The fact of the matter, and I’m not proud, and well as you’ll see, I’m rather condemned by this, the fact of the matter was that I just didn’t want to go home. There, I’ve said it and I’ll have to live with that decision for ever. Having said that I can’t help but feeling that the cat had something to do with it as well.
In my defence it had been a bitch of a day. Jerry had been at me all day about my bloody billing figures. They hadn’t been good, I’d be the first to admit it, but there were extenuating circumstances. SHE, the bloody witch, had been making my life hell the past month. And all because she found a receipt for a meal for two at La Caprice. I had explained to her, at great length, and with recourse to times, dates, and my diary, that this had been a perfectly innocent meeting with a client but would she listen, would she buggery! The fact that her suspicions were correct and I had been meeting Elena from accounts payable, for, and let’s face facts here, some well deserved rest and relaxation, was beside the point. In a court of law there would have been no evidence to convict me so why should she be justified in making my life miserable? It was like we never signed the bloody Magna Carta. It was positively un-British.
After the day from hell, I was jalking, you know that half jog, half walk, you have to engage in when you are desperately trying to make your commuter train. I checked my watch and cursed as I looked down at a bare wrist, I must have left it at home. Still, I’m sure that I would have made the damned train if, and I swear it was out of bloody nowhere, a skanky black cat hadn’t run in front of me causing my beautiful new, and therefore still slippy soles of my Church Oxfords, to skid on the pavement and send me tumbling to the floor.
I landed on my posterior and sat there for a second looking at my assailant. The bloody feline even stopped and seemed to look me up and down, and this was probably just a fancy brought on by the shock of being dumped on my backside, but I swear its eyes were twinkling and its sharp little mouth seemed stretched it what, I would if placed under oath, say was a grin.
Before I could get to my feet and give it a kick it scurried off through the forest of legs of my fellow city workers, none of whom it has to be said, made any effort to help me up.
I got to my feet and stood there cursing my luck, and wishing more than anything, I didn’t have to go home, back to that house filled with cold stares and silent accusations. And anyway hadn’t SHE said she was having her bloody evil friends over, three women hunched around a bottle of Pinot Grigio gossiping or whatever it is they do. Jesus, was it any wonder I didn’t want to go home. And that’s when I noticed it.
I must have passed it a thousand times on my walk from Waterloo Station to the steel and glass building that housed my law firm but I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before. Mind you it was normally bloody raining , the immediate street level view blocked by the points of eye seeking umbrella spokes, and I was usually either lost in miserable thoughts about going to work or trapped in dismal contemplation of returning home. So, it wasn’t entirely unexpected that I hadn’t noticed the pub before. And it has to be said, I’m not a ‘pub’ man, they tend to be a bit 1970’s, northern, gritty working class dives or some retro, gastro, anything ending in a bloody ‘o’ type of places full of people with beards dressed like lighthouse keepers, and that’s just the women, ha ha, talking about ‘start ups’ and ‘seed capital’. No, I’m definitely not a pub man. Give me a smart bar with cocktails, attractive women in dresses for God’s sake, and networking opportunities.
But, I really didn’t want to go home and a drink seemed so attractive right now.
The pub was an old building, really old in the way that American tourists get gooey for, yellowed leaded windows which may as well have been concrete, and cracked wattle and daub walls. The door of the pub looked like it was made of wood dragged up with the Mary Rose.
It was jammed between a newsagents whose window was adorned with Union Jack everything; I even spied a Union Jack kilt, and a Mobile phone shop. It looked warm and inviting, and it seemed to almost glow in the late evening greyness. At that moment I wanted to go in more than anything I had wanted in a long time.
There was a sign hanging above the pub. It showed a chicken with a smiling man’s head. The pub’s name was written underneath in some old gothic font:
‘Time Gentlemen Please!’
An unusual name for a pub I thought but at least it wouldn’t be full of those bloody hipsters and their satchels.
I pushed open the door of the pub and stepped inside.
The first thing I noticed was the warmth. It was hot in here; it was like when you get off the plane in the Caribbean after a long flight from a wintery England.
It wasn’t very well lit but I could make out the bar running the length of the pub to my left and a few scattered tables around the room. There was a man sitting at one of these tables playing solitaire and another man stood at the bar looking down at his glass half full of whisky with the intensity of a Chemist staring into a microscope that held the cure for cancer. They appeared to be the only patrons.
