Thursday, 5 February 2015

The moon's always larger in a foreign land.

There are many things that, although small, I enjoy. Little things that don't matter, things that if I had to do without I'd be no worse off but things that I enjoy nonetheless and for no good reason.

One such little thing is giving my dogs their evening meal. Fresh from a walk and still wearing my scarf I mix the meat, biscuits, pasta and eggs with boiling water as they sit either side of me, place the bowls on the floor, in the same place every time, utter the words "Good dogs, eat" and crouch between them tickling their backs and watching their tails wag as they greedily wolf it down.

At some point I stop tickling them and go to put the kettle on, still watching them and smiling as I spoon the coffee and sugar into my invariably filthy cup. At this point, for no good reason, the dogs swap bowls. They've both eaten all the good bits first, both bowls now contain nothing but biscuit soaked in beef dripping, neither dog gains, or loses, anything by the swap, but swap they do. It's always been the way and recently I've begun to wonder why they do it. The best I can come up with is that both dogs believe that maybe the other dog has bacon in their bowl. They love bacon, who doesn't? But this is never the case. Even on those rare days when I've put bacon in their bowls, the bacon is the first thing they eat. They must, by now, realise there's no bacon, but still they hope.

There was a chap, I'm changing the names to protect the guilty so let's call him "Tommy" for that wasn't his name, who owned a pub in Salford during the years my father owned his own. Tommy's pub was rough. As rough a pub as you could ever hope not to walk in to. Never a weekend went by that Tommy wasn't involved in a fight, and he loved it. He was a fighter, not a lover, unless you were talking about fighting. He loved fighting, and he was bloody good at it.

Practice makes perfect.

Still, as the decades wore on he became less able. By the time he was in his fifties his face resembled Spam, his knuckles were nothing but scarred callouses and very few of his few remaining teeth were unbroken. As it happened, his becoming less able to swing his trademark haymaker or bite off an ear during a bear hug mattered not.

You can't out-punch a bullet.

His customers no longer settled their arguments by administering a damn good thrashing, they now carried guns. Big guns, little guns, revolvers, Lugers, Derringers and shotguns were flashed and occasionally fired within the confines of his little pub in the middle of Salford.

My father's pub didn't suffer in the same way. Through luck rather than judgement he'd become friends with the "right" people, or more precisely the mothers and fathers of the "right" people. His pub policed itself. Of course he had to fight, especially in the early days, but by the time he decided he wanted to retire he was running a pub filled with laughter, music, good times and gangster's mothers.

No one fires a gun in the vicinity of a gangster's mother.

His retirement lasted just a few weeks. Like the dog that quickly realises there's no bacon in the other dog's bowl, he realised he'd made a mistake and so, after decades of owning and running his own pub he took on another pub, this time as a manager.

It was a pretty pub in a little village beside a river. Low, oak beamed ceilings, creaky doors, lots of brass around the real fires and a regular wage doing what he loved doing when he no longer needed, money wise, to do it. A far better "retirement" than the house he'd bought in Blackpool where he had nothing to do but live out his years watching cowboy films with only my mother for company.

Tommy came to visit one Sunday.

He stood at the solid oak bar in my father's little pub watching the couples chatting quietly as they enjoyed their Sunday roast and decided that he wanted what my father had. The following day he made a call to his area manager and inquired about management opportunities. The area manager said he had just the thing. A little pub in a little village near a little river. He brought a folder round containing the figures, the turnover and targets, the menu, the range of real ales served and a few glossy photographs.

Tommy was sold.

Without hesitation, and based only on the contents of the folder provided by the area manager, Tommy applied for the pub. He thought he would have to go through a few interviews, maybe provide a business plan, but was delighted when the area manager offered him the pub the very same day. He couldn't for the life of him understand why no one else had applied for the pub in the two years that it had been on the market and managed by a series of temporary relief landlords, but he wasn't a man to look a gift horse in the mouth. Within a month of visiting my father's new pub Tommy had a new pub of his own.

Tommy moved into the pub on a Monday.

The pub was, indeed, as pretty as the pictures he'd seen in the folder. The village was a village and the river was a river but, unlike the pub my father now ran, this pub was busy. Very busy indeed. The village, though once small and picturesque, had been one of the sites chosen in the 1950s by the authorities upon which to build an enormous, sprawling council estate to re-house those cleared from the slums of Manchester. As with many of the pubs in the area, it was as rough as fuck.

But Tommy's ability to fight was still a formidable ability and, as rough as this pub was, he had fought harder men than this village contained. Throughout that first week, night after night, he would stamp his authority on the ne'er-do-wells with fists of fury and flurries of fists. The disease that is gun crime, so prevalent in Salford, had yet to spread this far so, all things considered, Tommy was happy.

Until early doors on Friday night.

Alone behind the bar he stood, flicking through the newspaper, with only two customers, a young man in a shell suit and a chap of a similar age to Tommy in Wellington boots and flat cap, stood at opposite ends of the bar. At some point the young man became a bit tipsy and mischievous and, having no target other than the landlord who already had a reputation as a fearsome pugilist and serial ear-eater, he crackled his static-filled, shell suited self over to the older gentleman, stood right beside him and just stared.

Tommy spotted this without looking up. He pretended to read his paper, giving the impression he'd not noticed, and secretly readied himself for what was to come.

The young man, slowly and purposely, reached out a Sovereign festooned hand and tipped the older chaps drink over, spilling it's contents over the bar and over the man himself. The man himself, less slowly but equally purposely, took a handful of the younger man's hair and slammed his face into the bar, picked up his now empty glass and smashed it into the young man's cheek.

Tommy had expected he'd have to tackle the man with the newly-bloody shell suit and was a little taken aback by this unexpected turn of events. He grabbed the older chap and transported him from bar to street in one, fluid movement before going back to help the sobbing beer-spiller to hold what remained of his cheek in place while they waited for an ambulance.

A few minutes later. while Tommy was still pressing a bar towel to the beer-spiller's wounds and with emergency services en-route, the older man returned. Tommy had bolted the door after ejecting him and now he stood, his upper body visible through the glass portion of the entrance with a look of vicious vexation on his face, rattling the door and armed with what appeared to be a pool cue. His rage was quite plainly still not sated. Tommy strode over to the door, intending to render the man incapacitated until the arrival of the police.

He unbolted and swung back the door, free hand clenched into a fist and ready to deliver his devastating haymaker. As the door swung open the older chap raised the "pool cue". Only it wasn't a pool cue.

Tommy dived for cover as the older chap drew back the string on what, it now turned out, was an ancient and powerful longbow. An arrow flew across the empty pub in the direction of the young man with the blood, and now urine, stains on his shell suit, missing it's intended target by a yard and embedding itself in the counter.

Tommy had left Salford to escape the shotguns and now was having to deal with longbows.

Maybe a long bow is the greener grass on the other side that Tommy craved. Maybe his dodging wooden shafts rather than hot lead was the bacon in the other dog's bowl. If so, it would appear he wasn't a fan of green and couldn't stomach bacon since, soon after this incident, in a place where he wasn't known and knew no one, he gave up the pub game. And he missed it terribly.

He'd not done his homework, not considered every possibility, he'd just seen an unfamiliar Devil and decided it would be a better Devil than the Devil he knew. The problem with Devils is, whether you know them or not, they're still Devils.

He'd thought he'd seen my father's good fortune and he wanted it but, in reality, what he'd seen wasn't good fortune, it was just a different life, lead a different way and with a different result. Some people have lives that seem better than our own, it's just a fact of life.

No matter how much we have, we want more, but remember...

...All your own bacon is in your own bowl.


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