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  • Writer's picturePhilip Bryer

It's the Law (or it bloody well should be).

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

A free taster from the first edition of the Why The Long Face anthologies:

“Un vidrio grande de vino blanco, y una cerveza grande, por favour.”

Having spoken, I leaned back into the reassuring clasp of the low backrest of the tall chrome barstool and sparked up a gasper. I was relaxed and feeling imbued with confidence.

“Are you OK?” asked Mrs B.

“Yep, never better,” I gave a little swivel.

“Sure?” she persisted.

“Yeah, yeah. This is great isn’t it? Happy New Year. Why d’you ask?”

“You know you just ordered those drinks in perfect Spanish?”

“Yeah,” (so pleased with myself). “What of it?”

“We’re in Italy.”

Oh, the shame. Bar and pub etiquette can be a confusing business, but using the wrong language is, to my mind, a clear breach of the rules. Sadly it’s one which the Brits abroad seem to demolish with an inebriated and unashamed delight.

A friend, Chris, is a seasoned campaigner. Over the past 30 years I have spent many happy hours with him engaged in the bending of the elbow. Last Christmas I asked him when he had last enjoyed a dry day.

“A what?” he asked

“You know, Chris, an alcohol-free day. What’s the longest time you’ve gone without a drink.”

His reply?

“Never. I’ve had at least 2 or 3 pints of beer and a bottle of red wine every night of my adult life.”

Now, I wouldn’t describe Chris as a man with a drink problem, he’s not an indolent piss-artist, he’s a busy man who, unlike some of the villains who appear in my novel None of your Business, actually lives up to the work-hard-play-hard ethos and doesn’t just lean on it as a convenient prop of management-speak.

Chris also has a clear set of rules about pubs and publicans. The landlord’s place is not on the golf course or upstairs or in the kitchen or anywhere else but behind the bar, where his role is that of mine host. Ideally, the landlord will have a large belly, mutton chop whiskers, an old-fashioned check shirt and a red face. Any other help should be of the comely variety. Leaning on the bar by the staff while reading a newspaper or (God forbid) watching television is strictly forbidden (as is hanging out with their mates and viewing the professional topers with youthful disdain). The faint rustle of a punter’s banknote from anything up to 30 feet away must be met with an instant eagerness to fill one of the many sparkling fresh pint pots readily to hand.

Whose round is it? He who walks in should be bought a drink by one of those already in situ, I think. Dodging one’s turn by hiding in the toilet is heinous behaviour deserving of nothing less than excommunication from the group, of course, as is having pints for yourself on everyone else’s round and halves when you’re in the chair.

Had to meet some people a few years ago. A family thing, hadn’t come across most of them before and it was agreed we’d all have a drink early one summer Saturday evening in London’s busy Covent Garden, where I was introduced to the, I suppose, fellow elder statesman of the group. I extended both the real and the metaphorical hand of friendship.

“What’s everyone having?” I asked, “Pints for you and you? Gin and tonics? Large, of course, wines over here, vodka there, more beer, wine…”

A bit of a crowd it was, and once I’d made sure everyone had refreshment, I furnished myself with a pint, exchanged a few pleasant bon mots with the assembled, and then my fellow old geezer turned to me and said, “Thanks for the drinks, must be off now though. Got tickets for a show.”

The sated hordes departed, leaving Mrs B and I to survey the detritus of a large round in a Covent Garden pub which, as any fule no, is equivalent to about three months of mortgage repayments.

“It’s just not done,” I muttered.

“They had tickets for a show,” said Sandra.

“Then you don’t get into a round,” I replied, seething.

It’s not that the wounds are still deep, they have just about healed, it’s not even about the money. What bothers me still is that a man of my age didn’t realise that what he was doing was so plainly wrong. I can only hope the show was a Lloyd Webber. Serve the bastard right.

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