I know that this isn't your favourite boozer,
but it's the best we've got in the centre of town,
and I quite like the variety of punters you get here.
The bar's the place to meet new people, although
I'm not really a prop-up-the-bar sort of person.
I find it too competitive, a peculiarly male practice
of point-scoring instead of proper conversation.
As the drink flows we get louder, the jokes and
puns get worse; coherence disappears out of the
window. If we stood back for a moment and looked
at ourselves, we'd probably see exactly the sort of
blokes who prop up the bar and really irritate us.
It's OK if you can commandeer the corner, but you
have to be in early. Then you can hold court and
survey the scene, a technique regularly employed
by you know who. He's just the same abroad,
readily establishing friendships with strangers
even if he can't speak their language.
I'm regarded as a bit of an oddball, taking myself
off as far away from the bar as possible, to sit at
a table and read a book. The unvoiced opinion is
'why come here? He could do that at home'. But I like
reading with the hum of the pub in the background,
glancing out of the window every now and then,
pausing between paragraphs to watch the to-and-fro.
Yes, we all have 'an eye for the ladies', but
does he have to be so blatant about it?
What is it with men of a certain age who
think they have some god-given right to
snog young women? It's a strange lack of
self-perception; alcohol-fuelled they really
believe they're 'in with a chance'; looking in
the mirror more often might improve their
social graces. I'm not one of the 'allo darling,
you're looking gorgeous tonight school';
I seem to get a lot more affection by just
being friendly, not a threat. Sure, I enjoy
the small pleasures of a cuddle or a kiss on
the cheek, but they're no more than that.
Have you come across the rugby fanatic,
the one with the really deep voice? I know
you like rugby but I doubt you'd get on.
On match days he has a 'few drinks with the
lads', for which read 'I get totally trashed'.
The more he drinks the less his neck seems
able to support his head; it sinks lower and
lower like his voice until both are about a foot
from the floor. By then you can only pick out
key words: 'Saracens', 'lads', 'Wasps', 'a few drinks'
from a bass rumble – basso profundo – somewhere
near your feet. But at least that's better than
listening to his usual xenophobic rants. Like a
lot of them in here, 'he's OK when he's sober';
and of course, he's got 'an eye for the ladies' too.
What ever happened to 'up and under'? Don't they
do that any more? What's-his-name's catchphrase.
Or was that only Rugby League? Eddie Waring. He
couldn't say 'rugby', it came out as 'ruggerby'. I don't
know much about rugby, but I enjoyed the World Cup.
That poem by Andrew Motion, 'A Song for Jonny',
is bloody awful. Surely he can't
Absolutely appalling! Tom Paulin. Arsenal for the Cup!
This weekend there was a French market in town,
full of sausages, garlic, proper tomatoes,
cauliflowers bigger than cauliflowers, crźpes,
mustard and lavender. I got annoyed with some
of the locals I overheard, moaning about 'they
foreigners coming over here and taking our trade'.
For three days I coveted a thick woollen jacket,
sort of peasant-style, at a stall run by a Breton
who kept calling me 'my friend'. I imagined him
playing a bombard or at least a guitar in some
smoke-filled bar in Quimper, but it transpired
that he was from Caen which is Normandy and
difficult to pronounce without causing offence.
I finally gave in to my whim and bartered in
lousy French. Now I have my jacket, although
I'm not sure about the hood. There's a suitably
rustic-looking French label inside, behind which
is a smaller one that reads 'Made in Nepal'…
It's all a bit surreal today. Two Roman
centurions have just clanked past the window
across Cathedral Green. Earlier, a First World
War colonel strode in, chatting on his mobile.
Ian's in his corner: he's just bought a map of the
road to Damascus, in search of some epiphany.
Mike's arguing with his ex-wife in Farsi; there's
a man I don't know crying over the death of
his father; Dave's worrying about missing the
boxing; and there's Tirzah, expecting a baby.
