A Quiet Pint!
By Joe Cicero, 1999
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What a day!
What a crazy fucking day. First off Bobby Lomax pays me a visit from my bed I recognise his pert knock and shrill coughing but am too lazy to get up and greet him - and posts a nine-bar thru the letterbox which thuds onto the welcome mat before he finally abandons the call. I wonder if someone's dropped me a morning letter-bomb, then decide I'm not that vital to anyone and go back to sleep for a couple of hours.
Awoken by the missus she's back from her work and's tripped over the delivery letting herself in ----
"I thought you said you were giving that up! You said you wouldn't sell it anymore, I'm sick of your bombhead mates coming 'round and making my curtains smell" and off she goes on another rant I'm off out, though not before taking the bar and securing it in a regular hidey-hole in the house.
The streets are chaos, half term and there's nippers abounding,
you're tripping over them and getting caught in the crossfire
of countless street-side ball games while up and down the terraces
mothers shout hoarse from well trampled hallways and jobless fathers
tinker with ire-fuelled passion at various rust-buckets beached
at irregular points along the gutters. Modern chaos I think,
turning the buckled hamster wheel of urban existence with frenzied
pace and irresolute determination. I imagine I'm not built for
this, yet I figure I'm as much an ingredient as any in this futile
soup, which when supped tastes like something concocted on Can't
Cook, Won't Cook. Like a walking crouton, a reluctantly mobile
split-pea floating with current amidst the broth of bodies and
shops, steered now by intangible shocks of momentary enlightenment,
next by the terminal hammer-blow of profound disillusionment.
Some of the faces that I encounter sicken me; others make my
swede pivot on my neck as if magnetised. The tight, round backsides
of confident women yards ahead of me, the dirty yet faultlessly
pressed grey trousers of coughing old men, the pathetic rattle
of poxy shopping trolleys clutched by scarf-headed pensioners
possessed with Kwik Save purpose and family-owned fruit-shop dreams,
the essence of medicated tedium streaming from the doorways of
two-bit chemists' shops, the distinctly 1960s desolation and end-of-the-world
oppression of dour laundrettes filled with freaky old punters
and disaffected students, the heartfelt carpet smell of eleven
o'clock conservative clubs now there's a thought
"Pint of Export please"
Sat at the bar it's difficult not to pick up on a conversation being held by two flat-capped gents speaking in broad Cardiff accents at a table to my left. I have some trouble picking up many of the slurred or grunted utterings beneath the onslaught of the overly loud student-fuelled jukebox but the gist of it is the two men's disgruntlement at the visible rise in crime around the area, taking particular exaction over the drug-active fraternity, now infesting and sullying a district which was once before a homely utopia of open front doors, community spirit and street parties around twenty-foot long tables. The pair chatter on this topic for a good hour or so while I listen on indifferently, occasionally glancing away to clock the few other punters or a single shot played by the lunchtime students at the pool table.
Finally tiring of this ecouterism I drain my second pint and head around the bar to a door marked TOILETS.
Same old tricks I empty my font and then latch the cubicle door. I take a cigarette paper from a pocket and lay it on the cistern's smooth convex, fish a lump from another pocket and extract a lighter from yet a third.
Some four minutes later I emerge from the toilets and take my stool at the bar again, signalling to the stocky barman for another lager. At this point the fellow nearest me rises and shuffles weightedly to the toilets, whereupon the other man also stands, engages in a small bout of horrendous coughing, and makes for the front doors. With some joy I notice one of the men has left a fresh rolly beside a half depleted SA. The moment the barman goes thru into the lounge I skip off the stool and dart to the table, deftly swap the rolly for my one-skinner and get back to position just as the second departee bustles back thru the front doors with a newspaper under his arm. He sits down and shakes the newspaper out, eyeing the front page with visible scorn, and taps the cigarette on the table. The first man returns from the toilets and reclaims his seat.
"Have you seen this Bob? More bloody drugs, look. Everyday it's more bloody drugs"
"Aye, aye Jim." with a nod of the head and forrid wrinkled regretfully. The old man lays his paper on an adjacent seat with tired disgust and lights the cigarette contemptuously, puffing exaggeratedly to indicate his despair.
