All pubs have their share of characters. Did I have more than most? Yes, I really think I did. You can judge; here are a few of the minor ones:
We never become accustomed to meaning less to people than they do to us but the circumstances of that most normal of human behavioural traits were unclear when it came to Gerard. Gerard Algernon Mannheim de Kriek was as big a character as his name suggests. From a South African mining family, he had been a fashion designer in the swinging London of his youth and knew many famous names from that era, notching up an impressive list of funeral attendances. An obituary of his own later life would begin like this:
Gerard Algernon Mannheim de Kriek married his fourth wife in 1981 by which time his cocaine and alcohol addictions were well advanced. Insatiably bisexual and with an almost limitless capability for spending more than he earned (imminent bankruptcy being constantly delayed by his myriad excuses for postponing payment), Gerard first came to my attention when he arrived at the pub with his 101-year-old mother in a Rolls-Royce with French diplomatic plates that he claimed to have won in a poker game. Having ordered the most expensive wine and copious amounts of food, Gerard suddenly remembered that he had to be somewhere else, left a £40 tip for the staff and told them to eat his food. He took the wine with him and was swigging it from the bottle as he drove up the road. He didn’t actually pay for the food or wine and always ran an unagreed credit tab which worked on this premise (which I understand is pretty much the way he paid his children’s school fees, too):
- Dear boy, I haven’t been in for so long. I’ve been at the house in Provence. You must come as my guest. Now, can I have two bottles of Chablis and one of Chateauneuf du Pape.
His daughter interjects that he doesn’t need any more wine. I respond.
- Gerard, you haven’t been in Provence. You’ve been in prison again for drink-driving while disqualified and supplying Class A drugs.
- That’s an outrageous lie.
- No, it isn’t. It’s in the paper – look there, on the notice board. With your tab.
He doesn’t bother looking.
- So can I have a little drinky-wink now?
His son interjects that he doesn’t need any more wine (part two).
- Only when you settle your tab from six months ago, Gerard.
- Have I got a tab? I totally forgot. How much is it?
- You didn’t even look it up.
- Not many people get away with owing me a hundred quid for half a year, so I know.
- I haven’t got any money on me.
- Well, you can’t have a drink until you have.
His other son interjects that he doesn’t need any more wine (part three).
- That’s most unfair. I’m not like normal people. I don’t have a salary, I just buy and sell property. And I can’t go home because the gypsies are waiting for me because they tricked me into relaying my drive and they want £2400 and they’ll kill me. They even told the police they’d burn the house down and the police just laughed.
- They were probably pleased with the thought of getting rid of you and amused at the effect your pot plantations would have on the local spinster populace as they went up in smoke, so hard luck.
- I can pay you in coke.
- I’ve got two big bags of coke in the car, you can have those.
- I don’t want your filthy coke; I don’t use it. I want cash.
Someone relents and buys Gerard a glass of wine. It’s just a top-up to a day of drinking that began when he burst into one of his tenant’s flats at 9am with a bottle of Champagne and suggestions of swinging, or at least free tickets for the sex parties he runs at another dilapidated mansion. He sees a young man enter the toilet and follows. The next thing, the lad is at the bar complaining about the “pervy old posh bloke” who has been propositioning him in the toilet.
- Gerard, you have to leave now.
- Well, I’m taking my glass of wine with me.
- If you take your glass with you, I will consider it theft and you will be barred.
- That would be a great pity …
He slides down the wall and leaves but not before taking a bite from a half-eaten burger that a waitress is carrying past on a pile of plates. He is hoping for a lift home, but “my son’s fucking useless, I bought him a Lambo for his 18th and he’s 25 now but he’s still not had a driving lesson.” Note to self – look out for very low mileage Lambo.
Gerard’ fourth wife is often in the pub with her first husband and his coke-addled third wife and Italian prostitute mistress; her second husband and his fifth wife (who is younger than his grand-daughter and was actually at the same university the year below her) and some children that no-one can remember which wife gave birth to. Some nights the Italian mistress storms off in her white leather mini-skirt and thigh high boots into the muddy night, complaining that Gerard has been trying to simulate sex with her at the dinner table or followed her into the ladies and exposed himself.
