Pub Life: Vapeman Against Humanity

A small pub with dark walls, swirling with psychedelic rock, and swirling also with sweet cherry-scented vapour.

Four men are gathered around the bar, three of them playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’.

They all have the build of nightclub bouncers but one is dressed in heavy metal denim; another like the croupier on a Mississippi gambling boat; the third in tatty biking leathers; and the fourth, disappointingly, in jeans and trainers. The first three have different varieties of ostentatious facial hair; their less showy friend is clean-shaven.

No, his flair is not sartorial; rather, he is generating his own fog with an illuminated sci-fi e-cigarette. Clouds and clouds of it. He is too drunk or too disinterested to join the game, or perhaps just concentrating too hard on his art.

Croupier reads from his card: ‘“What do old people smell like?”’

Bike Leathers slaps his thigh: ‘Oh, I’ve got the winner right here, my friend… “Sneezing and farting at the same time”!’

Everyone cracks with laughter, except the Vaper. Though the Vaper isn’t playing, he is thinking hard about the question, eyes narrowed and pink, fixed on a faraway place, or perhaps a distant time.

Heavy Metal begins his turn: ‘Right — “What do old people smell like?” The answer is obviously, “My balls in–”’

‘Decay!’ declares the Vaper suddenly, and loudly, killing the chatter in the bar. ‘Decay, isn’t it? That’s what they smell of. Decay. Impending death. Like…’ He generates a serving of particularly gothic graveyard mist. ‘Like their bodies are breaking down even though they’re still… Their eyes are still…’

Silence falls. Vapour churns.

‘Another round of these IPAs, lads?’ slurs Croupier, slapping his cards down on the table. ‘Or is it time to move on to that imperial stout?’

Everyone cheers, except the Vaper.

Vaper just vapes, intensely.

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.