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Andy Naylor Spoken Word

SCREW

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.

“Mr Harris”

“Jimmy”

“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.”

“True”

“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.

POPPY AND BOB

 

I’ve never put on mascara myself. Not that I’m against that sort of thing for men, each to their own I say, I’ve just never fancied it. Even with my limited knowledge of female cosmetics I could tell that it was something best done when you weren’t crying your eyes out and preferably not on a moving train.  That was the first time myself and Poppy ever met, on the 7.20 train from Sevenoaks to London Bridge.  I hadn’t noticed her at the platform, I was slightly preoccupied that morning as I’d been given a kindle by my sister the previous week and had been buried nose deep in the latest John Grisham.

“You could have hundreds of books stored on there if you wanted Robert.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes, amazing things these kindles. Amazing.”

I had to admit that I hadn’t thought much of it at the time. I’d spent the best part of thirty years staring at a computer for eight to ten hours a day and usually spent the commute to and from work staring out of the window or sleeping. That was all there was to do once the newspaper was finished, there was never any real room for a novel in the briefcase with everything else. I’ve stealthily managed to avoid them all over the years, the walkmans, the discmans and now the smart phone. I have to be honest though, I was quite enjoying the kindle, the ability to escape into a thriller for half an hour before another day of accounting was not entirely unpleasant. I’d just scrolled on to a new page when this pink faced girl in her early twenties stumbled on to the train and slotted herself and her bag into the seat next to me. I was marginally annoyed as there were several seats free in the carriage but quickly realised that she was in the process of sobbing her heart out and decided that she hadn’t had the adequate range of vision to look much further than the space next to me. The other two commuters in the carriage quickly popped up their broadsheets so that they wouldn’t have to interact and I thought about sliding back into the  murky world of corrupt American lawyers before reaching into my brief case and taking out some tissues. I gently tapped the shoulder of her leather jacket and held out the Kleenex.

“Oh. Oh, thank you”

I smiled and then directed my gaze out the window at the semi detached, pebble dashed streets of Kent. It felt undignified to be staring at someone who was so openly upset on public transport and I fully expected my tissue donation to be the end of the matter. To my absolute astonishment though I received a tap on my shoulder.

“It’s my Dad” she said “he’s got cancer.”

This was incredible. I’d been commuting for three quarters of my life and never exchanged more than an excuse me or a shared raise of the eye brows with someone who was equally annoyed with another passengers music. Now I was about to find myself in an actual conversation and a really bloody serious one at that, I felt like I was a character from one of the teen dramas my nieces watched incessantly. I took a deep breath.

“Oh no. That’s awful.”

And with that we were off. I found out that her name was Poppy and that she had just moved back in with her parents after finishing university. She’d overheard a tense conversation between her parents that morning which finished with her storming into their room and demanding to know what was going on. That’s how she found out about the cancer, why she had ran full pelt to the station and why she’d been a blubbering mess when she’d stepped on to the train.

“They reckon he’ll probably be ok, they’ve caught it early you know? Still though it’s like, what the fuck?!

I smiled and nodded.

“What the fuck indeed.”

I think it was the first time I’d ever sworn on public transport but it had the desired effect of making her giggle. We were about to pull into London Bridge and Poppy suddenly reached for an absent plastic bag next to her before groaning.

“Jesus, I bought a sandwich and left it in the toilet at the station. This is all I need, you can’t buy anything round here for less than a fiver.”

I stood up and prepared to make my way towards the scrum of suits jostling for the escalator. I opened my brief case and took out my plastic lunch container, removing one of my cling filmed sandwiches and an apple and pushing it into her hand.

“Goodbye Poppy” I said and stepped out on to the platform. It was the most impulsive thing I think I’ve ever done and I felt like James Bond for the rest of the day.

For the next few months we got to know each other pretty well Poppy and I. I learnt that she was back at her parents after a year of travelling around South East Asia and was now trying to embark on a career in publishing. At the moment that meant making endless coffees and working for the minimum wage. She was locked in a seemingly miserable exchange of ‘Whatsapp’ messages with a man called Mike, who could never really manage to do anything right and was, as she delighted in telling me numerous times

“An absolute fuckboy Bob, an absolute fuckboy.”

Poppy pressed me for details about my life and I was almost disappointed to explain to her that there was little to tell. I told her that I’d never married, that I loved my nieces very much but was glad I hadn’t had the responsibility of rearing them and that I’d always wanted to see the Northern Lights and stay in an Igloo but had never quite got round to it. After much persistence she managed to force me to admit that there was a lady in the office opposite called Sandra who I often chatted with on my lunch break and who I thought was incredibly beautiful. Poppy had armed me with a question to ask her everyday and we had managed to discern that she was divorced, enjoyed the theatre and thought that Poppy should 150 percent stop messaging Mike. ( I never actually asked Sandra that, I thought it was a bit weird.)

Then, just like that, one day it was all over. I arrived at the station and Poppy wasn’t there. I kept expecting her to appear at the last minute and when the train pulled out of the station without her it was a very strange feeling. The ticket inspector came past and I held out my pass whilst sighing deeply and for the first time in months prepared to take my Kindle out of the brief case.

“I’ve got something for you” she smiled and handed me a small brown bag which was sealed at the top with a little bit of tape. I took the bag from her and opened it on to the table in front of me. Inside was a cling filmed sandwich, an origami igloo, two tickets for a production called “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nightime” and a small envelope with ‘BOB’ written on the front of it. I opened up the letter and began to read.

My Dear Bob

I’m sorry I never said anything but I’ve always been shit with goodbyes. I got a job, a real bloody job but it’s in Manchester! I’m moving there tomorrow and I start next Monday. My Dad is driving me down, he’s doing really well and thanks you for the crime thriller tips, says they have kept him occupied through all the shitty chemo.

I just wanted to say thank you for everything, for the cheese and pickle sandwich, for the tissue and for restoring my faith in other people. This igloo will have to do for now until you get to stay in a real one. I have enclosed two tickets for a wicked play, you should ask Sandra to go with you on Friday and then kiss her at the station, don’t think about it just bloody do it!

You are a lovely, lovely man Bob and she would be lucky to have you.

All my love Poppy

PS: I’ve stopped messaging Mike. He’s such a fuckboy! xxx

I folded up the letter and put the tickets into my briefcase along with my kindle before taking a deep breath and looking up at the man sat opposite me.

“Morning!” I said.

He half smiled at me and dived back under his telegraph. I looked out the window and started to smile as the trees and houses rolled past and another day began.