Some things in life you can just take for granted. More often than not in this crazy, topsy-turvy world you'll wake to find the squirrels have picked the locks and been at your nuts, there's a rabid badger clawing its way up the chimney and Mouldy Old Dough has rocketed back to the top of the hit parade - nothing surprises me any more. But there are staples on which you can rely. If it's raining there won't be a bus, if I buy or I am given a watch - it will break or be lost within 24 hours and I never look good in a hat. These are the undeniable around which the rest of my life is constructed.
One of these unchanging, basic experiences is the pub. They couldn't be simpler and I applaud them for it. Though they have attempted to derail themselves in recent times by the introduction of jazz and exotic pies, in essence they remain the same.
So a surprise awaited when I entered a pub I've visited many times - not a pub which is high in my estimation, not a classic, but a decent fallback. It was relatively local, it showed the football and there was little chance of getting stabbed. I was in the area, I had time to kill and, as ever, I needed a drink. So in I went. I knew something was wrong immediately. A large section of the establishment had been taped off a sign told me 'This area for wine tasting people only'. Not one of the better signs to read.
But I wasn't staying long, so I headed to be bar. The few people sitting around and the staff behind the bar all looked on at me as if I'd begun goose-stepping to the Macarena. At the bar, the woman I expected to serve me looked scared. Then I felt a shadowy figure by my side. He wore an apron and had a pad.
'Can I help you?' He asked.
'I don't know?' I answered honestly, confused.
'It's table service only here'
'Would you like something?'
'A large gin and tonic' I said, still confused.
'By large do you mean a double?' He asked me.
'No I mean I'd like it in an oversized novelty vase. Yes a double.'
'A double gin and tonic' the man said to the woman behind the bar, who had heard the whole conversation and was actually closer to me than him.
'Right' I said. 'What happens now?'
'Where are you sitting?' He asked.
'I'm not. I'm standing here.'
'Where will you be sitting?'
I hadn't considered this. I hadn't really planned on sitting, I was going at stand at the bar. But this seemed verboten.
'There?' I half told, half asked him, pointing to a lonely table by the door.
'I'll bring it right over'
The drink was being made. It would have been completed in about 20 seconds. I’d have been happy to take the drink and transport it myself. But this would have obviously declared this man's life as pointless. So, with his silent encouragement, I moved to my table. My drink was now ready at the bar, I was at a table, drinkless, about 6 feet away, while the man employed to bring my drink to me, began swanning about the pub, taking orders, collecting empties and making genial conversation with the idiots who accepted this situation.
I looked at my drink longingly as it became increasingly warm, and to the bar-lady who looked slightly guilty and ashamed. The man seemed to be deliberately avoiding my beverage, taking extravagant routes around the building, anyway possibly to miss passing my order. Eventually the man brought me my gin and tonic. I reached into my pocket to pay.
'No, no, no' he chided. 'Pay when you leave. Just summon me and I'll bring your bill over'
'Oh right' I stammered, hanging onto my G&T as if it was the only thing preventing me from entering another dimension. I looked around and noticed that the bill, when summoned, was presented on a small silver platter. In a pub!
I'd finished my drink. I now had to leave, I had an appointment. Usually in a pub, when its time to go, you just tend to go, with a possible trip to the bogs as your only distraction. But now I was expected to begin a whole series of manoeuvres. I had to summon the apron man, who would waddle off and get my bill present it on a silver platter, waddle off again, I'd put money on the platter, he'd waddle by again, take my platter, then return with the change, probably expecting a tip. I'll remind you at this stage I WAS IN A PUB. A PUB. Not the fucking Ritz. A shitty pub, by a main road, expected to wait for a silver platter.
I couldn't face this, so when the man's back was turned I darted to the bar.
'Can I pay?' I asked the startled lady.
She didn't say anything, she didn't know if I could pay. Then I was rumbled.
'Is there a problem?'
The apron man had spotted me.
'Just paying' I said, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world and not a disgusting, disgraceful perversion of nature.
'I'll bring the bill over' he told me.
'No' I said, grasping the bar, white-knuckled. 'I'm in a bit of a rush'
He looked down at me with disgust.
'Table six' he told the lady with venom. She went to the till, produced a receipt, handed the receipt to him, who handed it to me, I looked at it, produced the money, looked at the lady, who gave me a terrified glance and indicated her colleague, I turned to him and gave him the money who gave it to the woman, who went to the till, got the change gave it to him and gave it to me.
'Have a nice day' he said to me, with irony.
It was if the very firmament had shifted somehow. Entering a pub and being made to jump through hoops to the advantage of no one, especially stone cold sober, is the kind of thing to make a rational man quite insane. Now I have to second-guess every boozer I enter for fear of the silver platter. My life is over.