Friday, 20 April 2012
Martin woke up at two fifteen this afternoon with what he reckoned to be the worst hangover he’s experienced this year. He described it as having a head like the Falklands and a mouth like Ghandi’s flip flop. The first word to pass his lips was the weakly posed question,
I didn’t reply. At this stage me replying would only prompt him to start begging for a cup of tea. Half an hour later he stumbled miserably across to the bathroom using the wall to guide him. As he emptied his bladder of the previous evenings consumptions he strung together his first sentence of the day,
‘Strewth, it smells like an Aborigines armpit.’
He’d been favouring this particular phrase recently. I’m not sure where he got it from but anything from trainers to tequila has been described in this way over the past few weeks. Understanding that he’d now regained the power of speech I asked if he wanted anything from the shop. He immediately rejected the offer but knowing he wasn’t quite of sound mind I reminded him that there wasn’t any food in the house.
‘Not to worry mate, I’ve still got some kebab left up here, I’ll just have that.’
I did suggest that he probably shouldn’t eat a tepid leftover kebab but he reassured me that he’d eaten worse things in the past. He was telling the truth. Last night he ate three teabags just so I’d lend him a cigarette. Why can’t he just ask for a cigarette? He’ll only ever borrow one or steal one. If questioned on this there’s only three possible outcomes, he’ll either promise its return, assure me that he’s never going to give it back or just tell me to shut up and give me a fag you massive ponce. He’ll finish the latter on a different derogatory term each time.
When I returned from the shop I found Martin sat in his favourite armchair in a somewhat melted fashion. He was wearing nothing but a pair of black moccasin slippers, a kilt and a large grey woollen poncho; this was his usual round the house attire. His favourite armchair is only his favourite because he broke one of the arms off a year ago trying to build a fort to watch “Saving Private Ryan” in. He still insists that he did it on purpose to allow for easy access, ‘It’s important to acquire easy access where ever possible’ is another of his more favoured phrases.
‘It’s rent day tomorrow, I’m going to the bank at twelve.’ I said with little confidence, hoping for a positive response. He sat up straight with determination in his eye’s. this wasn’t a good sign,
‘I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that old mate,’
I had a feeling this was coming,
‘Now I don’t want you to panic. It’s on it’s way but it’s probably not going to be here by tomorrow; I’d say forty eight hours, seventy two tops.’ Now I’ve never been the best at putting my foot down, but there comes a time when putting your foot down falls into the margin of necessity.
‘The rent is due tomorrow Martin,’ I said with conviction, ‘I can’t afford to cover you this time, even for twenty four hours, so you’ll have to pay in full. I’m going out I’ll be back in an hour, in that time sort your life out, or at the very least the rent.’ He fell silent with thought. I dumped the shopping in the kitchen and headed for the front door, just as I turned the handle Martin called out,
‘I can definitely do forty eight hours.’ I snapped back,
‘The rent is tomorrow at twelve, sort it out!’ I slammed the door behind me.
As I stepped into the brisk November breeze for the second time today two things went through my mind. The first was empathy, I hate being hard on him I know he tries and he means well; he just can’t seem to survive in modern day society. He has his plus points, he gets free cinema tickets from his part time job serving popcorn; it’s just a shame he doesn’t get paid enough to cover the rent (He has his plus point). The other thing that struck my mind was, where am I going? This wasn’t the plan for my afternoon at all. I was hoping to watch “The Good The Bad and The Ugly”. I’ve just bought the uncut collectors edition, it’s three hours and ten minutes long and would have easily taken up the vast majority of my afternoon. There’s really only one place I could go, the pub.
