Beyond the open door, the kids bound up full of hugs and toothy grins. It is sometime after eight and the air inside smells sweet. The dog ricochets against our knees as the beard oil is misplaced and then found again. The table is covered in the beginnings of a hand drawn storybook about a girl that makes friends with a small, purple monster, loom bands and the fragments of lunch. There is a choice of herbal tea or a cosmopolitan. A pile of little brown paper parcels, tied tight with string, tumbles on the counter.
Alan and his eldest son have both carefully cultivated beards for tonight. His is full, grey, bushy and thick enough to support cornflakes (daily) and a string of fairy lights (on special occasions). He hasn’t trimmed it since November 2014. His son’s is ginger and a little less thick. They can’t stop stroking them while we roll our eyes.
We’re already running late. Against the humidity and the night, we pile into the old Mitsubishi, and then pile out again to allow Alan to run back inside and grab the backpack stuffed full of the brown packages. The low, feral growl of the car’s exhaust farewells the neighbourhood.
In town it’s festival season and the west end is neglected. Only the doors of Jive draw a crowd. Alan clutches his backpack and we follow him in.
Here, the smell is undoubtedly male; we are out numbered. The few women here are sporting mustaches of their own. Against the bar, and stuck to the floor, we buy beers and shake hands with strangers.
Then we move forward, jostling against armpit hair and muscle to the front of the stage to claim a semi-circle. In the middle, Alan delicately places his backpack. Reacting to the guitar and synth, a barrier forms to protect its contents and we bob and nod in time around it. Next to us, unfettered, Alan pogoes in his red shorts, stopping only to hug the men around him and cry, “maaaate’.
Afterwards, the band beelines. Alan yells, ‘I’ve got brownies!’ and, amidst the beer, the tattoos, the metal hair, the tank tees and badges he hands out the gluten free squares; following them with kisses deftly planted on hair-covered cheeks.