're wearing." He pulls my jacket open a shade aggressively, and peers at the label. "Principles? F---ing Principles. What's a VIP like you doing shopping in Principles? How much did that cost you? One hundred and twenty quid? You were robbed. Feel the material of this jacket." And he lifts my hand and places it on the arm of his suit. I don't know whether to stroke the material or squeeze the muscle bulging right through the suit that never creases.
"Marvellous," is all I can think of to say. "Where are the suits?" I ask, my voice descending into a whisper.
"They're in the toilet," replies Bolt at full volume. "Just tell Tom, the attendant, that Bolt sent you." I push my way past the ordinary punters, now swaying gently in their alcohol-induced haze, and head towards the toilets. The toilet attendant is looking harassed. A few ordinary punters try to spray themselves with the aftershave put out for them, without paying the customary 20p.
"Come on lads, it's 20p a shot. I've got plenty of change," says Tom, as aftershave disperses indiscriminately.
"I'm here to have a look at the suits," I whisper conspiratorially in Tom's ear. I don't want the ordinary punter to get a hint of what is going on between the men in the know. I wonder if Tom is going to direct me into one of the cubicles.
Instead, he tells me to stay where I am. He nips out for a second and comes back with three suits in a binliner and unpacks them in front of everybody. Another VIP comes into the toilet. "Are you getting into the dry- cleaning business?" he asks helpfully, and then winks. He knows the score.
"Try them on," suggests Tom helpfully. Unfortunately, you could have fitted two of me into the Louis Feraud. "The arms need taking up a little," says Tom.
By now, there is more than a little interest being shown by the passing trade of the ordinary punter in the toilet. "Have you got it in a 44?" asks one punter, slurring every syllable. Tom tells him that these suits are way out of his league.
"You can try on the trousers as well, if you like," suggests Tom, as one pair of trousers lands on the floor of the toilet. When he picks them up, there is a distinct wet stain on one leg. I don't fancy being blamed for causing the stain, so I decline. "The trousers might be a bit long, but you can always have them taken up," adds Tom.
Tom's prices seem to be a little bit different from those mentioned earlier. The Louis Feraud has risen inexplicably to £200. I point this discrepancy out to him. He tells me to go back and check the prices with Bolt. I then confess that I don't have even a hundred on me in cash. He assures me the money would do tomorrow night. "If we can't trust a VIP like you, who can we trust? After all, you are a regular."
I go back out to look for Bolt to query the prices. Bolt explains that Tom has given me the price of the Louis Feraud for the ordinary punter. "Not that I'd ever try to sell to the ordinary punter, you understand. I'm offering you the suit at cost." My body language must have been leaking a slight reluctance. So Bolt calls over two other VIPs from the wine bar - Phil and Mark. Both are wearing immaculate suits. Bolt asks the them to do a twirl for me. Phil, the taller of the two, tells me that the waists tend to be a bit big on these cut-price suits, but all I need is a good trendy belt to pull the waist in. He tells me that Bolt might even throw one in for nothing. "He can get you a shirt to go with the suit as well, if you like, for a tenner. All designer gear." Phil stands right in front of me modelling the suit, running his hands up and down the lapels like some gentleman tailor. He even offers his own sales pitch. "Do you know that you can sleep in the back of your car with this quality of suit, wake up, give it a shake and there won't be a crease in it." I start to consider whether everyone in the club is working on a commission basis.
When Bolt goes off to tour the club, I ask Phil where he thinks Bolt might get the suits from. I want to know how hot they really are. Phil has a slightly different understanding of where they might come from. "Working in a place like this, you're bound to get to know people," he says. "He probably gets them at cost from the factory. All I know is that they're top-notch and they're cheap. I don't ask anything else."
It might have been my imagination, but the question seems to have irritated Phil, dressed from head to toe in his top-notch clothes from goodness knows where. He stands incessantly sipping his half of lager, gazing out into the great unknown of the ordinary punter. Finally, he turns to me. "Look, if you want to pay full price for your gear, go ahead. The next thing that you'll be saying is that you want to queue in the rain to get in here with the rest of the mugs. I'm sure Bolt could arrange that for you, if you ask him."
It is a long night. I eventually start to leave the club at four in the morning, with my new Louis Feraud clutched tightly under my arm. It's wrapped in half a binliner. Bolt shakes my hand as I depart. "You'll look like a proper VIP in that suit," says Bolt, "even if you do have to sleep in the back of your car tonight."