Our local pub, The Crispin, has an endearing, sometimes difficult to find charm to it. It’s small with dangerously low ceilings and would be described by most alcoholics as a good old English pub. It’s full of the older generation, “veterans of the ale” as Martin calls them, in fact Martin and I are by far the youngest people to frequent this dying establishment. Why we don’t go to somewhere more suited to our age group remains a mystery but it probably explains why we’re both in our mid-twenties and still single. I haven’t seen a woman walk into the Crispin for quite some time. The last women that did walk through the decrepit beige door of the Crispin were only looking for directions and made a very sharp exit once they’d got them. I blame the smoking ban, not because those women were smokers, but since the overwhelming scent of cigars and pipe tobacco has gone there is a different scent in the air. Its replacement is the stench of stale beer, sweaty old people and dust. There is a lot dust in this place. Shelves of worthless antiquity and books that haven’t been read since the dawn of televised sport are all caked in dust. ‘But the bar is clean.’ Martin always firmly states in its defence. The bar is pretty clean, it’s the only place that Tracy (the landlady) can be bothered to reach. The regulars often comment on the cleanliness of the bar as well, I think Martin sees them as some kind of role model.
As I squeezed through the tiny decrepit door I saw Rory propping up the bar. Rory always puts a smile on my face, he’s eighty four, which everyone who comes into contact with him knows as he starts nearly every conversation with ‘Now I’m eighty four and when…’ He’s usually completely pissed at any given time of day but he has some incredible stories to tell. They’re mostly of when he was fighting in Rhodesia and he delights in telling anyone who has the time to listen, you can take it from me, they are well worth listening to but you do need a lot of time; Rory is difficult to understand at the best of times and due to his perpetual drunken state he repeats himself a lot. It’s precisely this reason why the sight of Rory put a smile on my face. Today time is something I have a lot of. I strolled up to the bar with a spring in my step, a gleam in my eye and a big grin smeared across my face; minding carefully not to decapitate myself on the inconveniently low ceiling. As I drew closer Rory -alerted to my presence- turned and smiled back at me with his glazed inebriated eye’s and barely any teeth,
‘Hello young man.’ He slurred in a welcoming manner.
‘Alright Rory,’ I cheerfully replied and no sooner had I pulled up a stool next to my spirituous, geriatric friend a shadow crept over me and enquired in the most unenthusiastic tone imaginable,
‘What’s your poison?’ I’d know that drab monotone voice anywhere but still I thought I’d attempt to add something to her otherwise dreary existence and act a little surprised,
‘Hello Trace, fancy seeing you here.’ Her face didn’t move, not even the faintest hint of emotion.
‘I’m always here. What are you drinking?’ she replied blankly. Tracy was always very direct with her conversation.
‘Just the usual please Trace,’ I answered with added familiarity.
‘Which is?’ She persisted, thwarting my personable efforts. I decided to stop this profitless exchange of pleasantries,
‘Just the strongest cheapest pint you’ve got please.’
‘I’ve got some Smoked Porter, it’s five and a half percent but it’s the end of the barrel so it’ll probably give you the squits.’
‘Perfect.’ I answered with a degree less enthusiasm and still searching her face for the slightest glimmer of emotion.
‘That’ll be three pounds forty five.’
‘Just put it on my tab Trace.’
‘You haven’t got a tab.’ I begrudgingly handed her the money then turned to Rory to hear this afternoon’s tale of adventure and other mumbling nonsense that will inevitably be thrown in for good measure.
‘So Rory, the last time I saw you, you were having trouble with your heating, have you got that sorted yet? It’s getting colder you know.’ He raised his eyebrows in a vain attempt to open his drunken eyes a bit further.
‘Now you listen here. I’m eighty four and when I was your age we didn’t have any of this so called “central” heating…’ A warm nostalgic feeling washed over me. I took a long sip of my slightly off pint and nestled into my stool.
Today’s delightful tale was all about the time he acquired a pet chameleon named George and how on more than one occasion George had saved his life. Apparently one night back in Rhodesia, Rory was on night watch sitting lonely and petrified; as anyone on night watch would. As he put it,
’It’s night watch, you sit there wetting yourself, that’s all you do all night, you just sit there and you wet yourself.’
As he was sat there wetting himself on this particular occasion a chameleon climbed onto the barrel of his rifle. Having never seen a chameleon before he didn’t know what to do, but staying true to his training he just stayed still. The chameleon proceeded to climb along his rifle, up his arm and perched itself on top of his helmet. Eventually he deemed the creature to be relatively harmless and decided to keep it; he named it George after King George VI because the friendly reptile had sat on his crown. Back at camp George became something of a mascot. Rory’s superior officers saw what the little thing was doing for the troops morale and as it was named after the king, decided it could only be a good thing and let them keep it.
