It was only ever meant to be a holiday job: a stopgap to earn some money to support her meagre student grant.
In those days it was £80.00 per term which barely covered food: the rent on her tiny bed sit was scraped together by her parents.
Working at a local pub had seemed the ideal solution. No early starts, plenty of late nights, a social life and more free drinks than she could ever consume.
The downside was the walk up the hill but giggling her way back down again at the end of the night in a semi-inebriated fashion seemed to take no time at all.
The pub had three bars: the Cocktail bar, the Lounge and the Public.
The Cocktail bar was where the landlord and his cronies hung out. It was a large room overlooking the pub garden with a very small bar in the corner, dominated by a huge bottle of Bell’s whisky hanging upside-down from a giant optic. The decor was ‘posh’ in the very worst sense. A preponderance of gilt, flock wallpaper and the landlady’s questionable taste in china ornaments.
The Lounge was the domain of the football club members, and the wives who got trotted out on Friday and Saturday nights. It was a place of huge and complicated drinks rounds, far more cocktail preparation than in the bar next door and the scene of mild disagreements over tactics when the footballers returned from their match at Sunday lunchtime. There were less frills in this bar and the added disadvantage of access to the toilets meant that however many of those little white blocks you put in the urinal, there was still a pervasive odour of man-wee.
The Public bar housed the pool table and the jukebox. It was always busy on Friday and Saturday nights, and the scene of regular brawls, dodgy dealings and, as most of the male customers couldn’t be bothered to walk all the way round to the Gents in the Lounge bar, the patch of garden outside the back entrance was pungent, withered and brown from frequent after dark waterings – and worse.
She started work in the Lounge on a Monday night. Quiet enough to learn the ropes and not disgrace the landlady nor bankrupt the landlord. The other bar staff were initially curious about why this young, well-spoken girl was slumming it behind their bar but the need for money was a common denominator. It didn’t take long before her usually enumerate mind could add up the prices of the drinks, learn to pour a pint of Guinness proficiently, know when the beer was off (and not when someone was angling for a free pint) and understand the hierarchy of the customers.
She got on well with the landlord and his adult son. She didn’t tell tales when she saw them topping up the big Bell’s bottle with cheap whisky from the cash and carry; it just made her smile more when one of the imperious old chaps in the cocktail bar ordered ” a G & T for the wife and a Bells for me girly, nothing but the best I say”.
There was always a stream of staff wanting to work the Lounge; the tips were good and it was easy to clean up at the end of the night – apart from the toilets.
Three stalwarts staked their claim over the Cocktail bar so she only ever worked in there if one of them was off sick or on holiday. She hated the pretension and the landlady’s phony friends who bitched behind her back whilst she was ordering their free drinks from the bar.
Few people would have chosen to frequent the Public bar; it was very long and the pillar in the middle of it made it possible for someone with long enough arms to reach over and help themselves to lager. She loved the Public bar though. Loved the jokes and the bad taste, the cheeky complaints about her choice of music on the jukebox and the fact that here, there was no pretension, just a bunch of blokes who worked hard at whatever it was made them money and spent it freely at the pub
Going back to a college miles away from home was hard. Separation from the sea, from her family and from a regular source of money eventually outweighed the company of her fellow students and the enjoyment of learning. At the end of the second year she decided that she wasn’t going back and the landlord was pleased to take her on permanently.
A month after she should have started back at college, she turned up at the pub for a Saturday morning shift to find a note on the door saying that the landlord was in hospital. The pub was still open and the most senior of the bar staff was in charge. Everyone was subdued.
The massive heart attack he suffered killed the landlord that night and the pub shut for the rest of the weekend out of respect.
Regulars who had liked the landlord for his easy-going manner were put off by the snobbish landlady and her delusions of grandeur. She sat in the Cocktail bar with a couple of hard-core friends who were prepared to put up with her manner if it meant free booze and the odd lunch.
The Lounge and the Public continued to mourn the landlord in their own ways, and by the time Christmas came around, there wasn’t much Yuletide cheer. The landlady refused to fork out for new decorations and as always, the Public bar was left with the tatty, broken and discoloured bits and pieces that weren’t good enough for the other two bars.
New Year’s Eve came and went without the promised extension and it was a sad and sorry crowd that leaned on old, damp bar towels of the deeply depressed Public bar the following night.
A group of men who worked on the oil rigs were home on their holidays: they drank extensively, argued over the pool table and were known for their lack of patience when being served.
She was on her own in the Public bar that night, and although she did her best, people were having to wait for their drinks.
One of the oil rig men couldn’t and wouldn’t wait. He picked up his neighbour’s half-empty glass and threw the beer down her back whilst she was stood at the till getting change.
She shut the till and gave the change to her customer.
The oil rig man and his mates were laughing. They were drunk enough to find the whole thing hilarious.
She did not laugh with them.
Instead, she picked up a soda syphon from under the bar and emptied it in the faces of the mocking oil men.
It felt good.
In fact, it felt so good that she picked up another soda syphon and did it again, widening her range a little this time.
There was a stunned silence and she took advantage of the shock factor, ran into the kitchen, picked up her bag and fled.
Past the smelly patch of garden, across the busy road, down the hill and up the stairs to her parent’s flat.
She did not stop until the door was safely closed behind her and her mother was helping her out of her beer stained shirt.
Her mother spoke to the landlord’s son the next morning and said that she wouldn’t be coming back. He apologised for leaving her alone in the bar but agreed that returning would not be advisable. He made up her wages – including a bonus for all her hard work – and dropped it off later that day.
A couple of months later, when she was in gainful employment and doing a job that she was more suited to, she bumped into the landlady at the local shops,
She said ‘hello’ courteously and was rewarded with a slap around the face that rattled her teeth and made her cheek sting.
No hard feelings then.