When I was eighteen, for less than a year I worked in a pub in my hometown. I got £4.75 an hour and it is by far the most I have ever enjoyed a job. The joy of those early workplaces when your earnings were pocket money and nothing mattered.
I was the youngest and pretty green, but I worked hard and gained the respect of my colleagues and even of the strictest supervisor, Angie. Plus the regulars liked me and knew my name and that meant something.
There was tipping at the pub, but tipping meant they said have one for yourself and one meant a pound, not a drink. So you would take a quid out of their change and put it in your jar by the till.
This one guy, Dimitri, would buy £2.05 single shots of Jack Daniels, pay you with three pound coins and tell you to keep the change, so you had to keep putting 95p in your jar which was heavy and annoying.
The boys never earned a penny though, so I shouldn’t complain.
Some regulars were known only by their order. Like Strongbow or Half Pint Of Lager And Lime or The Stolichnaya Boys or Stella Man or Two Pints of Carling Then Two White Wine Sodas Every Day at Five Before Driving Home to His Wife.
Stella Man was an alcoholic. There were lots of those, but he looked really ill with it. He was quiet and polite and Angie told me his wife had died. On Christmas he paid me for his £2.67 pint with a fiver and told me to keep the change, which was huge because he never tipped anyone. Angie said, Did I see you get a tip off Stella Man? That’s a big deal that is, love. And I felt genuinely sad when, a few months later, Angie told me he’d died. I even felt a little bit responsible. He was early fifties, if that. I said, What was his real name? But I don’t remember now what the answer was.
My favourite regulars were Colin, Alan and Frank. They drank Carling out of Grolsch glasses and were such a threesome that if one was missing you’d say Where’s Colin? Where’s Alan? Where’s Frank? They called me Keez and greeted me like an old friend. When I moved to London for uni, they got me a leaving card with three lottery tickets inside. They’d chipped in a quid each. I think Colin probably organised it but they’d each signed their own name. I said I’d split it with them if I won.
Looking back, I can see that it wasn’t the best job. I can see that the friendship I thought the chefs showed me was something closer to bullying. I can see that it wasn’t funny that you got lemonade in your tip jar if Angie thought you’d made too much and therefore must have been flirting, not working. I can see that it wasn’t ok how much drunk people would casually touch you. I can see that I shouldn’t have taken it as a compliment when I found out the landlord only hired girls he thought were attractive.
But I’ve thought about that pub and its people, about Stella Man and Angie and Dimitri, about Colin, Alan and Frank probably more than you’d expect over the years. And especially now that I’m back in my parents’ house, where everything about my past life – past self – feels close. Where all those memories are extremely near the surface.
Still, I wasn’t expecting them to boil over.
Of course it makes sense that most of those people still live round here, still go to that pub most likely. But I wasn’t expecting to confront that reality. I wasn’t expecting to bump into Colin, Alan and Frank in the street.
But I knew it was them straight away. They looked exactly the same. Only, Frank wasn’t there.
We passed each other on the pavement and Colin nodded and smiled in the way that you acknowledge a stranger. I had sunglasses on, but perhaps I’d already slowed down. Perhaps I was already staring.
And I almost stopped.
I almost said, Colin?
I almost said, Sorry. You probably don’t remember me. It’s Keez. I used to work in The Crown? I don’t know if you remember. It was thirteen years ago. But it’s Keez. From The Crown. Hi.
I almost said, Where’s Frank?
But something stopped me. And they kept walking. And the moment passed. And I thought about turning round, about shouting after them. But I didn’t. Then they were gone.
And maybe I thought they might be going somewhere, might be in a hurry.
Or maybe I didn’t want to vocalise a nickname I almost never hear anymore, let alone call myself.
Or maybe I was worried for the answer about Frank. He’d never been the healthiest, even back then.
Or maybe I was scared that after all this time, despite the pints served and the hours talking at the bar and the leaving card and the lottery tickets. Maybe, actually, they wouldn’t remember me at all.
A version of this post was sent by email on the 7th June 2020 as part of Internet Care Package – a weekly memoir project in the form of a newsletter. It also includes links to the best things I’ve found on the internet each week and occasional updates on my theatremaking. This blog is a select archive of those emails. Subscribe to get them right in your inbox.