Other nights, it’s much more entertaining.
Is your coffee ice cream de-caff? It’s the sort of question that belongs in a sitcom. Or, what vegan desserts do you have today and are they gluten-free? You say none in the hope that these people won’t come but some of them do…again and again and again. Sometimes they bring their hairdresser, who they pay to come down from Chelsea, but usually it’s mums from their middle son’s prep school with their Hermes handbags, five holidays a year (three in Mauritius) and terrible tales of quinoa shortages in Waitrose. There are more 4x4s in the car park than on an expedition in the Sahara. The Surrey definition of poverty is having to share a pony with your sister. Tamsin still thought she was poor as she chose her £2 million ‘downsize’ retirement place on the south coast which to most people looked like a medium sized hotel. Which was odd because she often claimed to just need “a small house in the country”. She also thought she was fat when she had less curves than a Saudi motorway. Once, when a comedian asked her, “What do you do?”, she answered with total honesty and not a hint of irony. “Nothing,” she said.
With great wealth comes great responsibility and Tamsin’s particular responsibility was making sure that she chose exactly the right thing from the menu and the wine list. If you visit somewhere on a weekly basis and you have read the wine list inside out on every visit, you would expect to have a favourite wine. But Tamsin had to try at least three wines every week because she couldn’t remember what they tasted like or which ones she liked best. Even if we told her which one she liked, she would decide that it didn’t taste the same as last week (even though it was Pinot Grigio and therefore tasted of nothing). Her ever exasperated, miserable and short-tempered banker husband and silently autistic son would sit in increasingly hungry amazement as she failed to decide……on anything. Which table to sit at, which chair to sit at at that table, whether to change table, whether to keep her cardigan on, whether to have ice, whether to have a starter and what to alter on the chef’s carefully prepared and costed dishes. Her whole life had become a celebration of procrastination with a smattering of imagined allergies and calorie counting that specifically excluded intake of wine. Her eating technique largely consisted of pushing rocket leaves around a plate with a fork while discussing other non-meals:
- What do you have for breakfast?
- Well, I used to have dried banana and muesli with nuts on but nuts can be quite bad for you if you get the portion wrong.
This was Tamsin’s peak in the kitchen department but with an au pair, two nannies and a cook, there really isn’t too much to think about.
is a lecherous old man with a habit of masturbating in front of elderly cleaners. There are odd rumours of incest surrounding his family and they act very strangely together. His daughter was, after all, born to B Wilder. Some people simply call him Brainard the Rapist, with the disturbing disclaimer, “He’s definitely been questioned but probably never charged.” He has an explosive temper fuelled by drink which he puts down to his disability, although his disability often disappears when he forgets to limp or use his stick, such as on the occasion his conker was knocked from his hand in the 2009 Conker Final and he ran across the room to retrieve it like a modern-day Lazarus. He can talk at length on any subject without any knowledge of it whatsoever – “If the Japs hadn’t dropped the atom bomb on Pearl Harbour, America would never have entered the war” or, “Ben Elton definitely wrote “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Brainard has done everything – Olympic high-diver (seems to be no record of you, Brainard), Swinging Sixties London hairdresser (can’t find you in even the most minor biographies, Brainard), Michelin-starred restauranteur (have looked through all the old guides, Brainard. Where are you?). Even in a pre-Trump world, Brainard wouldn’t let facts or lack of evidence get in the way of a good story. Now he runs a furniture warehouse and wears a scarf. Every month he says that sales are up 163% on last year and he’s looking to buy such-and-such a farmhouse that is on with Savill’s at £4.65m but he forgets that the pub has a resident, diminutive private detective (Inch High Private Eye) who keeps us updated on Brainard’s regular stream of CCJ’s, impending and past bankruptcies. He lives in a rented corrugated shack and pays 20% IDLY (I Don’t Like You) Tax on every purchase.
We’ll move onto some of the bigger players next time……….
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