In my laceless trainers, jeans, and £6 ‘Pepsi’ t-shirt from Primark, I’m one of the smartest patrons in the nightclub. Yep, in a city where it takes the utmost mental and psychological acuity to wear anything but shorts, it seems that ‘pants’ is how you differentiate smart from casual. And perhaps there is a telling parallel with our trainers vs shoes paradigm in the UK – smartness is essentially a measure of how much discomfort you are willing to put up with. And if you are willing to forgo the breezy ventilation afforded by cropped trousers, you are hastily marked as one of Cairns’ socialising elite.
I’m in the nightclub at Gilligan’s – which is part hostel, restaurant and disco. Assuming you are in the correct mindset, I imagine this is the perfect destination. Laura and I are staying in the polar opposite hostel – Globetrotters – where the focus is on early nights, washing up, and staying quiet. I feel like I’m at a transitory age where both walks of life appeal in different ways.
And at 31 I mostly fit in. I’m certainly not the oldest person in the room but I proudly own a certain mature edge over the young faces that addle past me, too preoccupied with impressing their friends to notice strangers. And even though I arrived on my own I’m happy just to get a drink and wait for someone familiar to arrive.
And soon, someone does, although not who I expect. Matt, a friendly Kiwi from the snorkelling cruise that afternoon, armed with a cheeky beret and a disarming 70s moustache, sidles by and shakes my hand, before disappearing back into the throng. Fortunately, he points me in the direction of my friends Ilonka and Annelies, who are with some other friends (also fellow snorkelliers), and are braving the dancefloor.
I took dancing lessons to avoid this kind of embarrassment, but without a dancing partner, or music at the right speed, I find two years of modern jive instruction are rendered essentially useless as I need to stylise myself in accordance with the latest club hits. But the few street dance lessons I’d attended kept my confidence high and I remembered it was more important just to stay in time, and really just to have fun – I mean that, more than anything else, was my reason for attending.
And as unsuited for nightclub life as I suspect I really am, many occupants are far worsely attuned to the experience. The most disconcerting are those people who have quickly overshot the ‘sensibly inebriated’ point, failed to hit the ‘drunk but in control’ marker, and instead landed on ‘gormless vegetable’. They sway about in front, and all around me, staring at people, unaware of their awkward gaze, staring at members of the opposite sex, in the vain hope that enough of their deathly look will bring their desires to fruition.
And when Annelies leaves Ilonka and me alone on the dancefloor, I daren’t take my much-needed trip to the toilet for fear of leaving her alone with the swaying sex zombies. Not that she can’t handle them… I just suspect she doesn’t want to have to.
Thankfully, though, these barely conscious members of our species make up the minority, and there are many more people with a far slicker approach to courting, and quite a few who are like rabid dogs finally let off the leash – their infectious bite being the volume of their exclamations as their favourite song is played, or they finally receive that anticipated text message.
I enjoy myself in my own way but I don’t think nightclubs are where I truly belong. If we could just take a short break every so often for tea, and a quick chat to share dance techniques, the experience might appeal more.