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pubs

Just one more

It can be bloody difficult to leave a good pub.

You go in with the intention of having a quick half, seriously, just the one, or perhaps just a couple, and you leave hours later with the hangover already at your heels.

It’s not always the pleasure of the beer itself – let’s be honest, does the fourth pint in a session ever taste even remotely as satisfying as the first? – but the particular juxtaposition of company and situation.

On Friday, we stayed out later than intended because we were enjoying each other’s company, not distracted by TVs or errands, sorting out Brexit and the environment and debating why some Bristol pubs work and some don’t.

On Saturday, we stayed later than intended in the pub because we were enjoying the company of Ray’s parents, euchre cards and family stories flying.

On Sunday, we stayed later than intended in the pub because two Texans came to say hello at The Drapers and the Drapers insisted on being its idyllic best, all warm conversation and handshakes with strangers.

And we knew when we did get up and go, chased out of the pub after time at the bar and the appearance of the bleach bucket, that we were leaving the weekend behind, with all its promise and space to breathe.

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pubs

Pub life: Do you like yer prog?

On a stool at the bar on his own, arranging his beer money in stacks on the runner, the Old Rocker stares at nothing in particular.

The landlord appears to empty the glass-washing macine and the Rocker perks up.

“Do you like yer prog, then?”

“Sorry?”

“Are you into yer prog?”

He points at the landlord’s T-shirt. The landlord looks down. King Crimson.

“Oh, right. Well, no, not particularly.”

“The Floyd, obviously.”

“Pink Floyd? No. Not particularly. Not after Syd Barrett left.”

“Gotcha – more of a psych guy.”

“Well… No, not really.”

“Punk?”

“Well…” The landlord waves a hand, refusing to commit.

The Old Rocker shifts in his seat, blinking blankly.

“So you’re not into prog much at all?”

“I like Krautrock.”

The Old Rocker thinks he’s done it – he’s found an in.

“Oh, yeah, man – great stuff! That driving motorik beat. Did you read the MOJO article a couple of months back–”

“Well, no, I don’t really have time to read magazines. I work thirteen days out of fourteen, and most evenings. The only music I hear is what’s on in here. And that’s on a loop.”

During the silence that hangs after his outpouring, he escapes to the other bar.

The Old Rocker settles down, moving his coins around, eyes fixed on a memory of ELP in ‘77.

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pubs

Pub life: at the craft beer bar

Keg taps.

Do you mind if we sit here? Guys! Guys! There’s room here! What do you want to drink? Uh, there’s like, one hundred different beers. I don’t… I’m not… Do you..? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, man, that sounds good, I might have the same. Same for you too? Same all round? Cool, cool, three gin-and-tonics, cool, cool…

* * *

Is it OK if we, er… Oh, ta.

Four pound odd for two-thirds of a bloody pint? You’re having me on, aren’t you? Two thirds!

And they’ve a list in there of about fifty bloody beers – do you know how many of them are bitters? None. Not bloody one.

There’s not even a red ale – nothing but pales and IPAs.

And not much under five per cent either, mind you. Ooh, gah, taste that… No, go on, taste it!

Nice!?

Nice?

It’s not bloody grumble mutter nice grumble slurp…

* * *

Hello.

I’m a princess.

Bye!

* * *

Is this OK for you, Dad? Not too cold? It’s OK, is it? If Mum goes… And I’ll sit… Are you sure it’s not too cold? Because we can swap seats if…? No? You’re sure?

Fine, OK, so, who’s having… Sorry, Dad?

Yes, that’s why I asked.

Yes, I know, that’s why I…

Right, fine, everybody up, we’re going inside. Because Dad’s cold. Dad’s cold. No, I wasn’t talking to you, I was telling Mum that you’re cold. No, she’s not cold…

* * *

Are you going to talk to me or just look at your phone? Because if you’re just going to look at your phone I’ll have to start bringing a book with me.

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pubs

Pub Life: Sexy Connect Four

Why choose this pub, with its bare boards, real ale, hard white light, and stink of pork scratchings? Why make love here?

They arrive through a side door in a swirl of strawberry-scented vapour, interlinked and unable to stop staring at each other.

He is in slacks, leather jacket, slip-on shoes, and sockless. A chipped tooth gives his smile some extra flavour.

She is all dangling bracelets and earrings, hair teased high and fixed with spray – a proper Going Out get-up.

They loudly order drinks, lager and white wine, and lean upon the bar, still tangled together, her hand up the back of his leather jacket, his in her waistband. They whisper to each other over the mostly empty pickled egg jar on the counter and laugh dirtily.

The bearded man behind the bar looks startled. His wife looks startled. The regulars look startled.

The dog doesn’t care.

“Hey, babes… Babes…”

Leather Jacket points at the shelf.

“Do you want to play Connect Four?” he says, somehow suggestively.

She goes to the toilet while he sets up the blue rack and sorts the red and yellow counters. She emerges with pupils dilated, blinking and bright, and speaking twice as fast.

They play as if nobody can see or hear them, as if they’re Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen locking souls over a chessboard. Eventually, she wins, and they clink glasses in mutual appreciation.

Then, the game having got them going, they have to get going, linking together again and heading for the door. They stop on the threshold as cold air floods in around them.

Blowing kisses, he shouts, “Goodbye! We love you all!”

She yells: “We’ll have the KY jelly out tonight, I tell you that much!”

And then they’re gone.

The landlord blinks. His wife blinks. The regulars giggle.

The dog licks at an elusive Mini-Cheddar crumb trapped between the floorboards, pursuing his own love affair.

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pubs

Pub Life: The Weegie and the Marbles

Illustration: "Old Boy With Pint".

An old pub in a quiet part of a busy city, and an elderly regular, watery-eyed and pale as paper, is sunk in his usual seat waiting for something to happen.

He looks at the TV, then at his newspaper, then at his watch. He stares into space, and perhaps into the past. He lines up the spare beer mats, then shuffles them out of line again.

Then, at least, some real excitement: a mixed group of twentysomethings enters, laughing and chattering. They are all tall, stylish, and distinctly Mediterranean.

The Regular’s glittering eyes track them across the pub carpet. Two per cent of a smile appears on his thin lips.

The Visitors are quietly excited to be in a Real English Pub, staring at the ceiling, the ornate bar, the prints and mirrors.

They all thrust bank notes at one woman, apparently the best English speaker, and shove her towards the bar as they take over the table next to the Regular.

The Regular, his neck long gone, slowly turns his entire torso so he can watch them. The smile increases by another degree.

“Where you from?” he gargles in their direction.

The Visitors freeze and mutter attempted translations at each other. The second best English speaker, bearded and quiffed, acts as spokesman.

“We come from Greece.”

The Regular nods – of course, he thought as much.

“Well, me – I’m a Weegie.”

Silence. Baffled blinking.

“A Glaswegian.”

Further muttering.

“I’m from Glasgow.”

Bulbs light up.

“Ah! Glasgow! Yes, we know it! Alex Ferguson! Celtic football club!”

A lucky guess, apparently, as the Regular is not offended, but after this breakthrough, conversation stalls.

Lagers and gins are sipped as the Greeks look anxiously at each other – when is it acceptable to start talking among themselves again?

After an uncomfortable while, the Regular shifts some phlegm about, and leans closer.

“So,” he says, “here’s what I’m wondering…”

“Yes?”

“When are the English going to give you back those Elgin Marbles?”

And with that, the conversation really catches light.