Simon Jones: Having A Few Drinks (An experiment in social interaction, 1996)

The sun was shining, the trees were blossoming and we hadn’t had a drink for at least a day, so we got it together one lunchtime to share a pint or two. I got a call off Dog who’d got a call off Phil, and I called Trev to let him know. We started off in our local. How it comes to be a local for people who live at the four corners of London, who knows, but the staff called us by our proper names and we were asked to leave a lot less frequently there than anywhere else, so our local it was. And crowded it was too, with a mix of site labourers who were adding floors to the block opposite and alcoholic coppers who were working in the police station underneath them.

I said “mix”, but the truth is that they were separated like sump oil and urine, and the resultant atmosphere gave you a feeling similar to what you’d get if you drank such a cocktail. We’d bought our pints before this became apparent to us, so we pondered our alternatives. We could get out now, four drinks down on the deal but unpunched, or we could hammer the alcohol until things mellowed or we anaesthetised ourselves beyond care. Dog had got the round and wasn’t going to buy another one in a hurry, Phil argued that as Dog hadn’t researched the place properly the round was still his responsibility, Trev said we couldn’t afford to waste booze and I noticed that we were on the hypotenuse between a large man in a suit and a large man in overalls, both of whom looked very squarely built. Then Dog called us twats, drank his in one and grabbed for Trev’s glass. Trev pulled it away and some went flying down the leg of the big one in the suit, who turned round just as the big one in the overalls started laughing.

Phil and I drank our pints very quickly and hoped they took effect before the first psychotic assault on our persons, but we had apparently worried ourselves into invisibility because the two large people started squaring up to each other like nobody else was there. We decided the better part of valour was fucking off and did so to the slot machine, which was indeed the better part of everything because these two launched into each other and broke the table we’d just vacated. Everyone else started losing it, the landlord pressed his button (ironically enough, to summon more police) and ordered them out. Coppers and builders started jostling or reasoning with each other according to temperament, apart from some unfortunates who started reasoning with jostlers and ended up lying down. Bits of the sundered table were used as impromptu weapons and the action moved out to the pavement where they could enjoy the sun and get a decent swing on the table legs.

Lots of them left their drinks behind, we noticed once the sirens had arrived and everyone seemed busy, so we collected the lagers and selected a couple of weird ones each. I got a bottle of Heavy Yak, which seemed to have Polish vodka and Malibu in it, Trev made a pan pipes out of four bottles of some pale US stuff and tried to play Incantation by sucking in instead of blowing out, and Dog found a pint of Guinness with an umbrella in it. So we drank them. Phil’s glass of blue stuff had a stubbed out fag in it, which he only realised when he tried to swallow it, and that got us all thinking about what we might have caught off our loot, so we had to get another round by way of antiseptic. We were trying to slow down but we noticed some of the previous owners starting to come back in and look for their drinks. Fair enough, they must have been the more peaceful fringe because they weren’t getting sedated the medieval way in a cell nearby, but they started to look unhappy, and the barmaid who’d been watching us doesn’t like us anyway since we spilt Black Russian on her wedding album and was obviously going to tell them, so we downed what we’d got and ran for the door just as the first builder was saying “Hey….”

The run must have done us some good, because we started buzzing and we couldn’t stop laughing. But we were still quite together and we knew we were marked men. What was needed was a change of location, but we couldn’t decide where so we went to this downstairs wine bar to mull it over in the dark. I went off to get a couple of bottles of house red and left Phil, Trev and Dog to find a table. I had a bit of a job fighting my way to the bar and I could hear some sort of commotion behind me, but I knew if I turned round at least four people would cut in front of me so I stayed eyes front at my post. When I got back they had a prime spot but everyone around was looking at them like they were lepers or something, so I leaned forward and mentioned this sotto voce. Phil leaned forward and said they’d been looking around and they’d seen a couple of paramedics around this area, wheeling a stretcher away. Apparently some bloke had been grunting away to his floozy when he’d gone all purple and slumped to the floor. She was obviously not his real floozy because once she’d screamed and told the manager she’d buggered off up the stairs and never been seen since. By the time we arrived he was as near dead as you can get and still register a difference, and he was being strapped onto the trolley. Trev had got all this off one of the witnesses, the one you always get who can’t shut up. Anyway, everybody was standing still in a daze, and on the other side of all this was an empty table, so they stepped over and sat down.

