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.

Pub Life: Cool Hair

Cool hair mod.

Midday, a busy pub but with conversation at murmur level, and subtle grey light on dark wood.

Enter The Mod, a stylish lad in his early twenties in designer parka and suede moccasins, carrying an embroidered carpet bag. He buys a pint and sits with his back to the wall.

A few minutes pass before The Big Lad makes his approach. His eyes are locked on The Mod as he steams across the open bar, clearly more than one pint into his session.

He stops a short distance away and points, just points, for an uncomfortably long moment.

“Fucking. Cool. Hair.”

He means it very sincerely, sounds almost emotional.

The Mod laughs awkwardly.

“Oh, right, yeah, ta.”

The Big Lad hasn’t finished.

“No, I mean it. It’s fucking brilliant. Absolutely mint.”

The Mod raises his glass.

“Thanks, man.” (Meaning: now go away.)

“No, listen, seriously… If I was as good looking as you, I’d go out and get that haircut today. The girls wouldn’t know what hit ‘em.”

Silence. Shifting in seats. The Big Lad’s wheezing breath.

Then, remembering his primary mission, he lurches away into the gents toilet, smashing through doors like a bulldozer.

The Mod exhales and slides down in his seat.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell.”

Everyone sitting nearby laughs, in solidarity and relief.

“Nobody ever compliments my hair,” says a bald man, and there is more laughter.

The the door of the gents flies open and everybody freezes as The Big Lad bursts out, still fiddling with his fly.

He fixes swimming eyes on The Mod.

“Cool. Hair.”

Finger guns, a thumbs up, and he’s gone.

A nice relaxing pint.

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?”