Steeped in his own paranoia, often he misses what is really going on around him, until one day, it is gone.
I remember Dad saying, “never drink alone” – stupid old bastard. How did he know, maybe he’s one of them? No, not nearly smart enough. Of course, what he really meant was, he drank alone and he was a drunk. If you drink alone, you’re a drunk. He was right.
Rob got off the tube at Kings Cross, but instead of running to catch the crowd on platform 8, he walked out of the station and found himself at a local watering hole, the Kings Arms just off York Way. He had never been there before. This was Rob’s new game.
The usual pattern was to stop for a couple of pints on the main platform. Well usual, up until today. Today, Rob had turned over a new leaf. Nothing so grand as actually giving up the drink, but if he was going to drink, he would certainly make the effort of doing it in style. Rob hated patterns, he hated drinking in the same pub and he really hated drinking along side people he recognised. And he knew all the people in the shit-hole on platform 8.
Of course, he didn’t really know them, he hadn’t talked to any of them, but he recognised them, they all wore similar clothes, sported a five o’clock shadow. They all looked tired and fucked off - they were all called Rob and none of them wanted to live another minute of the day sober. So a new leaf and green pastures, only problem was, Kings Cross is not that green. But it is close.
Rob had no idea what he would find when he stepped through the sticky doors of the Kings Armpit. He was sickened, so much that he almost turned around and walked straight out to find another public house. On the short journey that lies between the station and the pub, Rob’s imagination went wild. By the time he had arrived, he had imagined a quaint old English Pub, the sort of welcoming Inn that Dick Turpin may have frequented, either before, during or after committing his infamous larceny - what a hero.
Nope, this place was best served by the title – ‘A Dive’. Maybe that was being generous. It was worse than the ‘shit hole’ on platform 8. Inside, the pub was bright – that is of course a very bad sign, bright pub means ‘beware of the violent crowd’ or ‘kid’s pub’ or both. At least half of the crowd looked violent – full of Builders, huge hands, fat faces and bellies, a sea of blue jeans and a strong stench of sweat, plaster and paint. Another quarter of the pub was filled with what could only be described as old tarts – absolute ‘bow wows’. ‘Maybe this is where they go for a good night out?’ mused Rob.
What made Rob nearly turn around and run for his little insignificant life was the last quarter of the pub’s regulars. For a moment, Rob didn’t know whether to cry or throw up. There they were, the 5 o’clock shadow crowd. Yes, he wasn’t the only sad fuck to try the ‘nearest pub to the station’ experiment.
‘Fuck’, he thought, ‘well just a quick one here’ and like a moth to a flame, he flew to the bar. The bar was crowded and of course, Rob didn’t want to be too pushy. He wasn’t scared of getting into a fight, not even a fight with a builder, not even a fight with a builder and his bitch. Rob told himself he wasn’t scared of anything, except being sober.
Rob had a technique of getting served fast, a technique he dearly now needed. He didn’t push to the bar and he never held the cash out in his hand. These were crude methods and Rob hated being crude in that way. His method was based on ‘appeal’. He knew the staff would see him, ‘good staff’ always knows who’s at the bar and who’s next. All he had to do was look charming and wait and usually, he didn’t wait long.
Today was one of those days – the bar staff were just interested in taking money, never mind etiquette. ‘Fuck’ he thought, ‘Fucking typical, I guess this goes with the territory’, Rob’s inner voice seemed rightly annoyed but it was still in control and somewhat resigned to the situation. He changed his tactic towards the crude end of the spectrum. He deemed to show the cash in his hand, leaned forward, and attempted to flash his eyebrows at the nearest member of the staff. But he still wasn’t been served.
‘Fucking Madhouse’. A particularly ape like creature was standing next to Rob and in his simple pattern of thought; he too was getting pissed off. ‘Yeah, be our go soon’ Rob replied, Rob didn’t want a conversation about football or plastering, he wanted a pint. Rob thought how getting the first pint in was worse that wanting a piss. When you are really desperate, the closer to the loo you get, the worse the desire to piss your pants, and right now, Rob was ‘busting’ for a pint. Just then, the Neanderthal to Rob’s left got served. ‘Cunt white trash’ thought Rob. He pulled back into himself for a moment, first to check he hadn’t said anything out loud, then to tick himself off for such an bad thought. It wasn’t the thought in itself, rather the locale.
The Ape Man placed his order – an extraordinarily large order of spirits and beers, crisps and peanuts, more beer and some ‘alco pops’ for his bitches. Now Rob was determined, he would be served next. As the girl serving returned to the Ape Man with his change, Rob shouted ‘yes love, I’ll have a pint of Stella’.
‘Who’s next’ asked the girl. She did this without making eye contact with anyone standing at the bar, the sort of skill you only find in an inner city pub located conveniently close to a mainline station. ‘Yeah Cheers’ shouted Rob. She looked at him and with a fleeting contact of their eyes, ‘Success!’ thought Rob.
After all that time and anguish, all Rob could think of was revenge, his need for alcohol was momentarily put aside and his fury was aimed at the bar girl. Rob now played a small game he been forced to learn as a child - ‘Make them feel worse than they made me feel’ a game he had made up to regain his self esteem and control in previous times like these. He would now make the bar girl wait for him, make her beg for forgiveness. ‘Yes Luv?’ – that was her opening gambit. Usually the poor fuck on the other side of the bar would be so ecstatic with being served they would blurt out their order. Not Rob. He wanted a pint badly, but he was pissed off now. He waited to answer, he wasn’t looking at her but he could feel her confusion. Confused at first, but the confusion would quickly lead to irritation, and then anger and back to confusion - a type of confusion that would have the girl questioning her very competence as a barmaid. Had the girl forgotten to say ‘Please’ or ‘Sir’? Wait a bit longer and she would be angry again and her anger would show in a pointless outburst like ‘Yes, you’re next’ or ‘Yes, what can I get you!’ or even ‘Yes fucker, what did I ever do to you’ – ‘You made me wait’ would be Rob’s response.
Rob may have been crap at getting served in a crowded London bar, but he was the quintessential expert at secretly pissing people off. He was causing her to sweat and in less than two seconds he had put the poor girl on an emotional rollercoaster – in her inner mind she was probably asking herself if she was even fit to do the job. Rob knows about the magic number e – 2.71828182845904. Rob loved Number Theory; he thought certain numbers almost mystic. In his dreams, numbers frequently appeared, almost as signposts pointing to the answer, always cryptic but most definitely there. If you want to make someone uncomfortable, if you want them to doubt themselves, leave between 2 and 3 seconds gap between their first request and your answer, preferably 2.72 seconds.
Just before the bar girl had regained her self belief and thought Rob a total Wanker, milliseconds before Rob had lost access to his first pint and like Snakes and Ladders, had plummeted back to square one, Rob replied, slowly, quietly and deliberately, ‘Yes, Cheer… Can I have a pint of your finest Stella?’
‘Wanker’ thought the bar girl as she turned towards the pump. Rob could hear what she was thinking, almost as if she had said it to his face, but it was too late now, Rob had his revenge and soon was to take a sip of his salvation.