An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Florence Nightingale

"You gonna sit there all night guv? Coz if you are I'd ask you politely to take that bobble at off. I like to be able to see what's occurring in ere and that headpiece is kind of in my way if you catch my drift?"

"Thanks pal, much appreciated. I ought to warn you though that if'n you continue sitting there then you're likely to be earwigging my life story before I get round to falling off this stool some time around closing....................... You OK with that? Good. Not that it's very interesting like, its just what I do. A few of these inside me and I talk, I talk a lot unless I'm in a mood and I'm not tonight so your safe."

"Yeah I know I'm not actually sitting on the stool - it's a figure a speech thing: falling of me stool means getting blotto, rat-arsed, Brahms, legless: pissed. You don't actually have to be on a stool to fall off if you see what I mean. No, as it appens I don't sit on bar stools. I prefer to have me feet firmly on the ground. Feet under the rail, elbow on the bar that's ow I spend a lot of time. Always ave, ope to God, always will."

"I wootnt say no, That's very kind of you. Mines a Ram & Special John. You don't mind if I call you John do you. I'm not so good with new names anymore and John's easy to remember."
"My name? John, actually. John Johnson same as me dad - parents never had much imagination. Still, it's easy to remember - even pissed. The coppers always appreciate it if you can remember yer own name. Less likely to run yer in. Or so they say."

"Cheers then John. The Special's always good. Clear and golden, like liquid nectar. Bert keeps a good cellar - always as. You wanna try a Ram in that when you get half ways down. Adds a bit a bite if you know what I mean?"

"Yeah I could tell you weren't local. Not a trace a cockernese about you. Talk quite posh if you don't mind me saying. Not stuck up or plummy or anything just posh. Good family? Grammar school that lot?"

"No, not me, lived round ere most a me life. Work just round the corner -well about ten minutes walk. Twenny if you're staggering - and most nights I am. But that's another story. So you could say this is my local boozer - not that it's local as in the nearest, no I walk past half a duz boozers to get ere. Just drinkers really. No character. Not like this place. Old Watneys places most of em. Cant get a decent pint for love."

"Great Ormond Street - for sick little kiddies - quite famous it is."

"Yeah, well, you would've, woottnt you? Like I said it's famous, ennit? World over let alone England................ Scotland? What, you're a jock? I wootnt a guessed it. That's what a posh schooling can do for you! Amazing. Bloody amazing."

"I was? Character, you say? ...............Oh this place, you mean? Yeah, Yeah, Right. Gotcha. Like I always say, it's got character and it's got characters if you know what I mean. Its old and whatnot and what wiv the beams and all the little bars and the bare boards and all it's got character yeah? Right, course it as. Oodles of it. This bar was the old spit and sawdust when I first came in here. Tell the truth, they only got rid a few years back. Yeah, I got one a the old spittoons back home - pewter it is - it'll see me out. But the characters well they're a different kettle if you get my drift ........."
"Looks like you could do with that Ram now. No this one's mine. No, put yer money away. I'm not some old moocher. Never let it be said."

"Bert! Bert! Can we ave some service over ere? There's a coupla blokes wiv their tongues anging out over ere for want of a bitta service. Thanks Bert, yes, and a bottla Ram for my mate John ere. See ow e likes the ouse specialty. ............................. Delivery this morning Bert? Yeah lazy sods - nine o'clock? Time was, the old dray'd get ere by seven thirty, five an twenny up at the latest. Well, its just a job to these new blokes ennit?......... Cheers Bert."

"Cheers John. Waddya think? Yeah, it does doesn't it? Makes it go down smoother somehow too. ........................................................."

"What? Sorry mate I was away wi the mixer there for a bit wasn't I? Appens sometimes. Last few years I just been finding meself drifting off. The doc says its the drink but I don't know, Maybe its just me age. Characters, you say?"

"Well, just look over into the snug. No don't turn round! In the looking glass - se the bloke wi the empty sleeve? Black jacket, beret, gray tash. Gottim? See the crutch beside im? That's John that is"

"No I hadn't, but now you mention it he does look like Stanley Olloway, or even Boris Karloff on a good day, not one them mummy flicks, I spose. Anyways, John's a bona fide war cripple. Goes up the Cenotaph every November. Medals, ribbons, best bib and tucker. The works. Met the QueenMum one time too. Says she went to shake his and and didn't notice that it werent there till it was all a bit embarrassing. Not for im - es used to it. She flushed up though. Or so e says. No, I don't know what war. Tell you the truth I ardly ever listen these days. Galipoli - something like that. Lost is right arm and is left leg! Makes it a bitch to get a decent suit as e says. You gotta laugh. If you go over and buy im a run e'll tell you all about it. If you've got a few ours."