I was a bit embarrassed about this, what with people going tut and things like that, so I drank quicker than the others and Dog had to go and get another couple of bottles. Maybe people calmed down, or maybe I just didn’t care anymore, but things seemed to get mellower. Then four secretaries came in, surfing on a giant screech and falling over things that weren’t there. By this time, as I said, our more seriously offended neighbours had gone off to do lip narrowing exercises or whatever these people do, and the table next to ours was empty. So they sat there and said hello and could they borrow some of our wine. I felt witty and said yes, but how were they going to give it back? and they just looked at me so I passed the bottle and shut up. One of them got her purse out and started walking backwards to the bar, and she must have been the one Dog fancied because he decided to get another round in even though he’d got the last one. So they each came back with four bottles.

Dog sat next to his new friend and Phil decided to embarrass him by asking him why, so he called out “Hey, Dog” and she threw a glass of wine in his face and called him a bastard. She ran off to the toilet and the one next to her chased after her once she’d given us all a castrating glare. I felt really happy about this because I’d been out-pratted, so I decided to explain everything and show who was in control. Unfortunately, the one in control was Trev who was half way through explaining everything when I started to talk, so I said what a good thing it was that “trev” wasn’t a term of abuse for women or I’d have a glass of wine thrown over me. When she heard that the one next to me called me a prat and threw her glass of wine all over me.

When the other two came back from the toilet we made friends again, and the one next to me even dabbed at my shirt with a napkin, so we decided to find out what to call each other. Dog’s friend was Debbie, the one who thought I was a prat was called Louise, the glaring one was Cath and the other one was Pat but no-one cared much about her. They were out for the duration and were meeting up with their friends on the floating disco, and they invited us. We said yes and Trev got some more bottles in. We ran out of the place and walked by the river swigging house red. Then Dog tried to grab Debbie’s bum and she swung her bag at him, only she missed and the handle broke so it all fell into the river. She got really hysterical then and started threatening to get the police, so Dog looked over the quay. Her bag was stuck on a strut from an old wooden jetty, and he said he’d get the fucking thing back for her. We were all trying to grab him but he found one of the mooring ropes for the floating disco and shimmied down it till he was just above the water. He found Debbie’s bag and grabbed it, but he pulled it up upside down and everything fell out. Then Debbie called him a cunt and attained superhuman strength. She crouched down with her back to the mooring rope, grabbed it with both hands and pushed herself up. The rope slid over the top of the bollard, and it and Dog disappeared under the water. Phil started screaming she’d killed his mate, but I had an attack of sensibleness and said we should all get on the boat and haul Dog in before the cold or the currents got him. Louise knew the bouncers and got us all past them, but Trev called one of them Mr Braincell and got thrown out. He was very British about it, but it sounded like it hurt when he hit the pavement so Phil and I noted this for revenge later.

There was this strange air of familiarity about the place which I couldn’t quite pin down, but we had more pressing things to do. We were moving to the front of the boat and I was telling Phil how we could calculate which rope we needed to pull. It was something scientific like look out for the one that’s not attached to the quay any more and I was very proud of it and sneaked a look backwards, but all four women had sodded off. Phil and I decided this was Dog’s fault but that we would save him before we killed him just so he’d appreciate our justice. The trouble was, we couldn’t see or hear him and the very prow of the boat was dark as hell. And we were pissed. We were even more pissed because we found a crate of lager that the crew had obviously stashed away for abuse later and started drinking it. We found it helped.

