What Previously Passed By For Reality

2 March 2008

When you step through the doors it's already clear that it's not a very good place to be. Not because it's too dark in there but because it's too bright – lit wide, harsh and indiscriminate – fluorescents bouncing in all directions. The bar itself is an island structure of wooden veneer in the dead centre of a room comprising yellow stained and painted walls given recent respite by the smoking ban but still looking well sick, propped up, pinned down or held in place by an arrangement of random slot machines. Above the bar there's a large square of mirror tiles on the needlessly high ceiling – the tiles themselves appearing like a remnant of some other decor, some other logic, some other time. Look up there now and you just get a pointless surveilance-eye view of the dry and rotting insides of some plant pots stacked up on high shelves or else a vertiginous look down on the balding heads of some blokes sat right on the other side of the bar. It all depends on your angle of course and you figure out that it probably pays not to be slumped like the old guy to your right, whose head is rested at a drunken angle so obtuse you can't even start to triangulate his view. Everyone in the place looks like they've been in here for some time. Days certainly, weeks even. Others blend into the carpet and the wallpaper in ways that make you think they might have been here years. Life meaning life.  Frayed personalities. Old wounds. That dispersed cluster of people sat or stood here and there round the wooden stools of the bar who give off an energy like they might all be the publican or a barmaid or just a regular regular that helps out from time to time. A family extended so far that it becomes meaningless, unsure of its own edges. Division of labour. Distributed consciousness. A woman with a handbag, all dressed in brown. A blondish woman in green – 30-35 maybe going on 50. The guy you have to step past – a stumbled 'shall we dance?' moment – has kind eyes long ago exploded with drink to watery pools, a dirty football shirt. Toothless laughter from some old guy hunched at the bar. From the other side comes the sound of singing, you can't really see who but the ceiling mirror points back to the bald heads. 

At some point the Sky Sports commentary/soundtrack that grips everyone and no-one gets replaced/drowned out by an unexpected track from the cd jukebox and there is some yelling, some waving of arms to unplug the fucking thing, get Tony, the remote, or reboot or turn down. The music lingers, unwelcome, then goes sent back to the ether or the methadone. You are back to the football already when a bloke barges in from the street  very rapidly, followed by some other bloke in hot and cold running pursuit, the latter with his fists swinging and yelling a whole lot of fucking this and fucking that. Straight line from the door is the determined trajectory of GBH or wounding with intent at which the extended and dispersed group around the bar reforms into new shapes, an amoeba steeped in Carlsberg, all yelling, defending the chased man, making lunges to grab the other one, legs and arms everywhere. Stools are thrown around like street trash in a storm – half-hearted weapons, then temporary barriers. There are scuffles, grabs. A temporary standoff. You meanwhile have edged (rapidly) to the other side of the low table, just slightly out of striking distance but trapped between it and the wall. The fight lurches again, you calculate some possible exit routes as the yelling kicks off once more to a background chorus of 'call the police'. Sky Sport continues where in the old days the piano player would've stopped. The intruder gets pushed out the door in a flurry of fists but then just seconds later comes charging back again, double-quick-time, for a rebate of scuffling before a final expulsion.

All this followed by a long, drawn out confused and overlapping dissection of what happened, what started it, who started it, what's wrong with Jean Paul who loudly protests all innocence – they just came by in a van, they were outside, just came by stopped the van and were shouting something then the whole thing kicked off. Speculation that the guy that came in just now had a knife. He had a knife in the back of his jeans or in the back of his belt. He had a knife. Something about him going back to a van to get it. Something about a knife. He had a knife down the back of his jeans. Some saw it, some did not. You sit again. Various figures in action – the woman in brown takes her handbag upstairs for no particular reason,  a friend of Jean Paul goes to peer from the back window, someone else to peer from the front doors to see if they are lurking or plotting outside. No, apparently not. Just traffic. Passersby. What previously passed by for reality ebbs back in again slowly, very slowly, and you think about leaving, eye the door space. As you sit there and think about it, the watery eyed bloke emerges from a door at the back somewhere, walking very slowly, carrying a baseball bat and a long handled garage mechanics wrench made of rusted metal, one makeshift weapon in each hand, then leans them up next to his stool at the bar all casual-like, in case of the intruders' recurrence, and fluidly re-engages in the general level of chit chat. Things quieten down. A new person enters, unaware of what went on before, orders a drink. His mate arrives. The place becomes less like an amateur warzone and just another horrible pub. Taking this perhaps, as a sign to exit, you drink up, and leave.