Miserable in Winchester 02: Down the Pub. How to be miserable
Winchester is strictly ABC-list. Accountants & Advertisers and Bankers and Councilworkers. That´s Winchester. Not that it matters, in a pub.
I took my thick Austrian coat off the hook, went for the door, turned round.
„I´m going out.“
„Meeting somebody, dear?“ she asked.
„Honest or polite version?“ –
„Polite, please.“ –
„I´m going down the pub to drown my manhood in a pint of beer.“ –
„How very subtle,“ she said. „Is the honest version less understated?“ –
„Pretty much the same. Just the pub is a brothel and the beer a whore.“ –
„Now will you lower your voice! The kids might listen.“ –
„No they won´t. They never do.“ –
So the Pub it was. Obviously. There is no brothel in Winchester, cause there is no port. There is no sea and no ship, just a few ducks on a river that is flooded every other year. There are no sailors and travellers, just a bunch of local ABC-listers. Winchester is strictly ABC-list. Accountants & Advertisers and Bankers and Councilworkers. That´s Winchester. Not that it matters, in a pub. Once you enter, you drop your profession with the coat. After all, a pub is a pub and more often than not it is YOUR pub. Your watering hole, your home from home, the extension of something your home doesn´t provide.
My dear fellow Austrians, if you ever wondered why the living rooms of English houses are often so tiny, the Pub is a clue. The other one is about economy with an open fireplace. The average English Living Room is exactly as big as the average fireplace manages to heat without radiator, which is not very. Living is not exactly the accurate word for what a family does in that room. It´s more of a huddling room, a stop-over spot between dinner and bed. You huddle round the fireplace and feed it with the occasional log of wood. Then there´s a sofa or two; and a TV-set, in one of the corners. Not a massive TV-set, that would be soo Harestock or Stanmore – which are places on the edge of town. Places where they are not quite as fussy about class. But I´m talking Winchester Central here, where Middle Class is „it“ and Middle classes don´t allow their TV-set to headline the living room. That part is reserved for the mantelpiece with the fire in it and the delicate artsy bits on it and the impressive mirror above it. There you DO tradition. You relax with The Loved Ones and digest the dinner and chat the chat and watch the telly. And feel miserable, as you do. Proper miserable. And then you might go to the pub.
Two things about being miserable. One, it is not what the German speaker means when he says „miserabel“. That would be awful. No, being miserable is closer to the Austrian „grantig“, you know, that bluesy if somewhat energizing feeling of being underwhelmed – by life, by the times, by the bankers, by the performance of your football team, by yourself. By everything, basically.
Two, why be miserable? Well, it is not a big deal. It just feels right. Take the opposite. Take happiness. Happiness can feel quite nice at times, but generally it is a bit overrated, no? Look at The Happy People. They are all alike, no? There is not much variety in being happy. But there is an astonishing wealth in the ways of being miserable. Every miserable person is miserable in his or her own way. That´s what Tolstoy said, incidentally, or at least he said something to that effect. And that is that: Being miserable is really about attitude. About individualism. About being different. Also, it seems to be suitable for living in England. I read a newspaper article the other day, where the author, reflecting on the recent boom before the present bust, pointed out that „if money could not buy the British happiness, it at least allowed them to be miserable in greater comfort“. And this is where Winchester comes in. Being miserable in Winchester is misery in as great a comfort as it gets. Winchester is the richest town in England. So, in my very personal miserable way, I took to Winchester like a duck takes to the water of the river Itchen.
For me, it doesn´t take an effort to get „grantig“. It just happens. I might relax with The Loved Ones in the living room and feed a log to the fire and switch on the telly to get some news and there we go. There is something strange going at BBC News these days. All you want them to do is get some scummy banker and make him feel really bad about flushing the economy down the drain. Instead, you get – first – a rather pornographic update (tears & cash for death) about the final days of an unfortunate cancer-stricken, formerly „chav“ woman called Jade Goody whose claims to „being in the public interest“ is a reality show where she loudmouthed somebody. Following that, you get a report of a 71year old rollerblader who allegedly enrages the people of a seaside town by – rollerblading. It is all very odd. And I´m getting miserable. Again. Which is okay, but not all the time. Sometimes, being miserable can get me down. Then I go to the pub.
My pub is The Alfred. Actually, it is The King Alfred Pub and we go a long way back. To 1993. Then, I would come in and the barman would say „Yes?“ and I´d say „A pint of Fosters“ and he´d say „A pint of Fosters, pleeaase!“ Now, they say „A pint of Fosters?“ and I go „yes, please“. On a very fortunate monday I might even get „Another Fosters, dahling?“ Yes, we have grown on each other, The Alfred and me. Same with the pub-crowd. The people here are not exactly family, but they are familiar.
Today is monday. Incidentally. Going to The Alfred, it is quite useful to be aware of the day of the week, cause every day draws a different crowd. In the early years, I used to go thursdays cause we played football nearby. Now, I usually go tuesdays. That´s when „Special K“ and „True Blue“ are there. They´re my friends and please forgive the codes but I wouldn´t want to alienate them, you see. K is the one who always says „but you are home HERE“ when I mention how differently we go about things „back home“. And True Blue is a Chelsea supporter, of course, whose League Weekend Wounds are still fresh on tuesday, so he´d say „I´m resigned to Premier League failure due to lack of variety. We should sell Drogba“ or „I don´t care about League positions as long as Liverpool don´t win“. He is not a happy chappy these days, is True Blue, though now that Chelsea FC have hired a coach called Guus Hiddink, he might cheer up. But anyway, today is monday. Darts-monday. And Hull play Tottenham on telly, which means there are not many people in the Alfred. Which suits me just fine. After all, I am grantig.
Of course, some people drink here every day. There is that old geezer who looks a bit like Richard Attenborough and seems to have an off-day today, sporting a bandaged nose and muttering „it´s all because of that silly effing mother of yours“ into his mobile, which is a bit rude, really. Then there is The Old Indian Jew and he says I got a chip on my shoulder, which is a complete lie. I don´t even like chips. But so what, you know. He is one of those guys not unlike me, doesn´t quite fit in, doesn´t quite know what to do about it. He is what they call a maverick and so am I, albeit one with an accent.
So there I sit by the Bar, a pint of Fosters in hand, and there is Bargirl Amy (not her real name, obviously), one of those human Prozacs you need when times are getting overly miserable. You see Amy, you feel better, and she doesn´t have to do anything out of the ordinary for it. Just pull your pint. She wears girl-next-door and is quite pretty. Not overly beautiful pretty or perfectly proportioned pretty, but she is perfect in details. The arse, more or less. Sorry, the bottom. You got to say it in a belittling way in Winchester. „Arse“ is so London, so in-your-face, so Russell Brand (who is a comedian and has licence to talk rude). You got to say bottom. Bottom is like a nod, a nod to the ground. Look, down there, that … bottom. And Amy´s bottom is always there, it is something to rely on. A reliable time off misery. Now, where was I …
Anyway, Winchester. There are so many things to tell about this place, the people, the life, the culture, the VIPs, the everything. But not now. It´s last orders now and I´m a bit bottoms-up.