I’ve seen this building thousands of times, with its huge brass lion, painted red once upon a time, weathered over the decades, suspended high above, jutting out over the street below.
Even when the pub changed hands and names (in my lifetime it’s been The Golden Lion with accompanying paint job, a dire attempt at upmarket drinking called The Avenue where someone I know is now severely disfigured after being glassed in the face on a night out there, then the short-lived Dandelion Bar which required more policemen than bar staff, now back to The Red Lion with its carvery), the lion stayed up there, guarding the edge of town.
I remember looking out for it when I was a child, and now I point it out to my niece and nephew when we go past on the bus. The ground floor has always been a pub, probably since the Victorian age like most of the pubs around here, but I’ve never known what the other three floors of the building are for.
I look up at the windows now. Some are cracked, some panes are missing altogether. The windows are tall, meaning high ceilings. No curtains, no lights on, nothing to suggest any activity or life. The paint around the glass is peeling, a pigeon coos from a ledge. I always thought these rooms were abandoned but yesterday I noticed an open window which was not open last week. Who was up there? Who opened it and why? I look at the window now and it is closed. I resolve to ask the landlord what’s upstairs, or rather who.
In the meantime I return to my salt & vinegar crisps and sauvignon spritzer, my supper. I look about the garden and even the trees are tired. One is shaped like a submissive praying mantis, arms flopped, drooping, defeated, begging its partner to devour it, to put it out of its misery.
The car park is empty, except for three boys with skateboards who, according to my nostrils, are smoking (poor quality) weed. I remember how I used to smoke in that car park every morning before school. We could hear our school’s klaxon from here, warning us that we had 5 minutes to finish gossiping, douse ourselves in Britney Spears perfume, chew some mints and get to class. I wonder if girls from my school still smoke here now. Probably. We learned it from the older girls, they learned it from us and they’ll teach the younger ones in a never-ending cycle of bad habits and bitching and behaving badly, all in the name of popularity.
A few tables away are some young Muslim men, breaking Ramadan with pints of Stella and all-you-can-eat roast dinners from the carvery. I wonder if the roast chicken is halal. Then I cringe at their non-ironic use of the non-word “vacay” when discussing their summer holiday plans.
I can hear two women talking about how much they hate their kids. I recognise them, and know that one of their sons works behind the bar. She phones him, from approximately 15 metres away, and shouts at him to bring out another bottle of wine and “fucking hurry up about it” because she “ain’t getting any younger, ya know.” He brings it out and she scolds him for answering his phone while he’s at work. He smiles at me but it’s a sad smile. I return it.
Suddenly a police helicopter swoops overhead. We hear it before we see it, and six people swiftly move under the massive sun umbrella then retreat to their normal seats once it’s gone. “And they say that pigs can’t fly. Ha!!” one guy grumbles.
Just as suddenly, I want to put my head on the picnic table and cry but then I remember how my brother called dad’s urinary catheter a ‘cafetière’ and can’t help but laugh. I watch the sun set on Tuesday 7th June 2016 and am glad that I will never have to live this day again. You won’t have to either.