My first time back in the local for eight weeks. The manageress lifts the flap, comes around to my side of the bar and kisses me on the lips. We can’t hear ourselves speak as there is a ska DJ barricaded into a corner behind a waist-high wall of speakers and the bar is small and the ceiling low. She indicates that my gin and tonic is on the house. I take it outside and take a seat on one of the picnic benches on the patio. This hippie guy is prancing ecstatically around the tables with fluttering fingers.
A couple sit themselves down opposite me and the bloke starts rolling a single skin joint. I know them by sight but I don’t know either of their names. While he concentrates his energies on rolling the spliff, the woman reassures me with great earnestness and intensity that I look fantastic. You know how some people have that hollowed-out, cadaverous look, she says? I should take it from her that I do not have this look.
Then Trev arrives. He’s wearing his customary conservative cream shirt with collar. Most uncharacteristically, however, he’s puffing on one of those vaporiser cigarettes. I never thought I’d see the day. He puffs on it continuously, like a pipe. Blackcurrant and banana flavour, he says. I’m looking good, he says — for a mutant.
It’s only a tiny spliff, but when the bloke sparks it up, smoke pours from the end like a bonfire of wet leaves. And the smell is unbelievably pungent. We’re all flapping our hands disgustedly in front of our noses. He offers it to Trev. Trev sanctimoniously tells him he’s given up smoking. He offers it to me. I take a small puff on it just to be sociable and hand it back. Twenty seconds later, I find that psychologically speaking I’m terribly altered. And then the barman comes out and says, lads, lads, please, no weed, please, we can all smell it in the bar. The bloke who rolled it promptly hands it to me. I hand it to Trev. Trev offers it to the barman. The barman shakes his head and retreats back inside.
A minute later the other bar server, a woman, comes flying out. She’s disgusted and furious, she says, because she’s losing customers because of the smell. We’re all well into our fifties and we sit there smirking and denying everything like guilty children. It wasn’t us, says Trev, pointing to a table of clean-cut teens, it was them over there. She looks at the happily chatting youngsters, looks at us, goes to say something, thinks better of it and turns on her heel. All this has occurred between the first and the second sip of my drink.
Trev and I pick up our drinks and go inside. I notice that he is staying solicitously close, as if I am in a fragile condition. I am indeed feeling slightly tired this evening and uncharacteristically we sit down and listen to the music and watch the dancers, who are mostly women. Trev seems to know an awful lot about every single one of them. He sits beside me like a bloodstock agent pointing out this one and then that one and assessing their relative merits. Forget that one over there, he says. The figure might be out of this world, but she hates men. Now, see that one over there? She might not look that much, but underneath all that crap she’s wearing is one tidy body. And she’s a nice maid, too. A lovely little maid, actually. She’d do me, he says. I notice that he and I have tiny points of blue and yellow light playing and dancing all over us and our drinks. The DJ comes out from behind his speaker barricade and shakes my hand warmly. I’ve forgotten his name as well. He’s the singer in a fantastic local ska band called the Simmertones. He humbly presents me with a signed copy of their latest CD. This is all beginning to feel uncomfortably elegiac.
I confide to Trev that I’m feeling a little tired and perhaps I ought to go home. Trev changes his manner from that of a bloodstock agent to that of a doctor. Now look here, he says. What you need are a few Jägerbombs. They’ll sort you out. So obediently I go to the bar and order ten. The barman knocks two quid off — an unheard of thing. We drink some and give some away and Trev’s quite right: I now feel quite different again and the tiredness has vanished. I look at the pub clock, thinking it must be nearly closing time. I’m astonished to see I’ve been in the pub for only three quarters of an hour. I take my jacket off, carefully fold it, and stow it under our seat.
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