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.

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.

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.

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.

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.