Posts Tagged ‘reading’

pub culture

July 17, 2009

Pubs, man. Literally, what is the point? This could prove unpopular, but I cannot think of somewhere I would least like to be stuck for an eternity.

Sure, Shaun of the Dead proved to us that they can provide a reliable stronghold against an undead invasion, in Eastenders it has remained a vital location for major plot development – so much so that The Queen Vic is almost a synonym itself for pub. But you must be forgetting, Withnail and the tentatively named Marwood suffered a most unwelcome anxiety attack in the face of some hefty, burly gentlemen in The Mother Black Cap, and this is exactly the kind of experience I resent being subject to in pubs. We are all familiar with it, someone infinitely more confident, more butch, more feminine, more grounded, more weathered approaches you in a pub and already you know you have to act fast you could very well be exposed. (In this article ‘you’ represents ‘me’ or ‘I’ – make sure to substitute it where relevant, as I am very aware that this is the kind of experience that some people get off on; some like Hentai, other likes pubs. It takes all kinds.) It’s not that I don’t think I’m not bad at pretending to be at home in a pub, I can blag my way through most awkward social situations by bringing up a cricket match I know to have happened recently or leaping in, just before the silence becomes crushing, to refer to something I think might vaguely relate to to whomever I am talking, perhaps a beer I know they once drank (“What’s with the prices these days?”, I might exclaim, or even better, “Ah, a pint of *insert name*, solid choice”), in a desperate bid to revive a stagnating conversation, to keep it going like some weary, stilted game of Pong in which no one wins, one is merely the first to walk away. Rather, I’d just not have to experience it all to begin with. But still, I continue to visit pubs – well, pub, and one that I have had the unrestricted privilege to work at, so I already know most of the ‘punters’ – and this would seem to directly contradict my main point; why frequent if you know you’ll feel uncomfortable, and why feel uncomfortable when you know you can stay at home and feel happier on your own.

Well, I think it has something to do with fitting in. I know the people at the pub remark on my anti-social behaviour, and perhaps I’m trying to counter this by going through weeks in which I’m the very definition of decadence (by my own meager standards) by drinking myself to the edge of sickness at the bar and then generally accosting people I once vaguely had a sort of friendship with. Except, by doing this I inadvertently expose myself as a massive fraud – it’s clear from my bar-hanging and my ridiculous attempts at talking about sport and drinking that this doesn’t really come very naturally to me. I much prefer the pretentious, metrosexual (what does that even mean) aura (probably quite a metrosexual word) of a coffee bar (definitely a metrosexual place) to the testosterone injected air of my local. Pubs just aren’t very fun. They’re a trial. A test. An exam. I have enough of them at university. But still, if I do not try this, if I don’t attempt to visit the pub every so often and fake my way into normal society, I shall feel as though I’m merely cementing what has already been suspected of me by my ex-co-workers and ex-patrons, that I am not really pub material. If this was X-Factor, I’d have dropped out long before the queue of people began to filter through the auditioning room. Simon Cowell would never have had to think of some biting, if somewhat bland, put down to my pathetic charade of pretending to be a barman. He wouldn’t even know I existed. And this, I think, is better. Better than having to appear every so often and act and drink like the majority of people I used to spend a great deal of time with, albeit in a ‘work environment’. But very few of my friends actually like coffee, and even less coffee bars (a tragic failing on their part, I like to believe). So it is, I frequent the pub to keep my flickering IV connection with the real world alive.

Don’t get my wrong, these are all tremendously nice people – and do not seem to mind that I do not match with their own view of life. I just feel fake. And their ever-welcoming arms, and their ever-ready pints just make this fact even worse to bear. We all know this is just some silly, social charade, but, dammit, it’s what we must endure to maintain expected convention.

I also seem to always, totally unconsciously and somewhat accidentally, over do it. I always drink far too much. I always talk far too freely. I always hang around for far too long. The business men who come in, order a pint, down it, and drive off at a billion miles an hour to some orifice-tightening meeting, in which the very fate of our world is discussed, have the right idea. If only I could mimic them. If only I could nip in, say my ‘hello’s’ and ‘how are you’s’ and be done like that. Then I think the pub wouldn’t be such a daunting place, simply because I’d be in for a lot less time. So, you stupid fucking moron, I hear you say, why don’t you just spend less time there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because when I am there, and drinking inadvisable amounts of potent fluid, I begin to think to myself, actually, this isn’t too bad, I’m actually quite good at socialising, yes, I think I shall stay a little longer. Unfortunately, a little longer turns into the entire night, and by the end of it I’m saying my awkward goodbyes to people used to hugs and kisses and God knows what else. I arrive and fall into a hideous möbius loop of cigarettes, alcohol and ridiculous conversation. Yes, this isn’t the first time I’ve used the möbius loop as an analogy in an article, well observed – I fear my life is dictated too often by those infernal strips.

