Two simple words, but they can sometimes initiate a disproportionate amount of wellbeing to course through your system, something akin to a stiff whisky chaser on a cold January night.
Two simple words, but they can sometimes initiate a disproportionate amount of irritation to course through your system, something akin to a tepid doner kebab on a cold January night.
Let me tell you my story.
We reach the bar at precisely the same moment; honours even; I have a perfectly legitimate right to speak up, place my order, get my drink. But, I make an assessment. They look like visitors; out-of-towners; tourists even. I decide to extend a bit of home-town, London decency to these strangers:
Oh, how I would regret those two simple words.
They look through me as though I do not exist. Turn that same blank, bovine gaze to the chalkboard of beers available for purchase. Stand and stare. Silent. As though we are all transfixed in rapt admiration of a beautiful sunset.
The barman attempts to prompt them, but the soundless status quo continues. Are they members of a religious sect? Some insular community, where the spoken word is forbidden? Finally, they turn to one another, converse in low tones, oblivious to the fact that I am waiting; oblivious to the barman standing in attendance:
“What do you want, darling?”
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
They return their gaze to the chalkboard. In the meantime, I have learned something. They may still be out-of-towners, but they are English out-of-towners. You examine them more closely. Middle aged; quite well-to-do. A recent couple? The ‘darling’ might suggest that. Their self-absorbed insensibility to everything else around them might suggest that.
The barman tries again:
“Do you like a beer or a lager?”
There is a puzzled look on the face of the man, as though he has never contemplated the question before; never stood in a pub before; never heard English spoken before. He turns to his partner:
“Do we like a beer or a lager, darling?”
It is clearly a question that is not going to receive any decisive reply. Even during my brief acquaintance with the woman, I can recognise this as a God-given fact. Meanwhile, I mentally answer the question for him. I like a wheat beer. It is #4 on the pumps. If I hadn’t said “After you” to you, I would have said “A pint of #4, please” to the barman; it would have been poured by now––even allowing for the time it takes for the frothy head to settle––I would have paid by now; I would be halfway upstairs, heading towards my favourite seat in the far corner by now; practically taking my first sip by now.
By the time that I return from my counter-factual excursion, the reality has changed. Against all odds, the man has come to a decision; the vaguest gesture on his part towards pint #2 has been seized upon by the bar-tender:
“A very good choice, sir.”
He is pouring out a glass before there is any opportunity for the man to change his mind.
We are back into the twilight zone. It is a scary place to inhabit, filled with fear, doubt and introspection.
The barman is pressing now; he sees me waiting; we exchange a look that conveys a thousand unspoken words: I feel your pain; this is hurting me as much as it is hurting you; but what can I do? There is genuine anguish there: what can I do?
The woman’s mouth is beginning to open; there is a sign of the most primitive interpretation of sentient life; a basic sentence begins to take shape:
“Can I have a taste of #7?”
A taste? A taste! What is this? A fucking wine-tasting evening? Who do you think you are? Jilly fucking Goolden?
The barman is indulgent. He pours out a thimble-measure, which the woman sips, pulling a cat’s-arse face, as though she has just sucked on a raw lemon.
Should I just jump in? Express my exasperation; state my order? Instead, I stand and wait. Fume and wait. Conduct my own personal mental dialogue and wait.
The man has taken a sip of his drink:
“#2 is very nice, darling.”
“If you’re sure. In that case, I’ll have a half of #2.”
Hallelujah! It has only taken ten minutes to come to a decision, but we are there. Praise be! Surely nothing can now stand between me and my pint?
The barman turns to the couple again:
“That will be £6.50 please. We don’t accept cash. Card only.”
Once again the bovine look of blank incomprehension settles upon the pair:
“Card? Do we have a card, darling? I don’t think we have a card?”
© Beery Sue
Beery Sue vows to never again let good manners get between her and her beer.