The beer garden at the back of the pub was empty, save one woman sitting alone at a table contemplating a pint glass. It was Saturday night, early, already dark. I placed my carnival glass of Kirin Ichiban on the table next to hers and sat down. The beer garden was floodlit with blue and orange light. The stars were out.
I craned my head forward, sucked up an inch of cold lager without using my hands and looked sideways at the woman on the next table. I noticed a reaction to the mouthful of chilled beer on a cellular level. The woman looked miles away. ‘If you’re interested in a chat,’ I said, ‘this is the most sensible I’m going to be all night, so we should have it now.’ She backed out of her reverie and regarded me. ‘OK,’ she said. ‘What shall we talk about?’
‘How’s your love life?’ I suggested. She rolled her eyes. ‘Completely out of hand,’ she said. ‘Ridiculous. I wouldn’t even know where to start.’ But she had a stab at it, with approximate statistics, and then attempted a broad outline of a recent crisis, the result of which was her sitting outside on this chilly Saturday evening savouring a pint and some longed-for solitude.
Three chaps came out into the garden carrying full pints and joined her at her table without a trace of formality or a greeting. Regulars, presumably. The gang. Then another chap arrived, wearing a sports jacket that was far too big for him, as though for comic effect. He sat at my table. Then he took out the makings, and began constructing a joint with great devotion and elaboration. Nobody took a blind bit of notice of him except me. I watched him, enjoying the spectacle of someone flagrantly skinning up on licensed premises. He was neither furtive nor exhibitionist about it. Very soon the thing was lit, the makings popped back in his clown’s jacket pocket, and the sucking end was being tentatively offered in my direction.
I hesitated. Very often when I’m out and drunk and outside somewhere having a fag, I will accept a proffered joint and take a small puff to be polite. But otherwise I avoid it because it makes me paranoid. And with skunk, I’ve hit the buffers before I’ve even passed the thing back. If I’m already drunk, however, the effect is less noticeable and can be overcome by more alcohol if I restrict myself to a polite puff or two.
I was still only halfway down the first pint. The bloke didn’t know me from Adam, yet it was kind and sociable of him to include me in his parish. I accepted it, took a drag and passed it on. My phone rang. Trev. ‘Where are you, Bud?’ The joint came around again. (Again I accepted and then sent it on.) He was in the pub looking for me, he said. I told him I was out the back in the beer garden, and five seconds later Trev appeared: dark-tan brogues, navy-blue Crombie, his blond hair an even one millimetre long all over. He was in ebullient Saturday-night mood, a long glass of house double vodka and lemonade in his hand as if he’d been born with it there. ‘Who’s the Daddy!’ he cried. Then he strode over and made us all budge up so he could sit in among us.
‘So what do you all know, then?’ said Trev, a vivid, powerful, challenging presence. Trev doesn’t smoke pot either normally, and for the same reasons. Also, he holds this particular pub in contempt. It’s the one pub in town where anyone with half a brain congregates. In Trev’s eyes, the half a brain that these customers have in common is the stupider half. I tend to agree with him. It was a great surprise to see him in here at all.
He gazed around the table taking in each person with a saucy look hoping that someone might reveal a bit of wit or mettle or masculinity. Unfortunately the table had been ambushed by the joint and was completely out of it. They stared back at him: glassy-eyed, speechless, fatuous, paralysed. The bloke in the clown’s jacket was totally immobile, like a gonk. No slouch, Trev read the situation comfortably and shook his head sorrowfully, like a headmaster with a row of recidivist infants arraigned before him on the carpet of his office. He turned with mock dread to look at me, saw that I was of the company, and rolled his eyes with bored amusement.
‘Come on then, dude,’ he said to the gonk in the too big jacket. ‘Skin us up another one.’ And then he gave a deep sigh of sincere and ineffable boredom.
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