A slight departure from the poems of recent times.
Based on a phrase that has been going round in my head for years, I finally realised I could make something from it.
So, this is today’s offering.
When it’s over working. When our brains’re hurting. We head through our dour-damp lanes, in evening gloom, heads down, feet pumping, guarded against the bitter cold, with thick coats and fleece hats pulled low, double socks and hands in pockets battling against our thinking minds, our week-long shock.
And we arrive in gloom-orange light, in contrast to our darkening walk.
It’s not yet six and the beer smells fine, the fire gutter-chucks to berate door-drafts and faces turning grimaces and teeth-breath to urgent thirst and Mary pulls pints with men-folk staring at her chest, not daring to meet her eyes but raising their brows to each other in recognition of their lust, appreciation and Mary blushes when she catches Len in the act but doesn’t mind, really, she’s got a destiny through university and won’t be seen in the village again after one more short, long semester.
Idle Jake pines for the days when the public school kids’re here, away from their boarding houses and rugby, away from their studies and inverted privilege – tales of horrendous food, cramped dormitories and unsettling bullies – when they pump the fruit machine full of shiny pounds, and John can time his run, hit the buttons and milk the fruit of all that feeding.
Cathy sits in her corner, by the coat rack next to the fire and wonders why she can’t be bothered to find a man and contrasts that with her love of crib and the sizzling looks she shares with Barry, her card-partner, who she wants but knows his wife and, well, it’d be unfair but still she entertains the thought of Barry in her bed, in her life and eating breakfast in the morning.
And dirty Girty, who’s over thirty sitting at the bar keeping up with the men and wondering which one to take home, to seduce, to wrap her legs around and gallop home and she can’t wait for the school kids either – free fodder, popping cherries and breaking hearts, destroying parent’s equilibrium and family decorum, taking the boys and giggling over their nascent sense of manhood, chewing them up and returning to the real men when summer’s over, drinking warm beer and planning next year’s assault, cautiously aware she can’t keep this up forever.
Mental Ben stands at the bar admiring Mary’s chest and hoping for attention, someone – particularly a female, a woman, a supple, nubile wench – to speak to him, take an interest in his pain and soften his exterior, apply feminine balm to his heart and cook his meals, take him for drives and bless his life with tinkling laughter and running children but his pint’s dreggy and his pub-sexism puts off all folk, his mock-prejudice is misunderstood and his reputation is abysmal, and he sulks and cries into his palms on Sunday mornings and just doesn’t understand.
And there’s Bill, fresh back from fishing, pulling his beard and making folk laugh at his stories of cack-handed city folk on the river – all the gear, no idea – laughing stock of the gillies and those in the know but Bill covets those gentle lives and wishes, for all his tall tales and long stories, that he could find a genteel niche away from the piss-taking and beer-carnage, away from the man’s man’s world and when he gets home, he’s well behaved and washes up, tidies up and sees that Gemima has her cocoa and hot bottle, switches out the light praying thankfulness to God for blessings he enjoys.
But still Mable sits watching the door, evaluating every punter and assessing the take she’ll get from each, and should she see how the kitchen’re doing, and check the barrels, berating her other half for his hospitality which turns, too often, to one too many and a laughing, banging lock in – which she listens to from bed, reflecting on her jealousy and pining for her other life, where she’s the life and soul and he does the books and stock takes, orders supplies and sorts out the wages.
And all drift away, revolving lives tied to the Lamb of Sussex in centrifugal capture, free to leave, to come and go but dedicate to their worship, the glue, the cement and grout keeping life tolerable, providing a centre and fulcrum, a culture and a community of sorts and we dash home in the rain, looking forward to Saturday morning bacon and playing with the kids, attending swimming or football or going to the park.
The pub looms large.