Thursday, July 16, 2009

11.30am, The Prince of Wales, Billy (the third of the Billy stories)

-Hello, Schweppes Corporation

-Hello, May I speak to John Fisher?

-John Fisher is in a meeting. Can I ask him to call you back?

It was 10.45, then 11.00, then 11.15. No call.


Enough: I put on my coat and started for the Prince of Wales.

But immediately I go outside it started to rain. Silly weather, so suddenly switching on like that, and so heavily wet. I ran to hide in my car. I sat in the Rover, smoking.

The Rover was like an old friend. The seats were old leather and creaked reassuringly in the same way every time I sat there; the instruments solid and heavy, designed to reassure. It was inherited from an uncle who died when he was struck by lightening on the South Downs when he stopped and went under a tree to relieve himself and got struck by lightening along the stream of his urine.

I drove the hundred yards to the Prince of Wales, pressing my face close to the windscreen to see, the rain so heavy, it was like sitting inside a drum. Thankfully there was a space right outside the pub.

The pub is cavernous, Victorian, and designed for the needs of hundreds of thirsty dockers. But the mechanisation of the port, and use of containers means that it rarely serves more than 20 people at any one.

That’s fine by me.

It has a giant, circular bar, so grand it dwarves the barman, a silent, northern fellow. I guess he moved down here and just got lost, swallowed up by the giant sad bar.

I entered: as always there below enormous the plate windows seated on the maroon vinyl banquette, an elderly solitary drinker. I look across to him and nod: he raises his glass in his thin white arm. “Here’s to your lordship’s health!”

There is a billiard table there. I like to play in the silence of the pub with the guys who hang about there. I am an excellent player and that secures me a place in The Prince of Wales socially. In any case, the players don’t talk. They just stand about sipping pints of beer and all you hear the silent clink of the balls and the murmur of people at the bar, and occasionally the scrape of chalk on a board if they decide to keep a score, which isn’t often. It’s very satisfying and makes a gorgeous contrast to the brittle world of telephones and emails at the desk in my office.


Anyway, I think that’s where I met Billy.

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