Sunday, 29 May 2005

A chat with Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Here’s another bore, quite unforgettable although it’s many years since I met him.

We didn’t have gap years in those days, but there was always a few months to wait and my fill-in job was as a barman at a pub in Tooting, South London. Then it was a fairly deprived area; it probably still is, relatively, but nowadays if you want to buy a one-bedroom flat there it will set you back around £120,000.

When the head barman told me his name was Macbeth I said “What bloody man is this?”, which was both feeble and pointless, since, as I later discovered, The Thane of Cawdor wasn’t even in that scene, but I was only seventeen. Anyway, I think he thought I was just being offensive.
But he was a friendly and helpful man, and on my first day he gave me a warning: “You want to watch that old chap in the corner”.

“Why”, I asked him, “is he dangerous?”. But Mac just smiled and said, “You’ll see.”

Later, when I went round collecting glasses, the old man beckoned me and I went over to him. He was certainly Ancient, and may well have been a Mariner, but he didn’t have a long grey beard and his eye was rheumy rather than glittering; before I could ask wherefore he had stopp’st me, he pulled out a battered old tin fob watch and began to speak.

You must imagine the story told over many minutes, with repetitions and long pauses while he lost the thread, took a sip of his half of mild or just decided to rest for a bit, and punctuated with frequent interjections like what I meanter say is. This is a greatly abridged version:
“My grandfather gave this watch ter my father when ‘e was 21, my father I mean. Course, when ‘e died, the watch come ter me. Now. I got two daughters and THEY got two daughters, each of ‘em. Now, what I wanter know is, what’s gonna ‘appen to this ‘ere watch WHEN I’M GORN?”

Eftsoons his hand dropt he, and not a moment too eftsoon. I couldn’t answer his question, though long afterwards it occurred to me that I might have suggested that he left instructions for the watch to be buried with him as a memorial to his grandfather. Anyway, when I went back behind the bar I told Mac I didn’t think the old boy was all that bad. Once again, he just smiled.

The next day when I went to collect the glasses I was beckoned over to the same table; out came the watch and:
“My grandfather gave this ……..”
I worked in that pub every day for seven weeks, which is why I have never forgotten that watch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Barman's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin ;
The words are met, the tale is set :
Timeless watch the merry din.

(At least the re-telling of the story wasn't boring!)

Great White North Boy