I walk into the King Bill at eight o’clock and the usual young Friday-night crowd is in and the spirit is already moving. Whether this is due to the fatness of the moon or the availability and quality of the drugs on sale this evening, I couldn’t say. Whatever the cause, everyone is lit up and loved up and a curious unity prevails. The jukebox is up loud and I’m greeted left and right as I push my way between the friendly, relaxed faces in search of one in particular. I spot Trev sitting down at the head of the pub’s top table with half a dozen of his young nephews and nieces.
Trev’s is an old farming family, solidly working class still, and they wouldn’t swap that for anything. Trev and his three brothers were for many years the agricultural district’s most well-regarded punchers. Though now in their fifties and sixties, they still command affection and respect, especially from the young up-and-coming farm boys who enjoy nothing more than a good scrap, and who know their history. Trev is sitting there in the bosom of his clan like a beloved old warrior king, turning this way and that in his chair as he is constantly interrupted by young women demanding hugs and kisses, and by young bucks approaching the throne to bend the knee of fealty.
In spite of these demands on his attention, he spots me coming through the crowd towards him. His face, instead of lighting up, is still. I squeeze in beside him and he looks me over carefully. ‘How are you, bud?’ he says. Trev worries about my health with maternal ferocity. I haven’t seen him for several months. I tell him I’m fine and nod a dozen times in support of my claim. He accepts it as truth with reluctance. Then he leans over and encircles me in his loving arms. ‘Jägers?’ he says. ‘Pope?’ I say.
In less than a minute he returns from the bar with a small tray densely populated with Jägerbombs. We knock back three each in quick succession. Trev wins by a fraction of a second. I’ve been in the pub less than five minutes and already I’m feeling a bit queasy. Trev is bursting with love for his old pal and proudly introduces me to those nephews and nieces within earshot as ‘that bloke who writes about me’. The nieces are a Baconesque triptych of tits, tats and fake tans. The nephews are skinny farm boys jumpy with amphetamine. A nephew with a bruised eye socket vaguely remembers Trev banging on about something of the sort a couple of years ago. Trev points out a nephew aged about 17 horsing around over by the dartboard who is showing particular promise, Trev says, as a sex maniac. ‘And see the boy over there? The ugly fucker? Well, you can knock that lad down a dozen times and he’ll still get up and come at you again.’ Trev is so proud. He calls the lad over, praises his courage, tells him how ugly he is, and orders him to shake my hand.
But the news isn’t all good. Trev has an older nephew, Danny, aged about 40, who is a sort of human torpedo. Danny gets into a fight just about every time he goes out and has lived his life as a sort of agricultural version of Neal Cassady. Incredibly, this Danny has fallen in love for the first time in his life, and the change in his personality has shocked and disappointed his family. He stopped eating, apparently, and followed this woman around for weeks like a whipped dog. (‘The twat,’ interjects the young niece on my right with terrifying vehemence.) To make matters worse, the woman can’t stand him. Matters came to a head the other week when Danny climbed up the outside of her house, intending to plead with her through her bedroom window, and fell off. He’s been lying on his back in bed ever since, while his multiple fractures knit themselves back together.
While Trev elaborates on the full horror of Danny’s lovelorn wretchedness, a dreamy young woman approaches and waits humbly until Trev notices her. When he does, he says, ‘Alright, maid?’ She holds up a tiny parcel between thumb and forefinger. It is a ‘bomb’ of coke tightly wrapped in a cigarette paper and closed with a twist. Trev takes it, dangles it above his open mouth and ‘bombs’ it down his throat in an exhibitionist manner. The young woman dreamily departs. Trev says, ‘Ah!’ and pats his stomach as if he’s just swallowed a delicious mini strawberry tart, then presses on with his sorry tale. The nieces and nephews haven’t batted an eyelid. It’s going to be one of those nights. ‘Jägers?’ I say. ‘Oh, go on then,’ he says. ‘Twist me arm.’
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