Sitting in the pub on a Saturday afternoon.
I’ve got a pint on the table in front of me, the first pint of the day. I remember that Ian Fleming once wrote how James Bond’s favourite drink of the day was the drink he imagined before he’d had his first drink of the day. I take a mouthful of beer and it tastes pretty fucking good, better than I expected, which goes to show that most of what Ian Fleming wrote was bullshit, albeit fairly entertaining bullshit.
I check my watch and it reads ‘1993’.
This makes me happy.
I like 1993. It’s a pretty good year as far as I remember. The fact that I don’t remember very much of it proves that it is a pretty good year. It’s a year of parties and girls, staying out late and living on my own. I’m earning a fairly decent wage and I have few responsibilities. What more could a twenty year old wish for?
I take another mouthful of beer then I light a cigarette and look around the pub.
It’s called the Pig & Whistle. It’s a big room tarted up to look vaguely old fashioned, but in reality it’s not even thirty years old. It’s a pub built into a 1960‘s shopping centre, a huge concrete beast that smothers a good part of central North Leeds. I like this shopping centre because it’s a crazed warren of tunnels and walkways, poorly devised precincts and hidden secrets. There’s a nightclub where they say Goth started. There’s a huge cinema tucked away in it’s belly somewhere that has been closed off for nearly twenty years, the lights switched off in 1977 after a showing of Gone with the Wind. Apparently there’s still film posters up on the walls and litter under the seats. A ghost cinema.
This pub squats beneath the hulk of a Morrison’s that clings to the side of the precinct like a tumor. Inside the pub it is… well… a pub. It’s dressed up to be like any pub, every pub. The view through the windows is of a hideous piece of modern sculpture and the concrete battlements that support the shopping fortress – squint your eyes and you can imagine zombies shambling by, bumping against chrome and glass, trapped in revolving doors.
My fellow drinkers keep a respectful distance from each other. That’s what I like about city centre afternoon drinkers – they’re often there to get out of the way of whoever is at home so they’re not in a rush to join anyone else.
An old bloke with an old dog, another bloke in a chunky knit cardigan eating a pie, two blokes playing dominoes, a bloke with long, lank hair wearing a scuffed leather jacket called Greebo who’s been knocked all wonky by a horrible motorcycle crash years ago and can now barely lift his pint.
I’m the joker in the pack, in a way. I’m too young for this kind of lark, sipping pints in characterless taverns on a Saturday afternoon, but it beats the shrieking harpies who inhabit those wine bars that have started springing up, or the big screen pubs filled with fucknuckles trying to out-bellow the word LEEDS at each other. Then there’s the student holes where rugby lads are trying to poke hockey girls at full volume, and not forgetting the Towny pubs where cunts in slip on shoes with white socks are trying to pass their sexually transmitted diseases on to lasses from Bolton who are there on a hen do.
I take another swig of beer and relish the quiet.
It’s a funny pub, the Pig & Whistle. It’s a bit of a No Man’s Land. I’ve never known there to be a fight here, ever. I remember popping in to Leeds one time and accidentally getting caught up in a massive Anti Nazi League rally that was starting to turn ugly, so I ducked into the Pig & Whistle until it all simmered down, only to find about thirty Neo Nazis in there, supping pints and comparing Doc Marten’s and bomber jackets and swastika tattoos before taking to the streets to twat some lefties. I was fucking terrified, of course, but they left me alone. If they’d caught me on the street they’d have kicked my teeth out, but not in the Pig & Whistle.
The smoke haze sits in the air along with a fine mist of dust, Gerry Rafferty sings about Baker Street on low volume in the background, the fruit machine makes the occasional gentle bloop, Marion the barmaid smiles politely at an old bloke in a Trilby who nurses half a mild and tells her again about his time in the catering corps during the Suez crisis.
My pint is running low. I’m gear myself up to buying another when the door opens and Vince Nero swaggers in. He’s got long, jet black hair. He’s wearing a black leather jacket, and a Misfits tee. Black jeans, studded belt and black winklepickers finish of his ensemble. He’s got a black guitar case under his arm, covered in faded, peeling stickers.
