Stuck at Victoria as I waited for my train, I nipped into one of those small station side pubs, to slake my thirst; a Guinness on a cold wet day Sunday should be enough to lift any man’s heart.
It is not a bar for the discriminating drinker; more a classic station pub for transient travelers, with music piped intrusively rather than that mix of chatter and laughter that permeate the best watering holes.
Nonetheless, I skipped to the bar with memories of Ireland swilling through my brain.
The young bar girl, whose heart had perhaps been lifted by one too many burgers, was intent on hammering text messages to all and sundry. Her jobs-worth of a manager grinned inanely into some sort of ether and painstakingly polished cutlery – this I found peculiar because this being a railway pub, the patrons were exclusively boozers. Was she catering for apparitions ?
I let out a cough in the manner of a tin miner who had smoked woodbines since childhood. This stirred the dazed manager into some sort of activity. With the alacrity of a tired sloth, she whispered her colleague’s name.
Barbara didn’t stir. Engrossed in her telephone, her fingers whirred at a rapid rate that her mind could only dream of…perhaps if we texted her she may have acknowledged the Homo Sapiens in her vicinity?
Three more Barbaras were said and even a “Sorry Sir” in my direction. Ever the Englishman I smiled in acceptance, whilst quietly seething inside. Dear old Barbara finally joined the land of the living after the fifth rendering of her name.
Now was my moment; I was minutes from delicious pint of stout. I fashioned my mouth in that usual position, probably about to begin my line of questioning with the ridiculous “Sorry could I”, and locked eyes with her.
Barbara turned her slackened shoulders to something more important than serving a customer – serving herself a pint of Coca Cola. Barbara didn’t strike me as a lady whose body was in need of a sugar laden drink.
The manager still polished her cutlery and triumphant sounds of trains rattled off from the platforms. The nadir of my experience came late in the transaction. Barbara was alert now and the manger, previously keen to serve me, began a discourse.
“I’m so tired today” Barbara said in her estuaries accent.
“Me too – Johnny didn’t come home….I was f**cking angry” replied the manger, in a soft Eastern European accent. She sipped on her creamy coffee.
“I was binge watching Breaking Bad ’till late” continued B.
This continued for around a minute. I glanced at the train board and decided that I wouldn’t enjoy a stout with eight minutes to go. I turned on my heel and huffed and puffed to the door, with dear old Barbara’s inane ramblings about her sleep patterns echoing through the empty bar.
“How can I help sir?” The polish polisher inquired loudly.
Startled, I blustered something with the fluidity of Hugh Grant about wanting a Guinness but not having enough time to drink it now. Barbara, as if by magic sprung into action. Before I could protest, she had poured a full pint of Guinness at a speed usually reserved for texting.
“5.35 please sir” requested Barbara without looking me in the eye.
I payed on contactless (a method which Barbara was keen to use). I had developed some sort of Stocholm syndrome – I was starting to look at my doughy pallid companion with a certain fondness. This fondness soon ebbed away when she snatched a packet of walkers and began chomping on them like a horse grazing on oats
Four minutes until my departure, it became vital to down the velvety black stuff. I was vaguely successful (half of it sloshing down my cuff) and had stuff the cheap napkins under my shirt. What had been a fortuitous pint had now turned into a sticky mess.
Barbara still chomped her crisps and guzzled the Coke and the polisher continued to polish her bloody cutlery.