There was one village near their camp and fortunately, this village contained a small bar. The troops seized every opportunity they possibly could to frequent this primitive bar. Unfortunately -being at war- they were never really welcome in it. Often -through no fault of their own- fights broke out between the local men and the English soldiers; which unsurprisingly did nothing to warm the locals hospitality. George changed all of this. Rory began to keep George in an old shoe box and took him nearly every where he went. On one fateful evening Rory took his little friend to the village bar with him. He and his comrades sat at the bar amid the usual hostile murmurings but as soon as they opened the box to let little George out everyone in the whole place ran out in terror, even the owner ducked behind the bar in a flash and he wouldn’t come out until George was back in his box. Rory was understandably perplexed by this drastic reaction. He asked the barman what had brought it on. It turned out that chameleons are very bad luck and the Rhodesian people are a suspicious bunch. They were told the fable of the chameleon as children and these little reptiles are such bad luck that people are petrified of them. Still trying to understand the severity of the locals reaction to George, Rory asked to be told this strange fable.
At the very beginning of time everyone’s skin was coloured and all people looked the same. So God created a fountain to turn their skin white. God then sent an animal to every nation to show them the way to the fountain. The people of Rhodesia were given the chameleon. Unfortunately because the chameleon is so slow and hesitates on every step by the time the Rhodesians reached the fountain it had all but dried up. This is why the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet are white but the rest of their body is still coloured.
It’s safe to say that this fable didn’t explain anything to Rory. If anything it just confused him more. Even so, from that day onwards, every time the troops visited the village bar Rory marched at the front of the company with George perched in his favourite spot, right on top of his head.
It took about three hours and four pints for our inebriated veteran to tell this tale. It was exactly what I needed, he’s like the bald ugly granddad I never wanted but loved all the same. I thanked him for his story and thanked Tracy for her pleasant company then headed back home to see if Martin had made any progress on the rent.
Upon returning to our humble home I found him dressed head to toe in black and stuffing a length of rope into a rucksack,
‘Martin, what are you up to?’
‘ I’m going to rob the cat sanctuary.’ He replied as if his intentions couldn’t have been more obvious. I studied his face for a moment or two waiting for the punch line or even for him just to reveal his true intentions. He just carried on.
‘You can’t seriously rob the cat sanctuary.’
‘Of course I can, think about it, there’s loads of money and the only security is a bunch of spoilt cats. It’s brilliant! Besides I’m not going to completely rob the place, just enough to cover the rent; it’s purr-fect.’ he said with a smirk.
‘I’m not insane, I’m a genius, I’m a cat burglar.’ he zipped up his rucksack and slung it over his shoulder with a worrying amount of determination.
‘Martin you can’t rob the cat sanctuary, it’s just mental.’ I tried to reason with him, ‘there are other ways of getting money rather than just robbing the innocent, if you get caught they’ll lock you up.’