"Wass the time? No, it's behind me, yer whelk. Oh yeah looking glass, right. Just after five an twenny past nine yeah? Rose'll be in in a few minutes. Now Rose is a a real character. Bit of an alky if you ask me. Eart of gold though. Her old man used to be a painter. Not decorating painting. No, the artistic sort. Ad a studio just off Grays Inn, she still lives there. No, e popped is clogs a good 15 year back. Exhibited at the Academy, showed in Cork street when it wasn't full of all this abstract crap. Joel Goldsmith was his agent, skinny little Jew boy. Always knew what e was doing mind. Old John made some good money off Joel e did. Rose lives off it yet. Shes got some tucked away - no doubt about that. Left er well provided for if you get my drift."

"Why not! Goes down a treat don't it? A good pint on a winter's evening I say"

"Thanks Bert, ave one for yourself! Sorry John, is that OK by you? Cheers. Gold watch, Bert? Drink up I knew yer mother. You're a scholar John. Sorry about that I was out of order - forgot it was your round. Well. no harm done."

"OK now lissen up. In about a minute you'll hear a bicycle bell ring outside this door here. One of them old fashioned ones with the green clover enamelled on the top. That'll be Rose arriving. When he hears the bell Bert'll start to pull up a half pint of Barley wine. By the time she's locked her bike up and got to the bar, about six foot down from you as it appens, she always stands in the same place, it'll be in front of her. She still rides old John's bike, crossbar or no crossbar. She'll lift the glass, hold it to the light behind the bar, smack her lips and put it down in one swallow. Then .... she'll bang the empty glass on the bar and cough. Bert'll come and pull another one and they'll chat a while about nothing like they always do. She might talk about John and Bert'll talk about his missus Dotty. Dotty's been dead these last ten years and if you ask me she wasn't all there when she was here if you know what I mean. Anyway she was a nice old bird and she and Rose used to chinwag now and then. While they're talking, Rose'll finish her second and Bert'll pull her third. Then and only then, she'll nod to me and smile and I'll nod back, and then I'll nod to Bert to say I'm buying the next one for her."

"Old up, ere she is - regular as clockwork. Just watch and listen - see if it aint just as I told yer..."

"Evening Rose, parky out? Now, d'you see that sign behind the bar? No. not the one about the darts outing, the one about the Barley Wine? OK right. It says no more than 3 pints to any one customer yeah? That includes Rose. Every winter, last week in October the brewery starts producing this draught Barley Wine - and believe me it's lethal. Three pints and you'd be falling over, trust me - big Scotsman though you are. If you're not used to it it'll take you down quickly and if you are used to it it'll take you down anyway. The rule is - ,3 pints - no more - and no exceptions. Rose loves the stuff. My old dad always said it was a ladies drink, Barley Wine, on account how sweet it is. Well that's as maybe. but it hits you like a hammer and I've seen grown men wet their trousers drinking it and not even know it, before the 3 pint rule that was. Fearful stuff is the Barley Wine. See the bag she's got beside her? The scrunched up string bag? Just took it out of her pocket. Well outside on her bike she's got a carrier at the back and on that carrier she's got a plastic flagon - the kind you used to get vinegar in. Never mind it doesn't matter - you'll see. "

"One from me Bert? OK, and top these up when you get a chance yeah? Cheers Rose, my pleasure. Remember me to John tonight? Allright? ........................ She reckons she talks to old John at night - I don't know - I just umour er - she might do - I don't know. No my place if you get my drift?"

"Right now are you counting? That's three halves she's done now. By ten she'll just be smacking her lips around her sixth and then she'll toddle off outside, straight as a die and bring the flagon back in. Did you used to have a vinegar man? No? Used to be common in this part of London. Some old geyser, usually with a face full of fungus and a voice like ed been gargling with gravel for a lifetime, and e'd ave a pram wiv a barrel innit that e sold the vinegar out of. No, well never mind. This neck o the woods we ad all sorts a travelling people. Tinkers, knife grinders, the lot. The traffic put the kibosh on most of em. ........"

"...... sorry, did I go off again? Right, sorry, woah, old up here she goes. I must've been gone a while there eh? See? Brown plastic - holds exactly alf a gallon. No more no less. Now Bert'll fill that and ....... No thanks Rose, we're fine here. You have a nice evening all right? And remember me to ... Yeah OK Rose. You drive safe - you hear me?"

"Now if we were to go outside, which we aren't going to on account we are gentlemen. We would see Rose cycling straight down the middle of Lamb's Conduit, wiv the flagon in the bag on her handlebars, and then she'll turn left into the traffic on Gray's Inn road whether the lights are green or red or yellow. When she gets to the Yorkshire Grey she'll park the bike up and disappear round the back - and that's where she lives. By eleven she'll be wiv her John. Now that's a character!"

"Bert! Bert! Bring us a nother couple over here will you?"

Note: Shem pre-announced this item yesterday and so I have kept his title. What I whispered into his shell-like was that I was going to write a short story about "the lady in the Lamb". What he heard, and he does have a terrible head cold right now, was obviously something about the lady with the lamp! Such are the delicate and humorous misunderstandings that language and culture are heir to.

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