I haven’t been out for three weeks and I’m up for a big night. To prove it I’m wearing my cowboy shirt with silver buttons and crimson roses embroidered on the shoulders. I ring Trev to check in and say I’m just leaving the house. So that we don’t have to worry about last orders, I tell him, I’ve got two tickets for a reggae disco at a bar with a late licence. ‘It’s been a long time, bud!’ he says.
‘How’s the old love life?’ I say. ‘Are you still seeing that Juliet?’ Trev’s love life conforms to the rules of a narrow, traditional genre, but within these constraints it is endlessly entertaining. He is 55 or something. Juliet is 18. She and her Mum live around the corner from Trev and she pops in to see him from time to time.
I was there when they first met. Her Mum had invited a few noted local pissheads back to the house after the pub, including Trevor and myself. Juliet was there, already head-lollingly drunk and Trev exposed himself to her, I remember, by way of a witty introduction. The next day they were driving around in his old Range Rover with her head in his lap, and he rang to tell me. Then he put her on the phone. ‘A’right dude?’ she drawled. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I said. For all I know, Juliet has the mental range and stature of a Simone de Beauvoir and is seeking transcendence. But it was impossible to tell, and justly credit her for it, because her vocabulary was so small. The list of marine animals — both higher and lower — found to have a larger vocabulary than Juliet’s is growing longer every year.
The first time she stayed the night, Trev told me, there came a violent hammering on his front door at about three in the morning. Trev put on his dressing-gown and went to see who it was. It was Juliet’s Mum. She was standing there with her current boyfriend, a leading ne’er do well. They’d not come, as Trev thought, to rescue her daughter and give him a mouthful. Far from it. They said they were sorry to disturb him but they’d seen his light still on, and did he by any chance have the phone number of the all-night cheap booze home delivery service that everyone was talking about?
‘Juliet?’ said Trev. ‘Well, she still comes round to shag me now and again, if that’s what you mean, but to be honest she’s a pain in the ass and I try to discourage her. Poor little maid,’ he added, always the man for seeing, if not the whole, then certainly the wider picture.
I arrange to meet Trev in our usual pub about nine o’clock. I have a few anaesthetising scoops in another, quieter pub before wandering along for the fray at quarter past. The pub is packed out, and absolutely ‘bangin’’ as Juliet might say. I’m wordlessly offered a toke on a collapsed single skinner on the way in. Inside, a live covers band is getting into its raucous stride and everyone seems to have already achieved that separation from reality that is the entire point of going out. There must be ecstasy or MDMA in circulation this evening, too; I can feel the love. An insanely loved-up woman I barely know hugs me and hangs from my neck, bleating my name. At the same time, this bloke whose psychosis is pretty much permanent, and who is always cadging drinks off me, cups his mouth to my ear and whispers urgently, ‘Just one. Please. I’m begging you, man. Just one.’
The barmaid sets a pint before me without my asking. ‘And one for Teddy here,’ I say. And Ted, overcome with gratitude and brotherly love, secretly reveals something down around his groin area, as though he’s allowing me a glimpse of a pocket revolver, except it’s a whacking great lump of hashish, black, an ounce at least. And he breaks off a madly generous lump and puts it in my hand.
Reaching up and placing my pint on a shelf above the door, I go outside among the smokers again. Trev’s out here, just arrived. As he steps forward to greet me with a hug, a young woman with blonde pigtails glides between us. Trev does his comedy sex-maniac face then reaches out and yanks her back by a pigtail. And that’s it. Game over. She’s his for the night, apparently. He’s pulled, and in the most literal sense possible, and I’ve lost my drinking partner before we’ve even bloody well started. Even Trev can’t believe it. He’s apologetic. ‘Sorry, bud,’ he says. ‘Open your mouth and shut your eyes,’ I say forgivingly, reaching for the lump Ted gave me.
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