Nothing exposes how old you’re getting like going out on Saturday night. Not only was the music in one Brighton pub so loud that passersby were unable to hear themselves, but it was too dark to read inside. Pubs are obviously not expected to be competing with the Reading Room at the British library, but if you’ve arranged to meet a bunch of people and you’re two hours early, sitting with a novel is an opportunity to transform looking like a sad sack into something far more interesting; at least in your own head. The pub also had a bouncer; always a bad sign, although I suspect this one was employed to stop customers from leaving.
I moved on, through the sort of rain better suited to wrecking ships at sea than finding a way out of Middle Street. With a grateful sigh I found the Victory Arms. A glorious corner pub; brick-glazed, no bouncer and playing reggae at the sort of the volume suggesting the landlord was too stoned to turn it up, which was perfect. I restrained myself from hugging the bar staff in gratitude. A few regulars stood smiling at the bar, holding ale like it was their true purpose in life, while at the rear, ‘round a corner, was the sort of table that Saudi royals might have considered too big, and which its current occupiers kindly let me perch on. I started reading (Peter Akroyd’s marvellous Three Brothers for the record), before my fellow punters foolishly left to ‘find some food’, which as something the Victory Arms didn’t provide, scored it even more bonus points. Anyone thinking Mini Cheddars, crisps or peanuts aren’t food obviously hasn’t drunk enough ale.
Growing accustomed to the murmuring bonhomie of the pub, the clinking glasses and crashing of changing barrels, I almost forgot I was meeting a crew of people to go clubbing. At 9pm, and now half way through Three Brothers, a woman appeared asking if I wouldn’t mind sharing the table. Now, holding a table for two hours is like asking airliners to remain in a holding pattern over an airport until delayed relatives arrive to greet passengers. I nodded non-committedly, while saying it was ‘no problem’, only that I did have ‘a group of friends arriving imminently’. Perhaps not knowing the meaning of imminently, or purposefully falling to pick up on my hint that ‘it wasn’t actually fucking ok’, she sat down, and asked if I might ‘move along.’ She was large, but move along? The bench could seat eight people comfortably, as I was about to find out.
I looked back to my book, before looking up to find her accompanied by four hens, who with light flashing bras appeared to have dressed while sprinting through a Variety show props cupboard. Another six emerged from ’round the corner, pushing me further along the bench, with even more arriving to sit opposite and even along the windowsill, as more hens, high on hopes for the bride and Bacardi descended. I was soon neck deep in women shoe horned into dresses 3 sizes too small, and with very little to talk about, but doing so at a volume shrill enough to wake bats. Even the bride looked overwhelmed, as she realised that no amount of double measures would drown her regret at inviting Michelle from Accounts. Similarly overwhelmed, I moved to another table, at which my six friends arrived to perch at.
There’s a moral to this story somewhere, but it’s probably simply Pascal’s insistence that “All man’s unhappiness derives from just one thing: not being able to sit quietly in a room.” Either that, or for pubs to have much smaller tables.