I sigh to myself, price up the cost of two pints instead of one. Vince Nero is a decent bloke, don’t get me wrong, but he’s also a tapping cunt. That’s musicians for you, though. They’re always skint. They put everything on the tab that they promise to pay off when they hit the big time.
Vince Nero scans the room, spots me, tips me a guylinered wink. He’s part of a heavy Goth Rock outfit at the moment so black is in vogue, but that could all change by next week.
I start to slide out from behind the table to head to the bar when Vince shakes his head. He points at me, does the invisible pint glass tipping gesture, and I suddenly realise he’s buying. I’m momentarily shocked, then I give the thumbs up. Vince then points at the empty space next to me and does the same gesture.
The empty space shouts, “Lager!”
Greebo is there.
I say, “how the fuck did you get there?”
I don’t really need to ask. Greebo is another tapping cunt, but I can forgive him that. After the bike crash there is no way he can work, his body is too shattered. These days he just mooches round the pubs, hobbling from pint to pint waiting for someone to take pity on him and get him a refill.
His bent fingers scuttle across the table and tease a fag from my packet.
Greebo nods his approval. “Lucky Strike. Man of taste, Luci.”
I shrug, offer him my lighter. He gives me a slightly mournful look.
I say, “Sorry,” and light it for him.
He inhales. “Cheers, man. I can smoke ‘em but can’t light ‘em. Thumbs.” He shows me his thumbs. They’re all wrong. Poor fucker. Thumbs are the first things to break when you hit something at seventy miles an hour.
We watch Vince Nero ostentatiously ordering the round, showing off to Marion. He wriggles his hand into the front pocket of his incredibly tight jeans and takes out some crumbled notes. He glances at Greebo and I again and waggles his eyebrows before handing a tenner to Marion.
Greebo grunts. “Player. What’s Vincie doing with money? The fucker’s skinter than I am! You reckon he’s been doing some busking?”
I drain my glass. “Nah. People don’t come out of Debenham’s and chuck their change at some cunt knocking out a Cradle of Filth guitar solo on a Saturday morning. They want to hear stuff by John Denver or Ralph McTell. Something nice and safe. Besides, he’s got paper money. If he’d been busking he’d be paying with coins.”
Greebo nods. “Get you, Luci. Sherlock fuckin’ Holmes. You know a lot, don’t you?”
I shake my head. “Not yet I don’t, but I’m working on it. I do know Vince Nero though and he’s been up to something.”
“Maybe a gig? What’s that band he’s in now, Shy Talk?”
I shake my head. “That was his last band. They were glam, a Happy Shopper version of Hanoi Rocks. All scarves and make-up. Pretty wank, if I’m honest. He gave them up when he realised they were known on the scene as ‘Shite Hawk’. No, I think this new band is called Cock Socket or some-such. Goth rock. Heavy stuff. Black clobber.”
Greebo screws up his face. “Eww. I wouldn’t pay good money to watch a band called that.”
We watch Vince Nero struggle to carry three pints, two packs of Mini Cheddars, some pork scratchings and his guitar case. We could help, but there’d be no fun in that.
“Afternoon, bitches!” Vince Nero makes it to the table and deposits the goods, slopping beer near my fags. I move them to a dry patch. Vince sweeps long black hair from his face.
I give him a nod. “Afternoon, Vince. Cheers for the bevvie. Someone died?”
Vince Nero looks temporarily bewildered. “Dead? Died? Who’s dead?”
Greebo giggles through broken teeth. “He’s wondering where you got the folding, knob head! Sayin’ you must’ve come into money!” He takes a big swig from the pint that Vince has just bought him.
Vince Nero is relieved. “No-one’s dead, ladies, no shit like that. I’ve been workin’, yeah? This is honest cash!”
Greebo helps himself to the Mini Cheddars. “Giggin’? You an’ Cock Socket been playin’ the circuit?”
Vince looks shocked. “Woah, don’t be knockin’ my band, Greebo! We’re The Black Rockets, dude! Where you be gettin’ the idea we’re called Cock Socket?”
Greebo nods at me. “He told me. Said something about being black and heavy.”
“Cheers Greebo.” I sigh, then say, “Sorry, Vince. I got a bit mixed up. The Black Rockets. I remember now.”
