Paul Fitzpatrick: London, March 2021
There was an awkward period when you were about 14 when you were too young and broke to go many places on a Saturday night but too restless and worldly-curious to stay at home and watch the Two Ronnie’s with your family anymore.
Sure, there was the odd youth club disco, but they were few and far between at that age.
Therefore, the magic words as you approached the weekend were “so and so’s got an EMPTY on Saturday night”.
It was always music to the ears….
An ‘empty’ by definition was a household without parents, and just as importantly, without parents knowing anyone was going to be there.
An ‘empty’ was not to be confused with an organised party where the parents or older siblings chaperoned the attendees or went out for a designated period of time and laid on crisps and pop and cake, oh no we were far too rock ‘n’ roll for that malarkey.
There were three categories of ‘empty’ that I recall.
- The ‘official empty’: semi-organised, invitations made on a need-to-know basis and kept within a small group.
- The ‘unofficial empty’: not organised, no control over proceedings and a risk that every nutter within distance could turn up
- The ‘hearsay empty‘: speculative, someone told someone, but they weren’t sure, therefore you’d need to turn up to check, taking the risk that it could be a complete waste of time
The ‘official empty’ normally went off without too much bother because everyone generally knew each other.
There would be a few cans of warm beer or cider, Harvey’s Bristol Cream for the ladies and cocktail hour consisted of snowballs made up from the parents drinks cabinet.
There would be music of course, a bit of smooching in the dark if you were lucky, and the only general drama was somebody overdoing the booze and trying to sober them up before they went home.
I do remember a different drama though. It was based on a craze at the time which was to try and make yourself faint by basically starving oxygen to the brain. This was done by blowing on your thumb and holding your nostrils until you kind of passed out.
I’d seen people try it before and fail, but on this particular evening a couple of girls decided to go for it, sending one of the quietest girls in the school, completely loopy, to the point she started running around the house, taking her clothes off and throwing them out the window.
Fortunately her pals managed to subdue her before things got too out of hand, but it was some scary shit.
I remember seeing Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction some years later and the mortified look she wore after the adrenaline injection incident reminded me of the look on that poor girls face after she realised what had happened.
The ‘unofficial empty’ on the other hand was an accident waiting to happen and there were numerous horror stories of empties that got completely out of control, typically with a common link.
The common link being that most of the unfortunates hosting these accidents waiting to happen, were generally naïve and totally unprepared for the mayhem that was about to come their way.
You could see it unfolding before your eyes, it was all so predictable, first there was the jungle drums…. “so and so’s got an empty” – it was news that spread like wildfire, then on the evening in question you’d see a congregation of people milling around outside, the numbers swelling by the minute.
A bit like the Alamo there would be resistance at first but after the first few gate-crashers gained entry the floodgates would open and resistance was futile.
The poor person hosting the event would see that things were going downhill fast and before long they would have a look of defeat and resignation all over their poor wee faces.
At that point it was all about damage control, as saucers really were flying (out the window), liquids were being decanted (on the soft furnishings), cigarettes were being stubbed out everywhere and anywhere and anything of value had to be nailed down.
It was mindless and gratuitous and typically you were powerless to do anything about it. It was usually a mix of older lads and people you’d never seen in your life before, acting like Vikings on crystal meth, before a neighbour or the police turned up to restore order.
I witnessed several of those nightmare evenings and it was the reason I never volunteered an empty, even if I had one, which to be fair I didn’t very often as my younger brother was junior by 9 years so there was always a babysitter involved.
You would normally hear later that the poor host, traumatised by events, had been grounded for weeks and it always begged the same question – ‘why would you put yourself in that position – are you mental?’
As a parent I tried to pass that wisdom onto my 3 kids, and whilst there were one or two close calls (that we know about!) I think we got off pretty lightly.
The ‘hearsay empty’ on the other hand usually turned out to be a damp squid, you’d traipse all over the shop to far flung places like Courthill and Kessington to find an address you’d never been to before to be greeted by a DeNiro lookalike faither or a 6ft 4in rugby playing big brother, eyeing you up and down suspiciously and starting to put 2 and 2 together after realising that this is the 3rd or 4th batch of wee runts that had turned up to the door that night.
To make matters worse you’d end up getting chased by the natives who took umbrage that you were on their territory.
South Central LA it wasn’t, but it all added to the thrill of the evening.
Of course, these type of things are all arranged on Facebook and Instagram now, which increases the risk and the potential numbers, and the papers are full of stories about ‘gatherings’ that have gone spectacularly wrong, like the headline in The Sun below…
Mum’s horror as 15-year-old daughter’s Facebook party sees 100 youths turn up to wreck home, smash TV and fling bottles at cops
The allure of the ‘empty’ is still there though and even now I have a good Scottish mate who lives near me who’ll message a few of us if his wife’s away for the weekend, to say he’s got an ‘empty’.
We’ll go to the local for a few beers before traipsing back to his house whereupon more beers and wine will be drunk (unfortunately no one has advocaat in their drinks cabinets anymore!), the Sonos system will be turned up, usually blasting out a selection of 70s Yacht Rock classics, and we’ll get all philosophical and soppy about life and kinship before going home a few hours later than planned and spending the next two days in recovery.
Pre-lockdown, this used to happen every 3 or 4 months and they were amongst my favourite nights of the year – which just goes to show, that whether your 14 or 62, you can never beat a good ‘official empty’ with your mates!