Pub Life: Hit & Run

Stink-eye bar-fly.

A man of indeterminate age, somewhere between 30 and 50, strides up to the bar: ‘Shit, man, have I had a rough day.’

The baby-faced, slightly sleepy barman blinks and smiles.

‘Yeah? Sorry to hear that, man. What can I get you?’

The customer mounts a high stool and starts to unload his tobacco pouch, ancient mobile phone and various other nick-nacks, constructing a nest.

‘Half a San Mig.’

The barman pours the lager and places it on the bar.

‘That’ll be–’

‘Tell you what, I’ve had such a shit day… Sod it — give me a sambuca, too.’

The barman turns to look at the spirits shelf. The customer drinks half of his half of lager. The young man turns back. His eyes dart to the half empty glass.

‘Er… Black or white?’

‘White.’

The barman pours the sambuca into a thimble-like shot glass.

‘That’ll be–’

‘What it is, my wife — are you married yourself? — my wife, she was meant to meet me this morning but her train got delayed…’

He suddenly drinks most of the sambuca, chasing it with another gulp of lager.

‘…so I’ve been hanging around Temple Meads…’

‘Er, sorry, man, but, er, I’m going to need you to pay for those drinks.’

‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, man, no problem, yeah, yeah, yeah.’

He finishes the sambuca.

‘My wife will be here in like two minutes and she’s got the cash.’

The barman begins to vibrate anxiously.

‘I really need you to pay for those drinks–’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, no worries, man, no worries — I’ll just give her a call.’

The customer very obviously pretends to make a call on what, at second glance, might actually be a toy mobile phone. And are his shoes… Are they held together with Sellotape?

He stands up, pockets his tobacco almost as if by sleight of hand, and retreats to a corner, and then further into the corner, and then clear through the corner, out of a side door that we hadn’t noticed.

The barman deflates as he puts what is left of the glass of lager on the back shelf.

‘I’m so stupid,’ he says partly to himself, partly to us, but mostly to his own sneakers.

He makes sure to take the money before handing over our pints.

Patrick Has Had Enough

Illustration: pint in a pub.

That flight of steps down to the bar is a cruel trick to play on an old man who’s had a few drinks.

One… two… three… he swings his leg for a moment before concluding that there is no fourth step, and then falls forward, planting himself at a steep angle against the counter.

He gurns at the woman behind the bar and lifts a finger.

“Are you sure, Patrick? Shall I call you a taxi instead?”

He blinks asymmetrically. “W… What time is it?”

“Eight thirty.”

“One more… usual.”

“I’ll call you a cab for nine, then, and you can have one more pint.”

He contorts to dip his hand into the pocket of his sagging jacket, and brings it up like a fairground claw crane, scattering coins across the varnished wood. “Zat enough?”

She scoots five pound coins towards him one after the other. “That’s for your taxi,” she says, “and this will pay for the pint.”

Time passes. He drinks some of his beer, and spills the rest. Every now and then, he jerks upright as if startled by something no-one else can see.

As 9pm approaches, he begins to calculate his chances of another drink. “I wouldn’t mind… How much is a bottle of wine to take home?”

Laughing, but firm: “You don’t need a bottle of wine. You need a good strong cup of tea.”

He gurns again. “What I need… is a good woman.”

Side-stepping, she replies: “Well, you won’t find one of those in this pub!”

“Whisky?” he says, with a hopeful lilt. He pushes some of the coins across the bar.

“That’s your taxi money, Pat.”

“Na na na na na na na,” he says, shaking his head, “Just take it.”

Somehow, he gets his whisky, and downs it as the door opens to let in a cold, watery wind. “Taxi for Pat?”

The barmaid comes out from behind the bar, puts an arm round Patrick’s waist and guides him across the floor, until a smile breaks across his face, and, before she knows it, they are dancing. He is leading, and his feet are as nimble as those of a 20-year-old.

Then the taxi driver cuts in and waltzes Patrick out into the night.

Even with several people still drinking, the pub suddenly feels quite empty.

Portrait of a Publican

victorian_bar_474

The landlord’s high stool at the end of the bar is really a kind of throne from which he exercises benign authority.

Gouty and beetroot-cheeked, he is no dabbler, but a pub man in his very heart: he is proud of what he has built, and feels what is right without making any self-conscious effort.

The well-worn wooden counter looks rightly Victorian. Cards games are played on green baize. New wallpaper with a fashionable pattern gestures at refurbishment and yet, with its wine-red curlicues, enhances the atmosphere rather than snuffing it out.

But the essence of ‘pubness’ isn’t in the décor: it emanates from him, like a psychic projection or force field.

He would probably go mad if he didn’t get to spend his working day amongst other people. Greeting new visitors with a few courtly words, and looking after his regulars, makes him glow and stretch tall, like a dog having its belly rubbed.

But his kingdom shows signs of decay. The glowing Guinness font is only for show, glasses being filled (not quite openly) from cans in the fridge. Where there were once three ‘guest ales’, the condition of which he was justifiably proud, there is now one, chosen for its cheapness.

Even with a full pub, we wonder if he is making any money at all, and suspect that what keeps it afloat is one thing: his love of the game.