The rain spits a little more urgently, a little more aggressively than last time. A couple of kids slide past me up the hill: quiet, intent. The station – and all it means – finally starts to fade from my mind. A single punch of thunder signals – wearyingly – that it’s all about to happen again. The lights. The spinning. The silence. The shadow. The new-old life. This one, they tell me, is comedy, not tragedy:
Ray Winstone owned this pub. It always used to be full of bikers. Who, at closing time, would stumble out and have a piss in the graveyard of the church where my parents (and Thomas Hardy) got married.
It was strange having two fathers. The barman tells me (I stupidly didn’t ask before ordering a pint of Old Mad Jack’s Steamily Naughty Peculiarity (c) (TM), the only bitter they have) that they’re not showing the match in here: they’re showing Liverpool’s inevitable defeat and Celtic’s inevitable defeat but not Tottenham’s. Ah well. I’ll try The Taps. I finish my pint, step over the unconscious biker (who’s been lying in the doorway here since 1979) and walk round the corner.
It’s pouring down now. Cats, dogs, walruses, an elephant or two, a red squirrel. A local byelaw – originally made by Henry VIII back in the days before he was the bloke from Homeland – insists it must always rain in Enfield. They’re taking it too far tonight though.
I can feel that back-in-the-old-hometown mix of melancholy, a damp collar and a tight, sclerotic eagerness. I think to myself: if I ever write anything about tonight, about this particular life, I must use the word ‘sclerotic': she’ll like that.
As I walk into the fake-Irish-road-signed, fruit-machined and rusty-chromed cave – narrower than that alleyway where we kissed that time – the first thing I see is a big bald bloke with his hands round the throat of a pretty Asian bloke behind the bar.
BBB: ‘Some fucker just walked in on me while I was having a dump.’
PAB: ‘You should have locked the door.’
BBB: ‘I did.’
BBB lets him go, mumbles something about Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and our need to stare into the abyss and then wanders off to the back of the bar. The barman seems unmoved by the whole thing. Which I’m pleased about because I desperately need a drink. And I miss her.
‘Pint of bitter please. You showing the Spurs match?’
‘What Spurs match?’
‘Make that a double JD.’
It turns out they are showing the game, though on the smallest television screen in the world. Which is high up on the wall in the corner of the bar. And basically a matchbox with a tiny mirror glued to it. I pull up a creaky bar-stool, try to ignore the armed police – those unmistakable Versace uniforms! – who have just flooded in and rushed past me, the one at the front shouting ‘He has to be in here somewhere, Lucan can’t hide forever’. There’s that familiar sound of an AK47 shot, a thud and then the theme music comes on. Europa League. Quarter-Finals. Thursday night. A watered-down whiskey. It doesn’t get any better than this.
A couple of geezers – heroin-thin, cheap-tattoo’d – plonk their stools down next to me. One is drunk. The other looks like Leo Sayer. And is drunk.
The match kicks off. We look good. We always look good for the first ten minutes. Leo Sayer – bored already – leans over and tells me he loves Emmylou Harris and is from Clacton. I tell him I once went to Clacton and ate the best chips I’ve ever had. With Emmylou. He tells me his mate Cunning Steve owned that chippy. I don’t ask.
They score. The opposition. Italians. We’re losing. After 12 minutes. Leo’s mate says, ‘I hate it when the other lot score. It makes me want to batter someone.’ He looks around, nudges me: ‘that c*nt over there, he looks like a fucking Gooner to me. What do you think?’
‘No, don’t think so’, I say, ‘He hasn’t got a copy of The Guardian or a tweed jacket.’ Ohgodohgodohgod. Spare me from 1978.
‘2-1! We beat The Scum 2-1!’ Leo is singing. It’s better than ‘When I Need You’ but only just. I order another JD, straight, no ice. Pretty Boy gives me a Teacher’s with ice and coke. Close enough.
The coppers come back through the bar. One is bleeding from a head wound and smiling. They’re dragging a black bloke in a green-and-white-hooped shirt with them and he’s fighting them every inch of the way. The struggle stops between us and the screen.
‘Out the fucking way!’ shouts Leo. There’s a snarl, a fizz, an ‘Oooooowwwwwww!’ and Leo collapses to the floor. They’ve Tazered him.
Lamela misses a sitter. The coppers finally manage to drag the Celtic bloke out of the place. Leo climbs unsteadily to his feet, sits back down on his stool, starts declaiming ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ at the top of his voice, mumbles ‘I hate being a Yid’, then falls silent.
Ten minutes to go. 1-0 down. I’m missing her. I’m missing my childhood. If I stay here much longer I’ll be missing teeth. The barman walks over to the television, turns the volume down. There’s a roar of expletives, grunts and primal screams. He shrugs, looks at us and says, ‘It’s time for karaoke, we always have karaoke at 9.30 on a Thursday. If you supported a decent team, they’d be playing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and you wouldn’t have to miss the end of the match.’
Silence. He stares at us. We stare at him. Six or seven girls – blonde, fake-tanned, henna-tattood, full of swagger and Bacardi and chewing gum – stagger past, carrying speakers, microphones, a massive vat of what looks like urine but might be beer. The men around me stare at them, full of some vengeful, half-real lust. There’s a groan. 2-0. The girls start setting their equipment up, the blokes around me couldn’t care less anymore about the football. I finish up my drink, step out into the cold Middlesex night.
I stand there. Left to the station or right to my old house? The lights. The spinning. Shit. It’s time to go again. I hear her voice tell me she’s glad she’s not a man. Comedy, not tragedy. And then the pain comes – and the shadow – and it all bloody changes again.