The morris-dancers are jangling their bells,
which would really irritate Bekah if she were
here, and that show-off from the choir is
singing scales again. At the table next to me
four feisty girls are wearing chef's toques for
some unfathomable reason. Apparently they are
planning a kidnapping. I wouldn't mind being
kidnapped by them, but I suffer from invisibility
these days – it's an affliction that creeps up
on you with age. The Harlequins have
with The Card Players and
one of The Absinthe
slipped under the table, but the
girl from A Bar at the Folies-BergŹre just stares
at them impassively. I seemed to have drifted
elsewhere; perhaps I nodded off for a moment.
I'm told it's Heritage Weekend; I guess those
are supposed to be Normans. The centurions
have just marched past again in the opposite
direction. I think I need another drink.
I hope you're not really cross with me for going
to Prague without you; we'll get there sometime
I promise. And yes we'll go back to New York,
the free ticket arrived this morning.
That's the one I used to call The Girl With The Eyes.
I really like her; she's called Clover and knows my
ex-stepdaughter. She's doing a Foundation Course
and her eyes have opened wider. Look, she's pointing
out the early evening light to her boyfriend,
the way the Cathedral changes colour, sometimes
warm orange, then cold and grey. I love her
enthusiasm and vitality, and the way she doesn't
so much as walk but busy herself from A to B.
The George I was telling you about who had a bar
in Manhattan isn't here today, he's visiting his
daughter in Zimbabwe. Excuse me, I'm just popping
round to Tesco, Claire might be there. Anything
you want? No I didn't mean a shipping order.
Twenty-two, a photography student. Lovely eyes,
and I like the dimples when she smiles.
Wicked sense of humour. Her man's a lucky fella.
She always cheers me up. I'd like to know her
better but 'there you go', as they say these days.
And she's left-handed! Like Ellie. Eilat's her real
name. Don't be daft, I'm about twenty years past
my best-before date. She wasn't there, so I had
to chew the fat with Wayne about Arsenal instead.
Beware! The guy with the red trousers and flying
jacket is in again. A nutcase in sheep's clothing.
The one who claims to be a writer and nobody'll
talk to him. Instead he talks to himself; tonight
it's instructions on how to remove his glasses and
wipe off the condensation. He'll never comprehend
why eveyone feels like hitting him, glasses or no
glasses.He's just so… irritating! There he is now,
lurking behind a pillar, trying to make eye contact,
waiting to pounce. Please don't stare or he'll find
a way into our conversation and launch into some
diatribe in a stentorian deep-brown voice. Then you'll
feel like hitting him too. I wonder if they're the same
red trousers or does he have a whole wardrobe of them.
'Time bankruptcy' is the phrase you were looking
for, and you don't exactly help the state of my
account: it's seriously overdrawn. On top of all
the books I buy myself you give me review copies
and stuff you don't want. And of course you know
I can't refuse. My books-to-be-read section is
taking over the house. Those French ones are
lovely just as objects. I'm glad I'm not the only
one who sniffs paper and books; I think it's to
do with the ink. Penguins always had a special
smell, but they're not the same these days.
Ha ha, no I don't go round sniffing birds!
Today I sit at a table with my rucksack and
supermarket bag, and notice that at nearly
every table there are single middle-aged men
with rucksacks and supermarket bags. They sit
sipping beer, reading newsapers, rolling cigarettes,
rolling ideas and memories around, or write
in notebooks just like this one. Surely they
can't all be poets, but that one definitely is.
He's a cut above the rest, you can tell by his
intelligent shoes. He displays all the tell-tale
signs: the exasperated casting-down of his
glasses, the rubbing of the eyes, the long
periods of staring into space. Even from here
you can see that he's an equal-lined stanza man.
All around me are discarded pages; screwed
up balls of paper litter the floor. If I wait long
enough this pub will fill up with a white sea of
poetry. I could sneak back later by moonlight –
there must be enough material here for a
cut-and-paste job, or at least a few mots justes.
© Neil Annat 2004