Pubs are too promiscuous. Are people flirting with you? Or are they simply pretending to flirt? Or are they, in fact, just acting like any normal human being, and that, because of my social hibernation, I have forgotten how normal conversation works. The pub I frequent used to have an employee ratio that veered heavily towards the XY chromosome pattern. Not so anymore, there are at least three times more women working behind the bar than I used to know, back in my comfort days. This makes it even more difficult, re; the flirting. Obviously if a guy was flirting with you it was a joke, or a very ill-judged… judgment. As a straight male, it’s much easier to avoid going to bed with a man than it is entertaining the idea of going somewhere, to do something, with a woman. Just. Though with a man there’s none of the post-coitus hassle; nobody is pregnant, and there’s a higher chance both of us came, thus both parties are satisfied, we could both go on our way with none of the bitter parting that I’ve generally come to know. I’m aware this point, this nervous teenage-hangover is completely my own doing, but still it exists, and I’m acutely aware of it when at the pub and drinking, and drinking, and drinking; don’t say anything silly to a girl, don’t say anything silly to a girl, don’t say anything silly to a girl. To date, I’ve offended them with a liberal use of ‘cunt’, I’ve completely lost their interest, and thus their company, and I’ve come over as either overbearingly feminine or miserable. But I haven’t come across as sexually perverse or excited. So, in a strange sort of way, I’m doing quite well.

Perhaps, because I used to work at the pub, I feel an unnecessary burden to meet and greet everyone I think I might have known in ‘the past’, like the mother of some irritating child at their primary school fête. A quick word of advice, don’t do this, it’s just stupid. As a result, my conversation becomes like some repetitive PowerPoint presentation of my life up until this point, some insipid slide-show in which I tell them the same tales I told them last month, last year. Maybe it’s best to move to an entirely new pub, in which nothing is expected of me, and I quite happily sup my cappuccino from the darkened corner of the room, whilst I flick anxiously through a book I’m pretending has my complete, undivided attention. But that’s a whole other ball park, a whole new set of social fears and mistakes of etiquette to be made. That, in other words, is for another time.

the history essay

December 1, 2008

It’s great being an expert on historical events. Being able to pluck a name from the air, and weave bloody and gory stories around them. Dropping intelligent, yet witty comments in casual conversation with mates dahn the pub. It’s great. Except, I am not an expert. Neither do I go ‘dahn the pub’. I have, however, just completed a 2,000 word essay on certain aspects of crusading in the Middle Ages. It may look like a fairly pithy amount, sure, compared with the heavy-weight textbooks I have been ploughing through for the past three decades – essay preparation does relish somewhat in its ability to give a completely distorted concept of time. But it seemed like a fairly pithy subject to being with. Oh, how wrong I was. How incredibly moronic I was, to think that 2,000 words would give plenty of room for me to divulge in tales of adolescent excursions, and eschatological prophecies from harbingers of doom, destruction and anti-Semitism.

It all begins with the reading you do. You go to the library. Take out several of the biggest books you can find – regardless of suitability or language; I always find the brightly coloured ones most appealing, personally. You take these back to your room, place them beside the laptop – that quietly powers away, tempting you with its warm hum of procrastination, and YouTube videos of idiocy. And then begins The Reading. The Reading can be the single most painful, non-fatal process any human can experience – short of performing a self-tracheotomy with a bendy-straw, whilst simultaneously giving yourself a foot-bath, with your feet submerged in a pool of hydrofluoric acid. Other times it can be a truly enlightening experience. But once you’ve been sat staring at the same page for hours upon hours, dissecting the tiniest nuances of each sentence, of each word, of each mark of punctuation, it does tend to drag.

There is something wonderful in the way historians write. The same sentence that states simply, for example, the number of countries visited by a pilgrim, seems also to flow on forever. An endless tide of commas, and semi-colons – hyphens and quotation marks; as if the historian, momentarily mad, has been caught in some syntactic Möebius loop, falling endlessly back upon themselves as they struggle to regain a foothold in its purpose. Elsewhere, out of the blue, astonishing, mono-syllabic remarks are made – like it’s God’s honest truth, and anyone who questions it shall be branded either ‘pleb’ or ‘nincompoop’. I sometimes fear we are all victims to some hilarious joke they are playing on us. A trick, where they see how many nonsense-sentence they can hide within one book, then one chapter, and eventually one page.

So, you’re reading. And soon you’re lost in this wonderfully calming ocean current of informative prose. The kind of reading that makes you feel better about the world in general. Better about yourself – confident, knowing that you have one more tid-bit of information to produce over dinner. But it doesn’t last. And everyone just thinks you’re a self-gratifying tit anyway. And you stumble back into the arms of Plath, for a soothing bout of melancholy. Or don the headphones for another reassuring round of sardonic Mancunian wisdom.

Meanwhile, The Essay still looms. The vast expanse of blankness, of empty Word documents, tentatively awaiting the first glorious ounce of pressure produced by your fervid fingers, just sits there. Blankly. Blank… And then it hits you! O, Divine inspiration! O, Celestial awakening! Your fingers run in torrents across the keyboard, a veritable blur of fleshy phalanges. At least, they do for the first 1,000 words. Upon reaching the big One Zero, Zero, Zero, you inevitably realise that either all your decent, highly original and ground-breaking points have been made, or that you’ve completely avoided answering the question. Instead, building a highly floral image of something with very little substance. The Jessica Simpson of academia.

Despite this, some superhuman force within you drives you ever forward, ever closer to that two thousand mark. And then eventually you reach it, no matter how vague or irrelevant your conclusion may be. And inside your own little microcosm, inside the tiny self-perpetuating world that you’ve built up around yourself in this time of intensive studiousness, inside your own scholastic kingdom you celebrate! It doesn’t matter that nobody else cares, because it’s your kingdom, and you will celebrate! You run circles on your wheely chair. You put on your favourite upbeat song. Turn it up to eleven. And march around your kingdom in laps of sweet victory. You have defeated The Essay, and it is taken straight unto the humanities office. There She Goes, My Beautiful World!