There was once in my life a seedy pub, on a seedy street, which did not encourage strangers. The landlord was tired of it all, waiting for the brewery to bribe him to retire, and content with a customer base of half a dozen old men.
One of these old men was my Father, who was dying, so I went to the pub to try to encourage him to eat. The landlady was not jaded at all, and willing to cook lunches, in the unlikely event of her being asked to. My Father had collapsed in mind and body after my Mother had died the year before. He would attempt a lamb chop with chips and peas if it was put in front of him.
Apart from my Father, the only other people who ate there were a pair of young secretaries from the law practice across the road. Every week day both of them would demolish an enormous lunch, each talking so furiously together it was hard to see where they found time to shovel their food in. It was a delight to witness such greed for life, under the circumstances.
What passing trade there was came in to use the pay-phone. It is hard to conceive of now that cell phones are ubiquitous how suddenly they have overwhelmed us and how recently it was that you had a home phone or nothing, and the people who had nothing thereabouts had to come in and boom their personal affairs across the empty saloon bar. One of the nick names the old regulars had for the pub was “the largest phone booth in London”.
One lunchtime when I went there was a woman at the phone, about thirty, dressed in sweatpants and a green t-shirt, with dyed blonde hair tied back. She sat hunched on a bar stool to defend her privacy but so angry that everyone could hear her. “Where were you,” she said into the receiver, “you said you’d be around in half an hour, so I stayed all night but you never came.” I bought a beer and went to sit beside my Father, on his left side, because he was deaf in his right ear. The radio was on, tuned to a station playing 60s songs, not the stuff we remember like The Beatles or the Kinks, but songs that were actual hits in the 1960s, Perry Como, Petula Clarke, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. Deaf or not my Father heard nothing, I could not help but hear the woman. “Because you said you’d be around in half an hour, that’s why I’m so angry. I could’ve gone out myself but I wanted to see you and you said,,,” she was interrupted and grimaced as the man on the other end line spoke to her. Then she interrupted him. “But you said you’d be around in half hour....” The landlady bought my Father a lamb chop with chips and peas. My Father unwrapped the knife and fork from their paper napkin but showed no enthusiasm. The woman on the phone sat up smiled. “Ok, ok, that’s great,” she said. “I’ll see you soon then, when? In about half an hour? Yes, I’ll be there.”