The Badger’s Ball’s, The Squirrel’s Nuts, or The Fisherman’s Crabs, it doesn’t matter what we call it, because it was just another Friday night in a small pub on the edge of town; but we’ll say it was half way up North Sherwood Street, for those of you who know Nottingham.
And it was the usual brewer’s fayre…a minor scuffle over a stray dart, a snoozing local in trap three of the gents, and on the pool table, a large man on all fours shouted ‘NOW’ as his friend flicked a lighter, and a bright blue flame blasted forth from his Wranglers.
In a loved up corner a local bus driver sat, with his shirt undone to the naval, festooned in Ratner’s finest and with an arm around ‘my Vera’.
‘I’d have never effin done it’ she said,
‘Not in a million effin years. If that effin bitch thinks she’s getting away without the effin kickin’ of an effin lifetime, she’s living in cloud effin cuckoo Effinland – I would never have effin done it, effin’
‘Well of course you wouldn’t duck’ he said, ‘and you know why don’t you?’
‘No’ said Vera, ‘Why?
‘Because me likkle ducky, you, are an effin Lady!’
Vera beamed and snuggled up, and through the six quick pints of Home Ales haze, no eyebrows were lifted – dogs slept, ha’pennies were shoved, fruit machines span and all was well, until I said,
‘Well, that’s me. I’m doing up a house in St Anne’s in the morning, I think I’ll have a walk back through the old neighbourhood and kip there, may as well get an early start’.
The room stopped and everyone stared…I felt like a gay bloke in Barnsley.
Bob, the boz eyed barman (you weren’t sure who he was talking to when he said, ‘What can I get you?’), leant over the bar and fixed me keenly with his good eye.
‘You can’t wander about down there any more our kid. It was tartan scarves and Raleigh Choppers when you were a local…the gangs don’t sing Shang a Lang these days you soft sod.’
‘Stuff and nonsense my man, you’re positively blithering’ I said,
‘I know every snickett and ginnell, every cut through and every dog dirty back passage. I can nearly see the place from here; I’ll be home in two shakes of a lamb’s jiffy. I will bid you good evening, and shake the dust of this tawdry hostelry from me new leather Trickers’.
At the door, even Dickhead Dave tried to stop me.
‘Paul, don’t be a knobhead’
‘Are you calling me a knobhead Dickhead?’
‘If you’re walking through there at this time, yes, you knobhead’
‘Night night Dickhead’, I said, and stepped into the street.
The warmth stays with you for a while doesn’t it, inside your coat, and your heart. And for a few moments the faint laughter will cover the sound of your walking, while the lights of the pub will be there to guide you, like a distant harbour, with the promise of rest. But it’s not long is it, until the darkness has you in its glove, and all you can hear are your footsteps, and the sound of your breath.
I turned down Huntingdon Street, right at the Mosque, or is it a bingo hall again, eyes down in prayer either way, and brisk as you like towards Sneinton Market…left at the Bath Inn, bugger me it’s gone, it’s a chippy, bloody hell, but it’s ok, Lymns are still there with a few reassuring hearses, Rolls and Royce ready to waft you to Wilford Hill cemetery, when the clogs are finally popped.
All was going well, gangs, pah, just cut through the old underpass onto St Matthias Street and…shit…they’re either stray monks looking for the nearest monastery, large nuns, a Robin Hood re enactment club…or a bunch of local youths with a fondness for firearms and cutlery…hoodies!
I remembered that old feeling, where there were legs built of muscle and blood, there was cotton wool, and rubber. What were the rules, think man, what were the rules forty years ago, we’ve done this before, the Steve Ellis Gang remember, what did we do, we had two choices didn’t we…run, never good, too vulnerable. They’ll chase you down like dogs. You’ve got to do the walk through, it’s half a chance…look nuts enough to be a handful, they might think twice but if they don’t, just go mad bastard axe man, shout, scream, and try to take the big lad. Or the third choice, talk…no way, and say what?
Strangely, I thought of Billy Connolly, and his idea that when you’re in a tight spot, your first line is all important. Now he of course was referring to being caught kecks to the ankle and todger in hand, in a lonely act of self love. Should you ever be so rudely burst in upon, your opening line is, ‘Thank God you’re here!’ This should throw the intruder into a sufficient stupor, that they’ll then believe you were genuinely trying to brush an aggressive spider from your pants. But what would my first line be?
In the flickering yellow light they spread across the tunnel to say, ‘You shall not pass,’ hoods up and all in black, the Unmagnificent Seven…while into to the valley of death, brick wall to the left of him, brick wall to the right of him and up lad in the middle, rode Mr Knobhead, and with his arse going like a Clown’s lips he said….
‘Pouch pocket, or zip?’
‘What?’ said the kid.
‘Pouch pocket or zip. What are you saying?’
‘This ain’t no f#ckin fashion show you freak’ the kid replied.
‘Well I can see that’ I said…my mouth feeling like I’d just entered a cream cracker eating contest, and lost.
‘What have we got’ I continued,
‘Stussy, ok, Bathing Ape…who’s wearing BBC…there will be one of you, ah yes, there we are, small boy, third in from the left, I can’t see in this light but a red foil print right?’
The big kid laughed…
‘You are one mentally ill motherf#cker, why don’t we just cut you up and do the world a favour?’
‘Because I am involved in making the clothes that you wear?’ I tried,
‘It’s my job. I know you need a nice straight and tailored sleeve, plenty of length down to a wide cuff, none of that wafting about nonsense. A straight body with a wide ribbed hem, so it sits flat on your hip, not too oversized but with room to manoeuvre (I demonstrated). I know you need a 380 gram fleece, minimum, and that in the main you’ll prefer a pouch to a zip – cut me up, and you’ll have nothing to wear but yo mama’s blouse (street talk, fershizzle, no diggedy)…oh, and of course, you’ll want your hood nice and deep to hide your face, so I’m scared of you’
‘You scared of me old man?’
I could see his eyes now, and he smiled…handsome he was, clean skinned and way too good for this place.
‘Scared?’ I said,
‘I either drank too much earlier and put a Big Mac in my pants to keep it warm, or I’m in very serious trouble indeed’
‘Where’s home’ he said, and I pointed,
‘Then you’d better walk with us’ he said…and I did.