‘ And then I won’t have to pay any rent at all.’ he pronounced with an annoying amount of smugness. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I still felt bad for snapping at him, maybe it was my own stupidity, perhaps it was the stories of bravery I heard earlier, most likely it was the four pints of slightly off ale I’d quaffed previously. Whatever it was, within half an hour I was walking nervously down the street with what, in all honesty, looked like a Tesco value gorilla impersonator. No fur, no frills, no mask, no thought, no effort, Tesco. I made countless attempts to convince him this was a monumental mistake, but he wouldn’t listen and before I knew it the cat sanctuary was just up ahead; quietly standing opposite the Molly Millers. The Molly Millers is the kind of pub Martin and I should be going to. It has three pool tables, a dance floor, a jukebox and not forgetting regular visits by those of the opposite sex. The best the Crispin has to offer is man boobs and a semi-pornographic quiz machine. The Crispin does have a sense of security about it though and by the time we reached our destination a fight had already broken out between two wannabe rappers outside the Molly Millers front door. No action was being taken to stop it, the bar staff of the Molly Millers only intervene when the fight is inside the premises, anything outside is usually considered to be fair game. Martin patted my shoulder,
‘Have fun watching the fight mate, I’ll be back in five.’ Before I could stop him he’d dived over the side gate of the sanctuary and my attempts to change his mind were reduced to a pathetic whisper of, ‘Martin’. I turned to watch the idiots fighting. In an odd way I do enjoy a good pub fight. We’ve stopped to watch quite a lot of fights outside of the Molly’s; more often than not we’d have a pint riding on the victor. This form of gambling is -in my opinion- by far the hardest to predict as no one knows how much the two fighters have had to drink. There is every chance that eventually they’ll just sit on the curb crying and confessing their undying love for each other. For this fight my money would be on the little one on the left. The man on the right is much bigger and older but it would appear from their shouting that the big man on the right slept with the little ones girlfriend. Strength and stamina goes a long way but when you’re paralytic motivation counts for everything; plus the little guy is wearing an excessive amount of rings on his fingers. We’ll never know the outcome of this scuffle as after just a few seconds the loud unmistakable scream of a police siren tore down the road to break it up. After my initial feeling of disappointment a sudden look of fear took over my face, ‘Martin!’. Before I could think my fear turned into terror as the scream of the sirens was drowned out by the much closer scream of the cat shelter alarm system. I froze. Then I did something worse, I ran. With my heart pumping adrenaline through my veins at an incredible rate, I ran faster than I can remember and I didn’t look back until I’d reached home. As I reached the garden gate My heart sank . I looked back down the street, partly to check that the police weren’t behind me but mostly in the hope that Martin was following me. The street was empty. A foolishly optimistic part of me deduced that he was obviously inside waiting for me. He wasn’t, which left nothing for me to do but sit and wallow in my own self pity.
For the first hour I convinced myself that I had run so fast it would take him a while to catch up. That was a futile and self-indulgent notion. I went through the events in my mind over a over again, every time I did I just felt worse. I never even called out to tell him to run. There isn’t a more depriving emotion than that which is born of deserting those you care about when they need it most; nothing makes a man feel so worthless. Evidently I’ve learnt nothing of bravery from Rory’s stories. I waited up all night trying to cheer myself by watching predictable game shows hosted by stand-up comedians who seem to have stopped doing any actual stand-up. At some point I fell asleep slumped in Martins one armed chair. When I awoke I felt no better. I spent the whole day pacing up and down swearing at myself. I called his mobile at strict fifteen minute intervals but it was always switched off. I even considered contacting the local police station to see if he’d been picked up. That was a stupid idea, if he hadn’t been I’d just be landing us both in trouble. The minutes passed like hours, eventually the day grew dark and my own personal darkness refused to fade. It wasn’t until eight o’clock that I heard what might as well have been an angel singing down our street,
‘I’m Henry the eighth I am, Henry the eighth I am, I am. I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married seven times before and every one was an Henry. She wouldn’t take a Willy nor a Sam. I’m her eighth old man named Henry, Henry the eighth I am.’
Straight away I knew it was him. Martin sang that Herman’s Hermits classic everyday at exactly eight o’clock; he has an alarm set on his phone specifically for this purpose. The great elation of his return though was swiftly followed by my own disgrace. How could I face him after deserting him in his hour of need. My heart filled with dread as he fumbled for his keys and opened the front door. I stood to meet him but before I had a chance to grovel shamelessly he burst out with,
‘Oh thank funkadelic for that! Mate, I thought you’d been nicked.’ Still a mix of relief and self-loathing I was now a bit in shock,
‘No, you were nicked. Where have you been? I’ve been up all night pooing my pants thinking you’d been picked up by the rozzers’
‘Not at all mate, I set the sanctuary alarm off as soon as I set foot in the back garden then the pigs rolled up so I just legged it. I figured I couldn’t come straight back here, I might lead the fuzz back here so I went round Jaffa Cake James’s house. We ended up having a bit of a Grand Theft Auto marathon and I slept on his sofa.’
