Dark grey overcoat, a crisp white shirt, tan ankle boots. A black leather jacket and Buddy Holly glasses, second hand brogues. A formal velour blazer with collar up and battered baseball trainers. Cigarettes are lit with purposeful strides, three Valkyries, laconic with pride approach a pub on the corner next to a church.
Boney, Arthur and Alex, slick silhouettes in mid-March gloam spy young revelers and in they go. This pub was built for eccentrics to compare eccentricities, for students to fabricate Facebook memories; a sterile, seedy glamour has been copied, pasted and splashed all over the walls. Even packed to the rafters it’s a vacant lot.
Boney is thirsty takes the lead and nimbly weaves through the crowd, he looks huge and is, touching no-one he lands at the bar, three pints. The barmaid’s plain so no need to chat but Arthur’s hungry, he wants roasted nuts so Boney passes the pints, turns back to the bar, smiles apologetically and asks for something more. Indignant, the barmaid hands over the nuts, even more plain now. Boney rolls his eyes and passes the bag to Arthur who is visibly wounded by the fuss. Alex is scouting for seats but sees none so heads off to the back room, down a sloping corridor towards the bland tones of a piano playing.
A well-studied Bohemian sits at the piano, clinically trotting out the chords and singing a melody with indistinguishable lyrics which seem to be his own. “Christ”, leers Alex through a wry smile as the soloist bobs back and forth eagerly, head tilting to the left then the right. A few of the massed undergraduate audience turn to inspect the newcomers but quickly refocus their attention on the entertainment, seemingly gripped by the laborious spectacle.
Boney is looming theatrically above a pair of demure young girls, asking them loudly if they have room at their booth for a few more. They don’t but nod obligingly, squeeze into the corner of the small, padded enclave as the trio triumphantly reclines beside them. Introductions are quickly made and each name is just as quickly forgotten. Drinks are downed and Alex heads for the bar, Arthur leans into Boney, eyes fixed on the pianist,
“This prick is powerful weak”
“Powerful weak…”, sighs Boney.
“C’mon let’s go”, Arthur snaps back, jerking forward as he does.
“No need, just got here sport”
“This flailing dickhead is giving me a migraine”, replies Arthur gravely.
Barely listening, Boney mumbles something about having another drink before turning to the prettier of the two girls, engaging her in as banal a conversation as he thinks he can get away with. He smiles jovially as he prattles, she seems basically intrigued by his company and Boney is content in return. Meanwhile, Alex is back, carrying three whiskey and sodas with all the nervous precision of a tightrope walker. Glasses clink and drinks disappear.
“Steady as she goes boys! Steer the course!”
“My round, same again?” yawns Arthur.
“Yaw yaw, very good Sir”
Alex and Boney watch as Arthur steams up the sloped corridor and promptly bumps into a rather disgruntled looking patron. Eyes lock, limbs prime and seconds pass before Arthur gives the now offended patron a hard derisory pat on the shoulder. The patron seems lost as Arthur blows him a kiss and lopes off to the bar. As the patron slowly descends the ramp he nervously scans the crowd for witnesses or perhaps allies but finds neither. Instead he is greeted by the provocative grins of Boney and Alex as he passes the booth and, at this, side steps an invisible object so as to give the pair a wide berth.
There’s always an air of tension in the company of hippies, a complete lack of tolerance for intolerance. The bovine hoard of this piano bar is a bitter sight for this trio of agents. Boney closes his greying eyes and imagines rows and rows of pristine recycling bins, patiently waiting to slap their lids up and down in raptured applause when The Shameless Tinkler deigns his opus complete. When Boney opens his eyes not only has Mr Tinkler stopped playing, he now stands peacock proud in front of the booth and its occupants.
“I’m collecting voluntary one pound donations for the artists”, he claims with empty pint glass outstretched.
“Beg your pardon?” Arthur, amused, aghast.
“Artists!?” Boney, amused…really rather amused.
“Yes, one pound each please for the artists who are performing for you tonight” Tinklers liberal indignation rising.
“Apologises but as said donation is voluntary I would like to graciously decline on behalf of myself and the other occupants of this booth” Alex states severely.
“You’re seriously just going to sit there enjoying the music and not contribute anything?” spits The Tinkler, genuinely bemused.
“Enjoying?” chokes Boney.
“We have nothing positive to contribute to this farce and neither do you apparently. Now cease and desist or fuck off if you prefer” Alex retorts, irritable now.
“I’m getting the manager; you guys aren’t welcome at my night” The Tinkler curls, postures and minces angrily to the back rooms.
Suddenly Arthur pops up all piss and vinegar and hastily starts bashing out a clattering, pseudo-Little Richard riff on the temporarily vacant piano. The natives quickly notice the tonal shift, hackles rise, Boney and Alex rise also, smelling the inevitable hubbub brewing in each revolting stab of the keyboard. Now shielded by his bodyguard, Arthur is a menace, dancing across the chords helter skelter whilst shrieking a near hysterical scat into the eyes of the void audience. Boney looks on as this little nook filled with its little students becomes an effigy of inertia, every salvo of Arthurs assault is a little whiff of grapeshot for the insignificant. He closes his eyes again, welling slightly, he sees cannon, dazzling clarity…and…CRESCENDO!
A bouncer crashes in, tackling Arthur and a glorious melee ensues. Boney is lifted from behind and tilted forward, he counts Converse All-stars as he is spun, rag dolled, through the maze of skinny jeans and vintage floral skirts. Alex is somewhere in the mix grappling with The Returning Tinkler and manager, who is busy, coordinating the now imminent expulsion march of the marauding martyrs. Boney sees only the sticky floor of the narrow corridor, then briefly the varnished wooden slats of the front bar before feeling the cold blast of night and the damp of cobbles on hands and knees.
Arthur is treated to the reverse; he’s blinking in the glaring lights and the downturned, sneering faces of drunks before the same cold blast and a damp arse. Alex, extricated from his struggle, leaves unmolested. He strides erect into the street, turns and bellows, arms splayed,
“The people don’t want freedom! It must be forced upon them!”
Alex bows, recovers his associates and together they drift soft and easy into the gloam. The gloam sweet gloam.