After a while we stopped laughing and heard a muffled but familiar cry. Dog seemed to be under the overhand of the prow and clinging onto the rope, which was very slippery. We tried to find out which rope it was, but we were obviously nowhere near even warm and he was really starting to swear so we decided to pass one of the other ropes to him by undoing our end of it and lowering it to him. He would grab hold and we’d pull on it and bring him up to our level. So we undid one and dropped it because we’d forgotten how heavy the fucking things are. It fell in the water and must have splashed Dog because he called us cunts. Then Phil said we should tug on the other ropes and Dog could let us know when he felt he was being tugged and we’d know to pull that one. But I pointed out that there was only one rope left and that must be it. We didn’t want to let it go again, so I took up the slack and wrapped it round this big metal joist that was standing up out of the water. This, I explained, would serve as a pulley and give us extra leverage. Except I didn’t quite manage to say “leverage”, but I think Phil got the idea.

I braced myself against the gunwale, or whatever you call the side of a boat, and Phil used Debbie’s technique to prise the coils off the bollard. Then we both pulled like shit on the rope and saw Dog coming up over the side as the metal joist passed him going towards the bank. We all swore at each other and had another drink, then we noticed that the music had stopped and lots of people were screaming. Phil said it was New Year and tried to kiss us, but we explained it was early April and the Inland Revenue don’t celebrate their new years. Not with happiness, anyway.

I’d been pondering the moving joist, and now pondered the open view of the river where we had previously looked out over the pile of a bridge. Then I pondered the screaming. Then I thought “fuck, we’ve set the boat loose”. Then I had another drink. Then I explained everything to Dog and Phil, who both said “fuck” also. We decided that the stern of the boat was obviously still moored, but that someone would be coming down here soon to sort things out. And they’d find us. So we decided to sneak back among the throng and wait to be rescued along with everyone else. Which we tried to do, but of course Dog was covered in weeds and shit, and Phil and I had tar all over us. And, I suddenly realised as everyone started staring, these twats were our drinking companions who had to leave their drinks behind because of the fight we started. And the big one, the very very biggest one of the suits, down whose leg the original spillage had occurred, was looking straight at me. So I improvised (with divine inspiration, I thought).

“Thank God you’re here. My friends and I saw everything in the pub, we were sure we could find some evidence to clear you, so we started looking. And that’s when the barmaid thought we were drinking all your stuff when what we were really doing was taking it away for forensic testing. So then we saw that you were out again and I said to my friends ‘look, it’s the guys from the pub. We couldn’t save them but we can buy them a drink’. And my friend here with the wet stuff on him, he said ‘yes, but some drunken stupid twat’s gone and unmoored the front of the boat and we can’t get on board. But fuck it, that’s not stopping me’, and he swam for it and got there and threw us a rope and we climbed on too. So what can I get you?”

God, the man’s eyes were popping out by now. I couldn’t read his body language too well, but when I looked down his fists were clenched and his knuckles were so white you could have used them as a spotlight. On of them came up level to my face and started to go back. I could feel bodily presence beside and behind me stopping me going anywhere. I closed my eyes. And there was an almighty crashing sound and more screams. I thought the bastard had taken my head off and this was my out of body experience, I was ready to go down the tunnel and meet all the dead relatives in a sunny garden, but instead I fell over and landed on something soft. I opened my eyes and it was Louise. I looked around and saw a gangway in the middle of the dance floor, with my large-knuckled friend underneath it. Phil and Dog were lying next to me. Louise didn’t look like she particularly wanted to shag me, and I didn’t feel it would be expedient to give my address out to anyone here, so I gathered my friends and we walked out over the gangway. The boat had swung back to the riverbank, nearer than it had been before, and pushed the walkway into the interior. We heard the bouncers crying for help as they hung from the planks beneath us and left them there. And I nearly missed the last train home.

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