I went over to London that summer to earn money for my college fees. But as soon as I arrived there, I ran into some fellows I knew from Galway. They were drinking. So I joined them and didn’t look for work until I’d spent all the money my parents had given me, and then there was nothing to do but find a job in a pub. I saw a notice one day in the Morning Advertiser, the publicans’ trade paper. The Southampton Arms—opposite Mornington Crescent tube station—needed a bartender. I hurried round.

One morning in June, after I’d been working behind the bar for about two weeks, Lionel, the governor, called me aside at the door to his office. “You see the old blighter with the white hair sitting in the public bar? The one wot drinks only draught Guinness?”

“I do,” I said. “I just served him.”

“His name’s Snowy,” Lionel went on. “I don’t want layabouts like ’im served in my place. But I can’t keep ’im out. I’ve got no reason. He’s too crafty for me to find one.” Lionel hesitated and lowered his voice. “I want you to discourage ’im from coming in. You know wot I mean, right?”

I stared at the gold ring on Lionel’s left hand and the chain bracelet round his wrist. He was a short chubby man, a Cockney, who’d grown up in the Elephant and Castle, but he carried himself with a grave self-importance and went to absurd lengths to appear like a member of the gentry, a fox-hunting country squire, the type you’d see in the pages of Country Life or Horse and Hound. That day he was decked out in a Tattersalls vest, a silk cravat with a diamond stickpin, a tweed jacket with leather upper lapels, and beige cavalry-twill pants.

I called him Lord Muck—but not to his face. The thought occurred to me that Mavis, Lionel’s wife, had told him what Snowy had said about the queen. Maybe that was why he wanted to get rid of him. It had happened in the public bar the day before.

People on couch
To continue reading please sign in.
Join for free