“Yeah, you sisters better remember that name.” Vince sneaks a cigarette out of my packet and lights it. “We’re goin’ places, me and my boys. We’ve been layin’ down some heavy licks in the studio, got enough material for an E.P. You better make the best of the time you got with me – The Black Rockets be down the mean streets of London soon, playing The Marquee and shit!”
I look around the pub again. The man eating the pie is now smoking a pipe. A balding bloke in his forties with a stubby ponytail pumps fifty pence into the juke box and Dire Straits begin noodling out Sultans of Swing while ponytail man air guitars along with Knopfler. The pub door opens and three stunning women walk in, look around, laugh, then walk out again.
I light a cigarette. “Send us a postcard, Vince.”
Vince drains his glass, belches. “I sure will. You bitches ready for another?” He slaps another tatty tenner into a puddle of beer.
I slide out from behind the table. “I’ll get these.”
“Nah, man!” protests Vince. “I’m flush!”
I walk to the bar, saying over my shoulder. “So it seems, but London prices are high. Save it.”
I order another round and Marion brings me the drinks along with a side order of a small smile, and I pay for my drinks and tip her with a small smile of my own. We’ve slept together a couple of times in the past but it was nothing. Everything seems to be nothing.
I say, “Your hair looks nice.”
She says, “Not as nice as yours.”
I say “Frizze Ease, John Frieda.”
She says, “I know.”
I take the beers back to the table.
Greebo is counting off on his bent fingers, “So you got money to cut a record, you got money to record tracks in the studio, you got money for beer an’ Cheddars an’ shit, so where you gettin’ the money from, Vince?”
I suck beer off my thumb and say, “I thought you and the Black Sockets were gigging, Vince?”
Vince Nero looks wounded. “Jesus, Luci! How many times! Black ROCKETS, man! Rockets! I mean, Black Sockets sounds like a dirty… a dirty…”
“Arsehole?” offers Greebo round a mouthful of Mini Cheddars.
Vince shrugs. “Maybe. Anyway, I said I was workin’, not giggin’. Big difference, yeah?”
I had to agree. Working was shit and it was something that both Vince Nero and Greebo knew precious little about. I’d been working at the factory for a few years at this point and if you told me I’d still be there in twenty years time I’d finish my pint, smoke a fag then throw myself under the nearest passing bus.
I say, “So what’s the job then, Vince? Where you working?”
Vince huddles forward, a sly grin on his face. “It’s a doddle really, yeah? What it is, Johnny Rocket, lead singer of the band, he asks me if I’m interested in earning a few quid. I was on my uppers at that time so I snatched his hand off. Johnny says that him and the other guys in the band would get a call from this bloke they knew in London. He’d tell ‘em to catch a train down, all paid for. When they got there, they got a Tube to this address somewhere in Camden. It’s, like fifty quid, cash in hand, y’know? I been down a few times now and the other lads have been plenty, so we’ve got a decent little fund going on! This could be big for us, y’know? Start of something MEGA!”
Vince takes another of my cigarettes and lights it with a smug look on his face.
Me and Greebo exchange a glance. I say, “So when you get to this address in Camden, Vince, what is it exactly that you have to do for your fifty quid?”
Vince Nero shrugs. “Easy really. We just go in, grab this bloke, drag him upstairs and call him a ‘fucking faggot’, then we tie him to the bed, whip him a bit, spit on him, then we go downstairs and watch telly for half an hour.”
The juke box must have run out of money. I can hear a clock ticking, muffled traffic noise in the street outside, some bloke with a pathetic voice wailing, ‘Evening Post, Evening Post’ in the far distance. In the corner, the old bloke with the old dog leans sideways and lets off a fart. The old dog wines and folds down his ears.
Greebo puts his pint down, careful not to spill it. He says, “Sorry, you do what again?”
Vince sighs. “We go in, grab him, drag him upstairs and call him a ‘fucking faggot’, tie him up, whip him, spit on him, then we go downstairs and watch telly. That’s the gig.”
I shake my head. “Fuck me. Your C.V. must look brilliant.”
Greebo is spluttering. “What the fucking hell are you carrying on like that for, man? I mean, Jesus, isn’t that against the fucking law?? What did this poor cunt do to deserve that kind if shitty treatment, Vince?”
