Laurie Taylor takes a walk on the wild side
It's Friday evening and so there are a dozen of us trying to catch the barman's eye in the George. To a passing tourist, this might look like naked individualism but we all have a precise idea of our place in the ordering hierarchy. I know that I'm now third in line. I'm behind an elderly man with a fiver and a younger man with a twenty. Fiver gets served quickly and the barman correctly picks out Twenty as the next customer. Twenty collects his change and wraps his hands round his four drinks. I'm pressing slightly against his right shoulder so as to ensure that he'll turn left away from the bar and allow me to push forward into an unassailable fullfrontal position dead in front of the barman. It all works perfectly but even as the phrase "A pint of Adnams" is forming in my throat, I hear a voice behind me shouting, "Two pints of Stella over here". And at that the barman actually breaks eye contact with me, turns to the other customer, nods, selects two pint glasses from his overhead stash and moves to the Stella nozzle.
I'm outraged. This is a serious violation of social order. I reach over the bar and wave a restraining hand at the barman. "I'm before him. Well before him." My adversary has now pushed up alongside me. He's a twentyfive year old city boy with short spiky gelled hair and one of those Paul Smith suits that shows the stitching. "No, you weren't, mate," he sneers at me. "Yes, I was." The barman freezes and says with studied helplessness, "One of you." Spiky reasserts himself. "Two pints of Stella." I give a gracious permissive wave of the hand. The barman goes back to the Stella nozzle.
I've severely thrashed several major combatants in my dreams but in reality I've always backed away from any sort of physical confrontation. It's not so much cowardice as an acute knowledge of my own physical capacities. Experience has taught me that even a sharp accidental push can send me crashing to the floor. I also have good reason to believe that I fracture readily and bleed easily. But something happened last Friday night. So extreme was the normative violation that instead of shrinking away, I turned and faced my opponent. "What the fuck are you going on about. You were not here first. You were behind me. The man with twenty was in front of me and then it was my turn. You weren't even at the bar." At least the crowd behind me seemed impressed. The previous pressure on my back had completely disappeared. I could only assume that everyone was backing off so as to create enough space for a major bundle.
Spiky, though, wasn't at all intimidated by my tirade. "Listen granddad. You were not here first. I was here first. So shut the fuck up." We were standing face to face now. Smart young Spiky and frail elderly Professor. "I'll tell you what," I said, "I may not have got the drinks first but at least I don't have to go through the rest of my life with that mincing voice of yours." I was fully expecting a response. I'd already checked out the relative cleanliness of the bit of floor which I was expecting my face to encounter. But he ignored me completely and simply wheeled away with his drinks.
From the relative safety of the other side of the bar I watched him standing talking with his mate. He looked oddly diffident. Almost beaten. Was he even now leading up to a tricky question? "What do you think of my voice?" "How d'you mean?" "Well, has it ever struck you as at all 'mincing'?" "Well, now that you mention it."
It's not a story that will create any headlines. 'Senior Citizen Triumphs in West End Slanging Match.' But it's already made a difference to me. I've realised with a certain sort of delight that I'm now so old that nobody can earn any sort of reputation from doing me over. Of course, it's a marginal blow to vanity. Until now I've vaguely held on to the illusion that most people took me to be in my late thirties. But the relief is immense. I now know that I can happily abandon some of my bland secure drinking places and walk happily into some of the roughest, toughest pubs in town. Just push open the door and walk straight up to the bar. Get out of the fucking way everyone. Here comes Granddad.