Martin nodded at Jimmy, and then quickly scanned the public bar, nodding his head as he observed the assembled drinkers, mostly regulars all busy muttering small talk at each other. There were a couple of working-girls cackling obscenities while they wagged their little fingers at each other obviously mocking the manhood, or lack of it, of a nameless punter, the market boys, happily getting pissed, still celebrating England’s recent world cup victory, or to be more precise,
“It was West Ham what won it for us, our boys showed them krauts how to play football eh lads?, I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air, they fly so high…”
By the fireplace, as ever, sat some local old-boys, flat-caps parked on the table next to their tobacco as they played cribbage and reminisced in front of half drunk pints of stout. A couple of Mooney’s goons were brashly attempting to chat-up a pair of bored looking sales girls from an Oxford Street store, the men, animatedly waving their hands as they re-enacted a recent arrest which quite possibly involved some of the other drinkers, currently making up the Friday evening clientele.
Martin uttered to himself; He’d been frequenting the ‘Coach as it was commonly known, for a couple of years having discovered the place while doggedly pursuing one of his musical idols after they’d finished their pre-gig sound-check at the nearby Marquee club, one Tuesday evening. He’d followed the tall, skinny guitarist and clearly insane drummer into the boozer, determined to get his own band a support slot, only leaving after having been given the phone number of their management company. Nothing had ever come of it, at least not in musical terms, he’d gone to see Mr Meadon, but shortly after their meeting and the promise of a support gig, he’d been kicked out of his own band for smashing a cymbal over the guitarists head. It hadn’t been a complete waste of his time though, as the very cool, if not a little erratic, pill-popping, Mod manager, had introduced him to Blind Geoff as they’d sat in the ‘Coach getting drunk together.
The Pub was divided into two rooms, the saloon bar and the public bar, the former being frequented mainly by drinkers who saw themselves a rung or two higher up the British ‘social ladder’, the public bar, home to people who had probably never been given the opportunity to drag themselves from the bottom of it, if indeed they were ever sober long enough, to either care or bother.
A group of pinstripe-suited businessmen sat in the saloon, drowning themselves in gin and tonic as they engaged in animated conversation, while reclining in the somewhat shabby, but familiar and comfortable upholstered chairs. Occasionally, they would collectively chortle while casually smoking expensive cigarettes and unsubtly glancing at Sassy as she tottered through the room, cleaning ashtrays and retrieving empty glasses. Pre-theatre drinkers, in evening dress and a handful of sharply dressed, local ‘faces’ made up the remainder of the pubs collective identity, all of whom were glued together by the ever-present pall of second-hand smoke, that drifted through both rooms, as it carried the laughter and secrets of those it smoothly shrouded, regardless of the rounding of vowels, the flatness of cap, or indeed, which side of the law they inhabited.
Jimmy expertly delivered three separate orders for drinks, dropping ice cubes into tall glasses, then dispensing various spirits into each, not missing a beat as he spun and shimmied his way round the circular bar. Victoria returned from upstairs and she and Sassy continued to oblige the constant demand for more drinks from the barrow boys and the equally thirsty, arrogant gin drinkers, collectively creating a boozy, boisterous hum inside the pub as the evening came alive, Martin handed Jimmy a small plastic bag in return for a crisp £5 note, then headed out the door as the veil of smoke thickened and both the refined and uncut laughter got louder.
As soon as she saw that her staff had things under control, Victoria took up her regular perch on a bar stool just inside the saloon, a vantage point from where she could both observe and hold court. She was never happier than when Lola was sound asleep upstairs and she was free to chat with her regulars, or at least those she felt comfortable with. Mooney aside, there were very few punters she didn’t get along with, given enough gin, she could feel comfortable talking to anyone, a scant consolation for the fact that the one person she really wanted to talk to, continued to pretend she didn’t exist.
She’d taken a bit of a shine to Martin of late, although he was ten years her junior and obviously completely unsuitable husband material, there was an inappropriateness about him that almost penetrated her own, unwanted, but seemingly irremovable cloak of emotional unavailability. While she had only momentarily allowed herself to even consider getting to know him better, Lola now absolutely adored him. Over the past few months, she’d started to accept the various toys and occasional bags of sweets he’d brought into the pub for her child, whereas anything Mooney had tried to offload had always been refused, or gone straight into the bin the minute he’d left. There was just ‘something’ about the young musician that forced a smile onto her face, every time he entered the pub. Sassy had noticed it and one afternoon, had somewhat clumsily suggested that perhaps it was because Martin reminded her of Lola’s dad Ray, at which point, she’d ‘reminded’ Sassy, that
“If I ever hear you mention that bastards name in this pub again, you’ll be looking for another job, do I make myself clear?”
Sassy had turned bright red as she’d bobbed her head affirming she understood exactly what Victoria meant, she then attempted a more vocal apology, but Victoria and already turned away and dashed up the stairs to pour herself a stiff drink and have a good cry before Lola got home from school.