Pub Life: The Refurb

Drawing: a pub bar.

Last orders, shredded beer mats and sticky glasses everywhere, the regulars lurching out of their seats with groans and kidney rubbing.

“Right, well then, see you Sunday, Jim.”

The landlord looks up from the sink.

“No you bloody won’t.”

“Eh? You off somewhere?”

“We’re closed for two weeks. There’s signs up everywhere — look! I put it on bloody Facebook too.”

“What? Why?”

“Bloody refurbishment.”

“Oh, gawd help us…”

“Jesus Christ. Hope it’s not like last time. Didn’t recognise the place. It’s taken five years to get comfy again.”

The pub is indeed well worn-in: curtains askew and moth-eaten; tables looking as if they’ve been stoned and stabbed; and seating burst open, showing its yellow foam guts.

“Ten bloody years, it was,” says Jim.

“Cor, don’t time fly.”

“Where are we gonna drink for two weeks?”

“You’ll bloody live,” says Jim, but there’s a shadow of doubt on his face.

“Furnishings staying, are they? Not going all minimal is it?”

“If any of the mirrors are going spare–”

“Not turning into a wine bar, is it?”

“Hope not but they don’t bloody tell me anything.”

“Two weeks! Christ.”

“Well, good luck, Jim. See you on the other side.”

Jim waves, casual and dismissive, but Jim looks worried.

We’re bloody worried.

Pub Life: Never Too Old

Two men, brothers perhaps, both at least 60-years-old, approach the craft beer bar hesitantly.

“This is it.”

“He said it was good, did he?”

“Yeah, he’s in here all the time with his university mates. Hold up, before we go in, look, there’s a beer menu.”

“A beer menu?”

He picks up the binder and turns it in his hands, bewildered, as if the very form is alien to him. He opens it and begins to scan the pages with a fingertip.

“These are all beers, are they? Passion fruit… Cherry…  They can’t be beers.”

“Give us a look. Yeah, look, it says here: fruit beers.”

“They’ve actually got fruit in them? Bloody hell. I don’t… What’s this… Two-thirds? Is that two-thirds of a litre or what?”

“I don’t know, mate. I don’t… I’ll just go in and get something. I’ll work it out.”

“Just get me whatever, I don’t mind, whatever’s easiest.”

When the forager returns it is with two half-pint stem glasses, one full of red beer, the other pink.

“I just got two small ones to start with. Er… I might have made a huge tactical error.”

“How d’you mean?”

“They’re both sour beers. she says.”

“What, deliberately?”

“I think so.”

They both sip.

“Huh.”

“I wasn’t expecting…”

“No, I didn’t think…”

“It’s clever, innit? The way they… How it…”

“It’s like the sourness makes it taste more fruity.”

“And it’s sort of… balanced out, is it? If you know what I mean. By the sweetness.”

“Huh.”

“Huh.”

They just barely clink their glasses in a quiet display of triumph before conversation turns to football.

Pub Life: Cat People

Illustration: Cat T-Shirt

Smokers’ corner on the pub terrace, by the back door to the toilets.

She is smoking, sipping from a pint of lager, and looking at her phone. He approaches, nods, places his own pint of lager on another wobbly old table, and lights a cigarette.

She stares intently, clears her throat, and says: “Not being rude… What’s that on your T-shirt?”

He sits upright and stretches the fabric away from his gut to display the graphic.

“That’s Princess.”

“She’s yours, is she? Aw, she’s lovely.”

“Yeah. Love of my life I always say. Expecting kittens, as it goes.”

The woman freezes with her beer half way to her mouth and pantomimes astonishment.

“Really? REALLY? You won’t believe this but I’ve literally been looking to get a new cat. I’ve always had cats, ever since I was a little girl, but I couldn’t have one in my last place. Now I just want loads.”

“Well, Princess is white with black patches and the one we think is the father–” He rolls his eyes. “–is black with white. So the kittens’ll be one way or the other.”

“How much, then? If I wanted two, say?”