"Ay Bob, this baccy tastes funny"
"Aye well Jim it's that cheap bloody stuff you smokes. Tastes bloody awful that stuff."
"Oh sod off. This tastes funny to me."
"'ow dyou mean funny?"
"Well, like, sort of 'erbal, like bloody 'erbs or those daft medical fags they smokes"
"Ay I can smell something now Jim. A strong smell, like perfume or summin."
"It's bloody strange go on Bob, have a couple of drags on that and see." I spark my own cigarette, Jim's stolen handiwork. Bob takes the spliff from Jim's shaky fingers and duly takes a tremendous pull. He holds this in his old steel lungs for several seconds and exhales, spluttering only slightly.
"Well, what d'you say?"
"Aye you're right Jim it's got a funny taste." Bob raises the mysterious wand to his blue lips for a second intake, this time savouring the smoke for a few seconds before emitting it with a raucous hack, the leathered air bags finally giving in. I chuckle at this and in turn choke on my own smoke.
"Christ Bob, you alright fella?"
"That's a fuckin' killer that is Jim."
"Sounds it Bob." Nevertheless the rugged Bob takes several more equally dissatisfying tokes before moving to stub the smoke out in the ashtray.
"'ang on fella, I never said you could fuckin' finish the cunt. Give it ere before you does that". Jim finishes the spliff while Bob rambles on about the enigmatic qualities of the questionable smoke. I notice with high amusement both men slipping into a dreamy stupor, each looking ironically thru glazed eyes into the depths of their respective pints, silent and profound for a few minutes then attempting a discourse with unsure voices and long pauses where basic words had before been inserted effortlessly. Laughing quietly I turn to face the back wall of the bar and ponder the spirit display, until a shock of raised voices coming from the direction of the pool table causes me to spin around and clock the action. A middle-aged man decked out in a darts shirt and slacks who I take to be the landlord is engaged in a war of words with the students who stand in a rough crescent around him, leaning on their cues with harangued expressions.
"bringin your bloody waccy baccy in 'ere, I won't 'ave it lads, I'll 'ave the bastard police up 'ere in a shot."
The tallest of the accused, a particularly foppish specimen with blonde flops of hair almost obscuring the narrowed eyes is acting as spokesman for the group. "Look mate, the only thing we're smoking is fags. You must have seen me get a pack from the machine then!"
"No you look son. I knows your type, you comes in 'ere and spends enough alright but you always gotta spoil it with that stuff. This is a quiet club and I looks after my members. What about those two poor blokes over there 'avin a quiet pint?" The landlord gestures toward Bob and Jim, who have also become aware of the argument and are staring dopily back on the scenario, Bob particularly wearing a look of dazed incomprehension on his drooping head. "Thirty years or more they been comin' in 'ere and they shouldn't 'ave to put up with this"
"Aye, thirty years Paul and I never 'ad a pint like that before either." Jim's voice is cracked and slightly trembling. "I don't know what was in that SA but it made the fags taste funny and I don't feel meself like."
"You alright Jim?"
"I'm alright mate, I'll have another one when you're done and all."
"And me Paul." Bob and Jim cackle into their glasses. Paul turns back on the students.
"Look, see what you done now? They've 'ad your fumes and they don't know what they're up to now, poor bastards. If you don't get out now I won't even call the police, me and Dave'll 'ave you in the back room."
"Come on mate, all we're doing is-"
"DAVE!" The original barman comes quickly thru from some lounge conversation and makes his way briskly to the pool table. "Bit of trouble with these boys Dave, student lads they are, smoking their joints in 'ere. 'Ave a look at Jim and Bob over there, they're addled off of it!" A round of rusty chuckling comes from the table of Jim and Bob right on cue.
"Alright mate we're going. But we haven't done anything."
"Look boys, just get the fuck out now before Dave loses his rag." The dejected lads leave in a rustle of sports jackets and rucksacks and Paul and Dave disappear in the direction of the lounge once more. Bob and Jim look happy enough now, certainly nothing would suggest the dour and disgruntled pair I encountered on entering. I drain my pint and leave the bar, plunging back into the maelstrom of the busy streets.
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