A man can take a bit of comfort in the stillness of a real boozer. There’s three things you should be hearing in a proper pub during the day, pints being poured, the racing on the telly and a pool ball or two rattling in a pocket.
Conversation? Yeah a chats always welcome but you have to know when and where you can strike one up. I remember me and Tommy Braithwaite being in the bogs at this Gastro place once, just minding our own business and draining the snakes when this fella pops up next to us.
“Busy out there lads!”
He’s said as if we’re sat in the work canteen. Now, I’m not anti social but I’d rather not be spraying away to a stranger when I’m holding my goods. Tommy felt the same.
“What was all that about Len?!”
Good lad he was. Been gone three years now, heart attack in his sleep. Best way to go I suppose if you can’t clock out whilst pleasuring a twenty five year old stunner.
Tommy knew the score, he knew you never start a chat with a fella who’s got the racing post open. Would you bother an artist when he was at the canvass? No you wouldn’t. Same applies to a gambling man.
I’ve been in the royal twenty minutes today and I’ve knocked a decent chunk off a pint of Guiness. Deans behind the bar, solid little landlord knows what keeps the regulars happy. He’s already had words with some students who’d wandered in and started screaming their heads off
“Where are the board games in this dive?”
Cheeky little bastard. They both look about 22, what in christ are they looking to play board games for?
“Should nee be in a pub”
says Scottish Clem when they’ve finally given up enjoying how ironic it is in here and flounced out.
“Too right Clem”
I’m just about to pop my hand up to order another one when the door goes and instantly my hackles rise and I’m taken back about thirty five years to the landings of Pentonville.
Jimmy Gatskill as I live and breathe, fifteen years for an armed robbery as far as I remember. He still looks like he always did, wiry and light but with constantly busy little eyes. His twitching pair of blues survey the bar and then lock onto mine as a feint smile of recognition starts playing on his lips. He gives Dean the nod for a pint of Amstel and sits on the seat next to me.
“Been a long time governor”
“That it has”
Dean hovers awkwardly, nervous that we’re going to start swedgin away at each other, not out of any particular concern for either of us but because the cleaners have only been in yesterday.
You see it’s not an unfamiliar occurrence for me to be set upon by an angry punter in here. You spend that long slamming doors and locking dangerous people behind them, occasionally you’re going to get a nasty little reminder.
“Another pint of Guinness for the governor here”
says Jimmy and Deano, satisfied that his pub isn’t going to get smashed up, fills a pint glass up to halfway with the black stuff then walks off to fiddle with the optics.
“Much obliged Jimmy”
You see the difference between Gaskill and some of the others I’ve bumped into over the years, is that he was never obsessed about it being us versus them. I grew up with some really naughty lads and it was by the grace of God that I didn’t end up locking up one of my own sons or brothers.
You spend nearly fifteen years locking someone up and you tend to develop a grudging respect for each other along the way. Jimmy was always fairly polite, he wanted to get his time over with and get out in one piece, a goal that he’d clearly achieved.
“How long you been retired now then Mr Harris?”
I take a sip of the pint Deano’s put in front of me
“About five years ago now” I gesture around the empty pub “ I didn’t have quite the same pension plan set up as you so here’s where I’ve spent most of it.”
He laughs a grainy, throaty chuckle and scratches the side of his face.
“No Mrs to drag you out of here then?”
“Left me about a year after I’ve finished. Think she was expecting us to magically get on after I retired. Turns out having me there under her fetter nine hours a day was worse than having me roll in at midnight stinking of booze and fags.”
Jimmy takes a sip on his pint and coughs.
“Thing is, you lot were kind of doing time as well weren’t you? I mean you were getting paid and all that but you still spent half your life in the nick same as me.”
“What sort of world have we come out to as well eh guv? The prices of places round here now!I didn’t even recognise the street I grew up on. Most of the boys are out in Kent now, some of em further afield. My Mum stays shut in her flat all day, don’t know none of her neighbours, the only council resident left on the block.”
I nod in agreement and take another pull on the pint.
“And the kids now, fuck me! Wave a gun in your face and not bat an eyelid over it.”
“Different world Jimmy”
We sit silently for a while and then suddenly from outside the pub we hear screaming. I look up and see a man dragging his missus by the hair up the pavement. She’s bawling her head off and that’s just aggravating him even more. Jimmy’s up and off his feet in a flash and I’m out the door after him. He’s straight over to the toe rag digging him in the ribs causing him to drop his Missus in surprise.
“Who the fuck..
Jimmy’s hit him again and the woman’s tried to get involved, screaming for Jimmy to stop.
“We’re helping you out here love”
I say as she starts launching punches at the back of Jimmy’s head. I give the bloke a final dig in the stomach and then a boot up the arse sends him on his way, his bedraggled lady staggering after him.
Jimmy and I stand there in bewilderment for a while and then start pissing ourselves. I line both of us up a new pint and then realise that I’ve hit my limit for the day and it’s only one in the afternoon. Oh well, fuck it.
We clink glasses and drink as a young couple enter high on love and it takes a while before they have a full look at their surroundings, Scottish Clem hacking up tobacco flew into his racing post, the fading paint on the walls and myself and Jimmy still riled with aggression and adrenaline from giving some crack head a pasting. They turn and walk out and I smile over at Deano.
“Get some more fucking board games in here you clown”
Dean sulks away to the cellar and I bask once more in the sound of the faulty Heineken tap as it beats a metronomic accompaniment to our silent sipping.
A real boozer indeed.