Sunday, May 7

Venue

When my parents die, I think that I will miss our afternoons down the pub most of all. If I should visit them and there are no great plans for the day we will all – my parents, my youngest brother, my middle brother, his fiancée and child – walk to the pub, which is a shade under a mile away, overlooking the sea. These are my favourite times. I have spent so much of my life in pubs, but to be in one with my family, whiling away a Saturday afternoon, is sincerely one of my greatest pleasures.
However, the walk down there is tedious; everyone is weekend-lethargic and in no rush at all. I walk fastest and so lead the group, pausing every hundred yards for them to catch up. ‘Hurry up!’ I shout—‘Put the kid in the pram!’ At the coast, we descend to the promenade. Outside the café a group of boys talk about pubic hair, dogs dig in sand, old men paint their beach huts. The sea is there but holds little attraction to me; it glugs, impedes and recedes, froths at the mouth, and layers a salty good smell into the air. Many are quite satisfied to recline in deck chairs outside their huts, revealing pale legs, and drinking cups of tea poured from a worn-out thermos. Others busy themselves with various tasks of general upkeep. Despite the temperature, children play in the sea, not venturing above the knee, and it is their calls and shrieks that perforate the waves most noticeably. My youngest brother walks in silence, as do I. My middle brother talks to my dad about work; his fiancée talks to my mum about anything and everything.
At the ground floor of a hotel is the pub. The pub is ugly sibling to the hotel. The latter makes more money and, in addition to that, doubles as a wedding venue. Earlier in the day my father cycled past to ensure there was no wedding taking place. Upon entering a pub, one must prick their ears to get a sense of the atmosphere they are entering. Fortunately this pub is quiet. Two old women chatting, an old man asleep, a young couple staring at the sea. We take a number of tables and chairs and organise them in the corner, where the child is less likely to get in the way, then we arrange the chairs into a paddock and place her there. My father makes the order and I carry the drinks across with my shaking hands. Sometimes it goes onto the carpet. Nothing but pub carpet. This must be the place. Bags of crisps are split open and then everyone cheers’s. Only my parents and I drink alcohol.
Then we talk, all of us, one conversation, different points of view, many jokes. At regular intervals I will read aloud the football scores. My niece is well-behaved; she enjoys the selection of crisps, recommends the salt & vinegar. She is a source of entertainment. During moments of silence, even between, eyes fall on her. When she is unaware of the stares, she is most beautiful. I could watch her for hours, only to smile and swoon over her mannerisms, the shapes that her mouth makes when she is playing with something of interest, or the way her fat little fingers work the toys her mother brought along. As soon as she realises people are watching, the show is over – for me at least – and she starts to perform. The pub is a stew of white walls and maroon furnishings. It is lit dimly and most of the light enters from outside, grey and weathered.
The old man wakes up, gathers his paper and returns to his room upstairs.
The young couple are looking at my niece; the girl with a hearty swell, the boy with a forced enthusiasm.
The two old ladies are still talking, not having quieted for a moment, the only other source of sound, sat forward in their chairs, old friends who used to occupy the park bench.
We will have two drinks before lunch comes. When it arrives, we make room on the small table and share, but continue to chat through the side of our mouths. After I have eaten I will leave for a smoke. I look around my old hometown and feel strangely still a part of it, notwithstanding having left almost four years ago. Something about it still resonates in me, not so much the people, but the landscape; the summer-season town butted up against the lacklustre sea, the emptiness of half the view, the hovering gulls, and, over all of it, the memories. I check the football scores.
‘One more?’ I ask, upon rejoining them.
‘What d’you say?’ my dad asks my mum.
‘Go on then. One for the road.’
When we walk back, there is a greater sense of urgency – for some reason – and everyone walks faster. The wind is against us now, tussling our hair and weakening our voices. We go past the old playing fields. The gulls are landed, all facing in one direction. We walk and walk. I look forward to taking my trainers off and relaxing for the evening. At home, I make cocktails and my parents and I continue drinking. We will drink until dinner.
After all of that, I am happy. If there is no one else about, my mum will kiss me good-night, even though I am now a guest in her house. If there are other people about I will become sad that she has not kissed me. ‘See you in the morning.’ I prepare myself for bed and I think about the day and the pub and I think that it is one of my favourite things.

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