“Hang on, hold on…” He pulls out his phone, fiddles with the screen, and then holds it for her to see. “Add me on FB and we’ll sort it out later, alright?”

“Sorted.”

They both go back to smoking, in silence, and staring at their phones, those two cat people, basking in the sun.

Pub Life: Shaving the Zebra

A zebra.

Two barmen in matching polo shirts, one small, one tall, stand behind the bar with arms folded engaged in debate with a regular sat at the bar.

The tall barman leads: “No, you’re not getting what I’m saying: I’m asking, does a staircase go up or come down? Which way does it go?”

“Up,” says the baffled regular. “If it didn’t go up, you wouldn’t need it to come down. That it comes down is a side effect of it having gone up in the first place.”

“No, it’s both. It goes up and comes down. It doesn’t matter that it was built specifically to go up. Once you’ve got an up, the staircase has to go down as well. So it goes both ways.”

The small barman frowns, laughs quietly, and shakes his head.

“What are you on about? What are you actually on about?”

“Alright, scratch that, here’s another one: is a zebra black with white stripes, or white with black stripes? Eh? Think about it.”

The regular says, confidently: “White with black stripes.”

“Yeah, but how do you know for sure?”

“Shave it.”

The small barman claps in delight.

“He’s got you there, mate!”

“Alright, what about this one: we’re all agreed stairs go up and down–”

Regular: “No, but carry on.”

“– but what about escalators? Does an escalator go up, or come down?”

“You’ve hoisted yourself by your own petard here,” says the regular. “It depends which way it’s going, doesn’t it? I mean, you literally get one to go up, and another to come down.”

“Ah, see, no, you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why: because it has to come down on the underside or it can’t go up. It’s a loop. So escalators always go up and down, just like staircases. Makes you think, doesn’t it?”

Pub Life: The Ropes

A pint of beer against pink.

The Trainee looks the part with a fine quiff and a crisp cotton shirt, but hovers over the Manager’s shoulder like a scared child.

Spotting customers waiting at the bar the Manager urges him forward.

“Uh, hi. What can I get you?”

The Manager, under his breath: “Good. Yes.”

“Hello. A pint of Best, please, and a bottle of cider.”

A panicked glance at the Manager.

“Middle pump.”

“This one?”

The first flicker of impatience. “Yes. The middle pump.”

The Trainee finds a suitable glass and checks it with the Manager who nods, pleased — now we’re getting somewhere. The Trainee puts the glass beneath the tap and yanks the handle as if trying to inflate a football.

“Whoah! Stop! Now, gently. Two or three long, smooth pulls.”

Second try: too gentle; the handle barely moves.

“Long, smooth pulls. Be firm. Yes, that’s it — good. You’re getting it. Perf– Oh, no, a bit more vigorous at the end or you’ll get no head. And you have to fill it to the top.”

The Trainee looks baffled and a look of despair passes over the manager’s face. Has the boy ever drunk, or even seen, a pint of beer? The Manager masters himself.

“It’s OK, I’ll sort the pint. You get the cider.”

The Trainee finds the bottle in the fridge and stands dumbly, unsure what to do next and afraid to ask the Manager for help. The Manager notices and says, “Opener, back shelf.” The Trainee finds it, a straightforward blade-style gadget, and places it against the lid of the bottle in various different ways, hoping that the trick will make itself known.

The Manager places the improved pint on the bar, turns and takes the opener, apparently now resigned to the fact that the youth knows nothing. “Like this.” Pop, psst, and the chime of metal as the cap flies into a bin.

The Manager finishes Customer One’s business and directs the Trainee to someone new at the bar, who says:

“Hi — could I have a taster of the golden ale, please?”

Trainee checks; manager nods; Trainee, suddenly over-confident, grabs a pint glass and fills it halfway with one long, smooth pull.

The Manager turns pale at the sight of his margin evaporating.

“Whoah! Use a little glass for tasters. A tiny glass. The smallest glass. Like this.”

The Manager presents something about the size of a thimble.

The Trainee stands with the half-full pint glass and lets his shoulders slump.

Just six more hours to go on this shift, and then the whole summer ahead.