Thursday, 15 January 2009

The League of Gentlemen

The seas may rise. We might end up carrying cash around in wheelbarrows, just to buy a daily newspaper. Civilisations could clash. Perhaps we're all going to Hell in a handbasket. But there is one thing, one small but significant thing, to which we can cling.

The ability of men, of all ages, background and persuasion, to gather in pubs to talk complete rubbish.

I was reminded of this at the weekend. We'd been out running errands in the morning, and Katie decided I needed lunch and a pint. She is clearly aiming for early sainthood with such clear and accurate perception. Unless there already is a patron saint of daytime drinking. Is there a St. Amy? Who knows?

So we were sitting, tucked away in a quiet corner of the Bull's Head in Hall Green. A pint of Bombardier was quietly working wonders as we waited for our meals to come. And I was distracted.

A group of men, mainly in their forties and fifties, were at the next table. Between them, they were setting the world to rights. No subject was to be excluded from their discussion. Politics, environmental issues, the luckiness of Aston Villa from set plays and whether Trevor was likely to get out of bed that afternoon.

There was a gentle beauty and rhythm to it all. It was banal yet profound; structured yet informal. Individual conversations would break away from the main discussion, then rejoin at random. I could tell, from listening to the conversation, the stories, the banter, that this group had probably gathered here for years. It's a little hard to explain, I suppose. But the simple pleasure of sitting around in the pub, not aiming to get drunk, just to pass time in the company of your peers, should never be underestimated.

Of course, I recognise that any attempt to describe the above as "gentle beauty" or even "interplay" is poncey in the extreme. This is the pub. And this is what chaps do.

The "not getting drunk" bit is quite important. In these days of binge drinking, what the world needs now is more gentle consumption. The more enlightened brewers actually make beers - so-called "session ales" - that are designed specifically for situations just like this. They're lower in strength, helping the participants achieve a higher state of consciousness without ungentlemanly silliness. And this has a positive effect. Waves of gentility spread out to the other denizens of the pub. All is well with the world. The chaps are here. Apart from when Dave nips out for a smoke, of course.

Katie, being doubly perceptive, whispered to me: "You so wish you were part of that, don't you?" She was right, of course. I'd been painting myself wistful for the previous five minutes, as Keith expanded on West Bromwich Albion's defensive weaknesses with Trevor while getting into a mild argument with Dave about wind turbines.

I was wistful because I don't really belong to such a group. The people I went to school with are scattered across Europe. My brothers are busy doing their own thing. I'm therefore doomed to a life of pleasantness, drinking beer on my sofa in front of repeats of QI. There are worse ways to live, of course, but I was missing my own band of brothers, my happy cadre, my chaps' company, my league of gentlemen.

But then this morning I got an email. From a friend, who I'm not going to embarrass by naming. "A few of us gather at the Westley every now and then," it said, "you should join us next time we get together. It's not a regular thing, but perhaps we can form a drinking fraternity."

Delirious happiness ensued.

The prospect of imbibing room-temperature ale while talking abject bollocks never sounded more tempting.


Tom said...

Oh, great! Now I'll be painting myself wistful for a week at least. What you describe is absolutely my favorite pastime. I don't even drink and I could spend hours in a dark corner of a quiet pub and discuss everything under the sun.

I need to move to Birmingham, I'm pretty sure. I would start drinking to be in a fraternity like that.

Kudos to Katie for noticing your longing and recognizing it for what it is.

David Edgar said...

Oh ar.

Rebecca said...

Apart from when Dave nips out for a smoke

Oh, so there's no smoking indoors over there now? I thought that was strictly an American thing.

fatboyfat said...

Tom: anytime you're passing...

The Edgar: Never a truer word.

Rebecca: It's been like this for about 18 months now. Of course, the mediterranean climate for which England is famed means that this causes no problems whatsoever.

the wife said...

Tom - extra kudos to me, as I volunteered to drive home, thus ending up with a blackcurrant and soda, so that my beloved could sup on a pint of Bombardier. Mr FBF may want to remember that for future reference methinks!

Anonymous said...

A little bit of heaven, indeed. Nothing suits me like an evening of almost-tipsy conversation.



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