VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
by John Morrison
82: Evenings Out
Now that the nights are drawing in, there are meetings being called to order all around Milltown - wherever a pub, club, lodge or hall can be commandeered for the evening. The Milltown Pool League, for example, is holding its AGM tonight in the back room at the Flag. It should be just a matter of minutes to rubber-stamp a simple agenda, but something happens to even the most taciturn participants whenever they begin a sentence with the words 'Mr Chairman'. It brings out the bar-room lawyer in all of them; they quickly become pedantic and argumentative. No point of order seems too insignificant to warrant a motion, a seconder, maybe a counter-motion, followed - eventually - by a show of hands. Only for someone to find fault with the small print, rephrase the motion in a slightly different way, and go through the whole charade once again.
After a few beers the pool team representatives become giddy with power, even though it's only the power to keep everyone in the Flag up way past their bedtimes, debating points of order that have no meaning beyond these walls (and not too much inside them either). They start dissecting aspects of this simple and diverting pub game that they'd largely taken for granted. Like Rule 34(a), never a contentious directive. Until now. Notions of sportsmanlike conduct are notoriously difficult to pin down. Players whose parting shot to a victorious opponent is along the lines of "You're a fucking cheating bastard and I'll have you outside" are unlikely to be reined in by a minor rule change. But it's eventually agreed, after heated debate, that beating an opponent to death with the butt end of a pool cue is an action that runs contrary to the spirit of the game, and that a penalty of two free shots will be awarded. A second such offence will forfeit the frame. Harsh, perhaps, but fair: there's been far too much of this kind of thing.
Hands are raised, excitedly, to instigate some new motion... and are hurriedly taken down again, as the Chairman seeks nominations for the posts of secretary and treasurer. Doing some real work (behind the scenes, throughout the year: a thankless task) doesn't have quite the same appeal as shooting their mouths off at an AGM, so the pool players of Milltown find this a convenient moment to drift quietly off towards the bar.
Elsewhere in town, the Milltown branch of the Rotary Club is convening. Jaguars and BMWs glide serenely into the club's car-park, delivering a bunch of priapic men in business suits: cut in the style favoured by Saddam Hussein. To the casual observer the occasion looks like a reunion dinner for Mafia hit-men. But these are the great and the good: the self-appointed pillars of our local community. Well-upholstered men with the ropes of life firmly in their hands, full of meeting-room machismo. Fine, upstanding, God-fearing men of good character whose company most inhabitants of Milltown would happily walk barefoot over broken bottles to avoid.
It's depressing to think that this is the acceptable face of capitalism; may the saints preserve us from the other kind. The sight of so many pompous bastards in one room is a salutary reminder of why so many Milltown folk decided, early on in their careers, to exchange their own business suits for rainbow coloured sweaters, and their company car for clapped-out camper vans.
The Rotarians haven't assembled here tonight merely to gorge themselves on a splendid meal and, it must be said, a rather fine claret. While they may look, at first sight, like smug, fat pigs with their snouts in the trough ("Mmmm, excellent swill..."), appearances can be deceptive. If they prefer a men-only environment, so what? There are no hasty conclusions to be drawn, except the most obvious ones. The truth is that they do good works, these Rotarians. All around the globe there are starving people who, at this very moment, will be giving grateful thanks for aid packages funded by Milltown's business community. If those casualties of famine and pestilence can't find an immediate use for garlic crushers and salad tongs, perhaps they will one day. In any case, it's the thought that counts.
Meanwhile, the regulars at the Grievous Bodily Arms are enjoying another evening of morose taciturnity, as they take full advantage of Unhappy Hour. The pub has sensibly been declared a 'festive-free zone' until Christmas is dead, buried and forgotten. A seasonal greeting, or the merest mention of the C-word, is enough to get the landlord shaking the swear-box meaningfully.
Humans and chimpanzees differ in their genetic make-up by a factor of only one per cent. This isn't a statistic that will surprise anyone who wanders - through some mistake, or having been cruelly misinformed by a mischievous local - into the Grievous Bodily Arms. The only stranger who might feel at home here would be Desmond Morris, and even he would be mindful to transfer his wallet to an inside pocket.
Best not to ask for real ale in the Grievous Bodily Arms. "Real Ale? Real Ale?? Of course it's real; it's not just a figment of my fucking imagination. Now piss off." The landlord should never have even contemplated a career in the licensed trade. He only took the tenancy of the Grievous Bodily Arms to ensure that there would be at least one pub in Milltown where he'd find a welcome. Someone with his welfare at heart - his Probation Officer, perhaps, or an Anger Management Counsellor - should have told him that running a pub was a 'people business', and that he should look elsewhere for a career that more closely matched his personality. Grave-robbing, perhaps.
Our Town Drunk occupies his customary place at the bar. He's enjoyed the pub's unique ambience for longer than he can remember, and witnessed some of Milltown's most memorable brawls. "If only these four walls could talk...", he muses to himself. Actually, if the walls of the pub could talk it would probably just mean he'd forgotten, yet again, to take his medication. It's difficult to imagine him at one of the Rotarians' gatherings. Difficult... though strangely appealing. In any case, he's not one of life's more sociable drunks. He values his independence too much to join the the formation drinking team - known as the Wine Glums - that assembles daily in the bandstand in the park, to down a bottle or two of the finest British sherry that small change can buy. They're a bit too much like the Rotarians for his liking: loud, obnoxious and given to shouting abuse at passers-by.
There's a pecking order even amongst drunks, and he draws the line at spending his quality time in a draughty bandstand. Town Drunk likes to think he has certain standards. He apologises profusely - and for rather longer than necessary - whenever he lifts a leg and lets loose a particularly thunderous fart. If he wafts it about ("To get the benefit") he'll make sure there are no ladies in the immediate vicinity. And he wouldn't dream of pissing in the bath unless, of course, he was in it at the time.
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