Vince shrugs again. “He pays us fifty quid each and our train tickets down, Greebo. That’s what he’s done to deserve it. He’s the client, yeah? He fucking loves it, man! It’s his bag, y’know? It’s how he gets his jollies!”
Vince takes a pull on his cigarette and sips his beer. He’s shaking his head like he’s talking to a couple of amateurs.
I say, “Okaaay. So you watch telly, then what?”
Vince says, “Oh, we get up, shouting ‘WHERE’S THAT FUCKING FAGGOT” and we stamp upstairs and kick his bedroom door open and he’s there in the bollocky buff on the bed…”
I say, “I didn’t realise he’d have his cock out.”
Vince says, “Didn’t I mention that? So anyway, we do it all again. Whip him a bit, spit on him, call him names, that kind of shit. Then it’s back downstairs for more daytime telly. He gets us some beers and crisps in too, which I think is pretty decent of him.”
Greebo is aghast. “How long does this last then?”
Vince thinks about it. “Couple of hours, I suppose. Till he’s finished, anyway.”
I say, “Finished?”
Greebo says, “Finished?”
Vince nods. “Finished. Y’know…”
Greebo and I say together, “We know.”
Vince Nero slaps his thighs. “So, who’s for another pint?”
Greebo empties his glass, wipes his mouth. “Not for me, thanks. Best be pushing off. Good luck with the prostitution though, Vince mate. I hope the career really takes off for you.”
Vince chokes on the dregs of his beer. “Whaaa?? Just hold up there, Greebo man! Don’t be spreading shit like that around! I am not a prostitute, dude! That’s not what this whole thing is!”
Greebo snorts. “Be real, man. You’re like one of those… what they call ‘em? Domiwatsists.”
I say, “Dominatrix.”
Greebo nods. “Yeah, one of them. You’re in a kinky arsed dominatrix band, Vince. You and your freaky mates in Cock Socket are whipping queers for cash money, until said queers blow their custard. That, my friend, is what being a prostitute is all about. You are a male prostitute. Get used to it.”
Greebo is hobbling to the door. Vince stands up and calls loudly after him, “Greebo, I am not a male prostitute!”
Greebo waves over his shoulder. “Man whore, then. Whatever. Take precautions, dude. See you around.”
The door closes.
I look around the pub.
The old bloke and his old dog are staring at us, the bloke in a chunky knit cardigan smoking his pipe are staring at us, the two blokes playing dominoes are staring at us, Dire Straits air guitar bloke is staring at us.
Marion is staring at me.
Something about the look on Marion’s face tells me that we won’t be sleeping together in the near future, far future, any future.
I sigh. “Let me get another beer in, Vince. What you having?”
Vince grips my arm. He looks mildly devastated. “Am I a prostitute, Luci? Is that what I am?”
I try to think of a nice way of putting it. I say, “Yes, you’re a prostitute, Vince. Do you want a bag of nuts?”
Vince shakes his head. He says, “That’s fucked up, man. I mean, how did this shit happen? I only needed a bit of money and it seemed so easy…”
“I reckon that’s what all prostitutes say, mate. They needed a bit of money, it seems easy, next thing you know your eating crisps in a stranger’s lounge and spitting on him until he spunks. There’s worse jobs out there. I mean, you could work in print.”
I go to the bar and get two more pints.
When I go back to the table, Vince Nero is gone.
I put the pints on the table, sit down, take the last cigarette from the pack and light it, dropping the match dead in the ashtray.
Air guitar man puts fifty pence in the juke box and The Police sing Roxanne. Marion is cleaning glasses behind the bar. Her back is to me, but I see her looking at me in the mirrors behind the optics. The old man with the old dog stands up and walks outside. As they reach the modern sculpture the dog trembles, then curls off a long thin shit onto the pavement.
Everyone’s a critic.
The man looks at the shit then he looks at the sculpture then he looks at the dog and says something I cannot hear before they both shuffle away.
I slowly drink one beer, push the glass away, then start on the next one.
There’s always another beer. Always another last cigarette.
Glenn Hellman, ‘Androgyne’ 1965