They come on Wednesdays at 1.05pm. They have two rounds of three pints of Hop Head and three Brie and bacon sandwiches on brown bread. Once, one of them had a Brie and tomato sandwich for a radical change. He called it the vegetarian option. Their bill is always exactly the same but it takes them an extraordinary amount of time to divide it up. (4+4+5.95) x 3=13.95 each.
- I’ll put in fifteen
- Well, I’ll put in twenty and take that five
- I’ve got ten and three £2 coins, so I’m owed two
- Well I can change one of the two pounds for two one pounds
- I think I’m still out of pocket
- Have we got enough there?
- We should have but you still owe me a pound
- Hang on chaps, I’m two quid light here.
- Well, I put fifteen in…….
Seasons come and go. Years come and go. Nobody knows the names – first or last – of two of these weekly visitors – although we have nicknamed one Norman Hesitant-Dullard – but we know intimate detail of their lives. They all go to church. They speak about their lawns, hedges and holidays a great deal, especially the one who always stays in the finest hotels in the world and whose golf card is frequently ‘accidentally’ left behind on the bar, with scores that make Kim Jong-il look like a past winner of some PGA Fair Play Award. One of them always replies to invitations using his mother’s grey Parker 41 with its octanium nib and black clip, although you wonder who would invite him to anything. Sometimes another man joins them. He is someone’s brother-in–law who has had a knee operation and is off sick. He eats ham and tomato on white bread and drinks lager. You smell a scent of disapproval, as if they sense that he once watched ITV. His revolutionary tastes will disrupt their calculation ritual.
Mr A is a surveyor. Silver hair, approaching sixty. He is the leader of the pack and thinks he is a renowned wit. His wit consists of repeating the same one-liners, none of which were remotely original the first time. The first of these each week revolves around the volume of custom in the pub.
- You’re busy today.
When we’re quiet.
- You’re quiet today.
When we’re busy.
- I’ll just push my way to the table.
When we’re quiet.
- The food must have improved or something.
When we’re busy.
It’s a very poor stand-up routine.
Mr B worked for an insurance company for 34 years. Middle management, straight from uni. No, that’s not true; he worked for some other insurance company for one year until the other insurance company took them over. Mr B makes Mr A look like the stand-up comedian he is not, although he could actually have had a successful comedy show just by playing his favourite tunes which include ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ and, even more bizarrely, ‘A Glass of Champagne’ by Sailor. He has their Greatest Hits album in his car. Mr B cannot choose anything, which is why he has the same sandwich every week. Every two years, Mr B changes his car. He discusses at great length what he might buy for weeks on end. He always ends up buying the latest model of the car that he already has. In the same colour. It is a very fast car but Mr B never drives it over 55. He thinks it makes young girls fancy him. The potential that is, not the driving under 55.
Mr B has a daughter aged about 14. She has a lot of trouble making friends so he is delighted when she meets another girl who also “really likes the Bronze Age and has seen every episode of Boon”.
Once Mr B wanted to buy a new telly. He spoke about it every week for 18 months. HD or 3D? Plasma or not plasma? Samsung or Sony? 48” or 52”? Or maybe I should wait to see if prices come down?
A flamboyant designer type came into the pub, greying locks flowing over the collar of his flowery shirt.
- I bought a new TV today.
Mr B is fascinated.
- I’m really interested in that because I’m thinking about buying a new TV. How did you decide which one?
- Well, I was in Kingston and I passed John Lewis and they had one in the window and I thought ‘That looks nice’, so I bought it.
Mr B now feels like he is in some strange dream. Who could behave in this reckless way? Going to Kingston for a start? His comfort radius is 3 miles of the village. And the price? The designer can’t remember.
- Six hundred and something I think.
Mr B once didn’t pick up a voicemail when he was abroad because the roaming charges would be over £1. It said so on his holiday spread sheet.
Mr B decides to live a little. The very next week, he has a cheese and pickle sandwich on white bread AND a bag of Mini-Cheddars. He buys a TV. After one week, he reaches another decision; he has bought the wrong one.
Mr C is called Martin Ian Gay. His registration plate is M1 GAY. It has no question mark. He never mentions it and neither does anybody else. He has probably never noticed its connotations and nobody he knows has either. He has never parked it in Brighton. Mr C worked for a chemical giant for 34 years and wears pink corduroy trousers. We think it’s always the same pair; they are quite stained. He too is a surveyor. He will tell you the square footage of any of his company’s depots in the country and how many vehicles are based there, although he has long since retired and his information is probably out of date. He speaks in a flowery, almost camp manner, over-embellishing the simplest incident. When a log tumbles from the stack, he states loudly that ‘The whole pile is inherently unstable due to lack of foresight in the positioning of the second row’. Mr A and Mr B are just a bloody nuisance but I hate Mr C. His very arrival makes everyone’s heart sink. Customers drink up and leave, staff ask if they can unblock sick from the gent’s toilet. He once trapped two German tourists for 40 minutes with tales of the German takeover of his employers and how he was afraid that he would have to drive a BMW instead of a Jaguar. They were stuck listening to his monologue for so long that people thought they were with him. Yet they had just come to the bar to pay their bill.
Mr C once had a Vietnamese wife. She became an alcoholic and nobody blamed her. Then she died mysteriously one night (perhaps of boredom) and Mr C never let anyone in the house again. Some people believe she is still in there.
Messrs A, B and C are planning a walking holiday. It is 4 days in the Yorkshire Dales. Mr C can only go for two days because he is having a new washing machine delivered and can’t let anyone else in the house in case they discover his decomposing wife on the sofa. Day Two has to be carefully planned around his train connections because he has to be at Leeds for 5:33pm or he will miss his onward connection. This means there is a longer walk to do on Day Three – 18.3 miles. They must start earlier but they will still have their nightly de-brief and planning meeting at 7:30pm the night before. Or should they make it 7pm? They won’t have breakfast in the hotel because it is too expensive but if they start early, they will miss the first café and have to use the second, where breakfast is 50p more expensive and you don’t get a tomato. For one of them, breakfast isn’t an issue because he always has muesli and seven blueberries and he recounts how his wife once got this wrong:
Text: You have bought the wrong muesli.
Wife text: You know where the shop is.
Text: But I don’t have a food budget.
These debates dominate four weeks of lunch, after which they call this their ‘intermediate plan’. They will confirm the details by email later, so they can discuss ‘any queries or loose ends.’ The Wehrmacht never planned anything in this much detail. Maybe that’s why they lost.