There didn’t seem to be an obvious source for the heat, no blazing log fire or radiators that I could see. It must be coming from underneath the floor. I took off my Aquascutum coat and draped it over my arm. I cursed as I noticed that there was a tear in the arm of the coat. It must have happened when I fell.
I walked to the bar. The man staring into the whisky didn’t look up from his glass.
The barman was conspicuous by his absence. I considered asking the man at the bar where the barman was but then I had second thoughts. I don’t like asking strangers for directions. If you can’t make your own way in this world then frankly you don’t deserve to be in this world.
I banged the bar and shouted ‘barkeep!’. I liked doing that; I had heard someone shout ‘barkeep’ in a TV show, Game of Thrones I think. I liked the weight of it, it made me feel important, a person of note. I tried it again, ‘Barkeep!”. No one came.
The other man didn’t look up from his drink. I turned my back to the bar and leant on it.
My eyes were more accustomed to the gloom now and I could make out my surroundings more clearly. There were paintings and posters on the wall of the pub. One of them was a picture of Einstein; you know the famous one, all white hair and goofy grin. I used to have the same picture on my wall as a kid, I was obsessed by physics before I decided to switch to law and earn some big bucks. I sighed, there’s no use crying over choices you made, they were paths taken and you couldn’t go back in time and make different ones, that’s all there is to it.
SHE said that my choice had chewed me up from the inside like a demon chewing on fat until I was nothing but an empty vessel. I hadn’t liked that and I’d told her that that choice paid for her jewellery, her fancy house that apparently just had to be built on a bloody ley line or whatever and that I didn’t love her anymore and that if it wasn’t for me she’d still be what she was when I met her, some down at heel new age hippy with a sideline in making lucky heather, or working in that bloody circus, and wasn’t it about time she had a child It was a lie, I did still love her, and us not having a child was just the way things were, but she needed to understand who was the boss. She hadn’t liked me saying that. I knew because she had smiled at me but it was a smile that had sent shivers down my spine. Was it any wonder I didn’t want to go home?
The man at the table slapped down a card. There was something almost familiar about him, his moustache, the suit, the slicked side parting. I chuckled as it came to me, he looked exactly like Lord Bloody Lucan. Turns out he’s been hiding in a pub near Waterloo Station. I nodded towards the Lucan Lookalike but he ignored me. That’s fine I thought, he probably had a difficult wife at home too and just wanted some peace on his own.
Behind me someone cleared his throat. I turned around and came face to face with the barman. He was a jolly looking fellow with large rosy, almost blood red cheeks and a smile nearly as wide as his round face.
“Pickled egg?” he said and nodded towards a large jar of what seemed to be oversized boiled eggs floating in a yellow vinegary sea.
I nearly gagged at the sight of them and instead ordered a large glass of whisky.
The smile grew wider, almost wrapping around his face.
“Coming right up.”
Something caught my eye in the corner of the room. It was that bloody cat laying on one of the tables, how had it got in here? I could hear its purring even though it was on the opposite side of the room, it sounded like a bloody motorbike engine.
The barman returned and set down a glass of whisky.
I didn’t look at it because I was too busy staring at the Barman’s wrist. My insides seemed to twist like a hog on a spit. He was wearing my watch. I knew it was my watch because there is only one like it in the world. It’s not a particularly rare or expensive watch, it’s an old Rotary but what makes it special is the band of crocodile skin and my Father’s initials, MH, which he had printed on the white face of the watch by a local watchmaker, the day he bought it in 1969. It came to me then, I had set the watch down the night before on the bedside table like I did every night, and this morning when I came to put it on, it was gone.
The tip of the barman’s smile seemed to be near his ears now.
An image of four middle aged women sitting around a table upon which a bottle of white wine was set with my watch hooked over the neck flashed into my mind. The women were chanting softly. I knew then that I would never be going home.
I felt my head sink and my eyes drawn towards the glass of whisky on the bar. The cat’s purrs were as loud as a jet engine.
From a million miles and a thousand years away I heard the barman speak.
“You know Sir, this is the best pub in any world. You know why? Because I never, ever, call time.”