Jaffa Cake James is so called because he has a large round face with bright ginger hair and a bright ginger beard that only seems to grow around the circumference of his face. It has often been noted that if James was of a black origin, he would look just like a Jaffa Cake.
For a fleeting moment I thought I should be angry at Martin. I couldn’t be, we were both as bad as each other. I still snapped a little bit at him though,
‘So you’ve been sat around Jaffa Cake’s house playing games whilst I’ve been stewing here worried sick!’ An enormous smile stretched across Martin’s face,
‘Sorry Mum. Good news as well mate, Jaffa Cake’s lent me the rent so we’re all square again, Good times!’
I didn’t know what to think. Should I be angry at him or just relieved that the whole ordeal was over. Before I could decide he butted in again,
‘So what time are we heading down the Crispin then?’
‘We’re not going down the Crispin. Are we?’
Martin looked back at me with a confused look on his face,
‘We’ve got to go down the Crispin. It’s the biggest event of the year.’ I looked back at him with a confused look on my face. Noticing the searching look in my eyes Martin jogged my memory,
‘It’s Rory’s birthday! I spent three days making a piñata filled with Sambuca miniature’s; it was supposed to be a llama but if I’m completely honest, it looks more like a demented badger.’
‘Ball bags! I completely forgot, what am I going to give him?’
‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll just tell him we both made the badger and you can pay me back by getting the drinks in.’
‘Deal, thanks Mart’.’
‘No worries, lets get a wriggle on though, I don’t want to miss the cake, I am proper Hank Marvin.’ With that He disappeared into his room. Seconds later he reappeared holding an odd shaped mess of coloured paper with “Rory” scribbled half heartedly across it in black marker. I haven’t seen many piñata’s in my time but this was definitely the worst example I’ve ever seen. Having said that I was quite proud of his efforts. I grabbed my coat, gave Martin a high five and we headed for the Crispin.
‘You didn’t happen to see who won the fight outside the Molly’s did you? My money was on the little one with the rings.’ Martin enquired,
‘I’d call it a draw, it was pretty even until the cops showed up.’
‘Shame.’ He looked genuinely disappointed with that outcome.
As we entered the pub there was a cheeriness in the air which was unusual for this particular establishment but very much noticeable as I ducked through the tiny old beige door. The party was well underway, or at least as much as it could be for a dusty old pub full of geriatric drunken men. As it was my round I headed straight for the bar. Martin burst through the door behind me cradling his pitiful paper badger and shouting at the top of his voice,
‘Happy birthday Rory you old Slag!’ It set the whole pub off in a raucous cheer followed by a few chuckling murmurings of ‘you slag.’
‘Evening Trace, might I say you are looking ravishing this evening.’ She said nothing ‘I’ll have my usual please Tracy and times it by two.’
‘What’s that then?’ She solemnly replied. Even on this happiest of occasions she expertly concealed any sense of feeling or emotion, it really is quite a remarkable gift. I decided to let Martin choose.
‘Martin! What’s your poison?’ He was busy showing off his badger to the regulars who were huddled around it, inspecting its every detail. Without looking up he shouted back,
‘Strongest cheapest pint they’ve got.’
‘Two of those please Trace and just stick it on my tab.’
‘You haven’t got a tab.’ I handed over a ten pound note and as soon as the glasses were filled I joined the festivities.
‘So what is it then?’ Rory asked quizzically poking at Martins gimcrack, anomalous badger.
‘It’s a piñata, you hit it with a stick until it breaks and treats fall out.’ Martin tried to explain.
‘What kind of treats? Rory was still looking bemused.
‘Well it’s supposed to be a surprise but as it’s you Rory, I filled this one up with Sambuca miniatures.’
‘Why can’t I just unwrap it like usual?’
‘Well,’ Martin was getting tired of explaining, ‘It’s just more fun if you beat it with a stick Rory.’
‘Listen, I’m eighty five and I’ve never heard of beating your own presents up with a stick, but that’s not to say that I’m not up for trying new things,’ Rory smiled and scanned his sozzled eyes around the room,
‘Where’s the stick?’