Before the nanny state took them by the throat, and gave them a totally unnecessary throttling, the good old British pub was a great place to meet all sorts of different types of humanity.
Nowadays, what with the high price of a pint (mostly tax) and the smoking ban, people are staying at home more in the evenings. Every day more of our pubs are closing their doors, and not bothering to open them again. It's a lot cheaper to buy your alcohol in the supermarket, and that is what more and more of the great British public are doing. Then all you have to do, is sit in your favourite chair at home. A six pack of beer at your side, and spend the next several hours viewing a load of complete garbage on the television. Whilst at the same time you are completely free -provided you have not been brainwashed about the effects of passive smoking on your offspring- to clog your lungs, with a thick, glutinous mixture of nicotine and tar, dispensed from the tobacco of your choice.
It is quite likely too, that what you are smoking, has been smuggled into Britain on a ferry from France. Thereby evading the duty, and in the process of buying your cheap tobacco, you have deprived your local corner shop of much needed income. The British corner shop is vanishing also.
Don't worry it isn't just your fault. I blame the government for all our woes. The government and the bloody supermarkets. Well, someone has to take the blame, and it ain't going to be me. Although I have deprived the government of some revenue, by giving up smoking. I'm sorry about that, but I thought I would try and gain a few more years of not breathing through a piece of plastic tubing.
I am drifting right away from the point of this item. I wanted to share with you my sadness at what looks likely to be the end of the British pub as we know and love it. But also, and very importantly. What is to become of that other great British tradition, the pub character, the bar stool eccentric? Someone like Norman, for instance.
Norman belongs to that fairly ubiquitous type of bar stool drunk. The kind that likes to regale the hapless pub goer with imagined stories of their heroism in the field of conflict. The pseudo SAS soldier. Usually they are tolerated for what they are, bullshitters, and become the butt of the pub comedians jokes. The pub comedian incidentally, is not usually very funny. But his alcohol intake gives him the confidence to tell his, usually racist jokes with impunity. He thinks people are laughing at his wit, when in reality they are laughing about him.
Norman was different from the usual bar stool soldier, in that he was not a braggart. At least not in the sense of the normal pub boaster. Norman thrived on keeping his imaginings close to his chest. He liked to draw the unwary listener close. Norman liked to reveal his SAS secrets very quietly. Those of us in the know, referred to Norman as 'the whispering soldier'.
"Good evening Landlord," said the thirsty stranger. "A pint of your finest ale. If I may." He didn't really say this. but I thought it gave better dramatic effect. He probably just said. "Pint of bitter please mate."
While the stranger supped his pint, Norman will have been observing him surreptitously for a few minutes. Before moving in for the kill.
"Hunc mmmnum," Norman would mumble. "Hnnn na mmmnn."
"Sorry mate,what was that?"
"Nnnnam em nannam Korea war ."
"Oh right Korean war, Yeah."
"fiddy fo serrrrnn SAS."
"SAS, you were SAS?"
Hearing this loud utterance Norman would glance quickly and furtively over his shoulder, and put a cautionery boney finger to his lips, before raising his pint glass and noticing theatrically that it was empty.
At this point the stranger would invariably ask. "Fancy another?"
Normans glass was in the Landlords hand, and the pump handle already in a downward trajectory, almost but not quite, before the question had been asked. Honed by years of practice, Normans free drink routine was masterful, and almost never failed.
"Mumble mutter mumble," Norman would whisper, as his victim strained to listen.
"Mumble middle east. Desert."
"Arabs, mumble sand dune."
"Rifle mumble took 'is 'ed off. Mumble whisper."
"All mumble mutter kill mutter mutter."
"Machine gun, whisper mutter mumble."
"Dead mumble, all of 'em whisper."
After several ear straining minutes of this the stranger would gulp his beer down, say an urgent goodbye and head swiftly for the exit.
This moment was the only time anyone ever heard Norman raise his voice above a whisper.
"You never heard it from me!" He would exclaim loudly, sitting bolt upright and squaring his thin shoulders. "Official secrets act. I never said nothin'."
At that he would slump back into his bar stool, a quiet satisfied smile playing on his lips.
If the pub does disappear, where will Norman and his like go? Where will they find an outlet for their eccentricities? I tell you, it's never going to be the same. Why do we let these things happen? Why?