Years ago, before the Committee regained the will to live, we had a vice Chairman who was very keen on sports.
We had just been given an eight foot screen, ceiling-anchored projector and surround-sound speaker system, all of which had been employed for three, indeed three power-point presentations by a local businessman, and was then destined for a skip.
One fairly miniscule begging session on behalf of Movie Night later, the Club had become the proud beneficiary of very expensive and astonishingly new technology, which would prove a major draw for all manner of televisual events.
The vice Chair, all vim, pep and enthusiasm, suggested to the Committee that we take the bull by the balls and start showing international football and rugby.
It was a World Cup year. Not limited to England games, we could show Scotland as well, and we’d be certain to pull in an audience of sports fans. Plus, sports fans have always been quite infamous for toasting their team’s success and drowning all manner of sorrows with the best of them. Sport on a big screen would bring in major moolah.
Our Chairman at the time indubitably yearned for the position of the last Chairman; he would have enjoyed the self-appointed title, and could say to all and sundry that he’d kept the place limping along for as long as humanly possible.
He wasn’t overly happy with this sporting suggestion, but as everyone else on the Committee seemed happy, he went along with it. One lazy Tuesday, he rang me at home.
“Make yourself useful and open the bar tomorrow afternoon. We’re doing the football,” he stated.
“Who’s playing?” I asked as if it meant anything to me.
“Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” he floundered.
My eyes narrowed almost audibly. My knowledge of football is weaker than my understanding of geography, but my hearing was dead-on at the time.
It seemed I would be cleaning the bar for a fruitless few hours, justifying my wages and watching the clock until the Branch Meeting later that evening. I wondered how many books to bring with me for the afternoon of silence.
Arriving at the Club at 12.30, I was quite shocked to find I was not the first one there. A well-built chap with a jawline for days had heard we would be open. He was getting married on the Saturday.
It was time for a drink.
I set up with an audience, first time ever, and started pouring the ale. I put the football on in the background, but my drinker wasn’t really interested. He didn’t have jitters. No concerns at all, in fact. However, this lunchtime session might be his last as a free man. He intended to drink quite an amount.
I’ve been a barmaid for eight years now. I can say with absolute certainty that I have never seen anyone drink quite so much in one afternoon as I did that day.
I started serving from just before one in the afternoon. Having always nurtured a tiny hope of winning the lottery, I had planned to leave the Club between the football and the Branch Meeting to go and buy my lottery ticket, and look forward to a future of questionable friendships and bills paid in a more than timely fashion.
I told my drinker of my intention to nip to the shop. If I could leave him outside the building around six o’clock, just for five minutes, that would be great, I told him. He agreed, through a fog of honeyed bitter.
Six o’clock came and went, but he didn’t. He was rather addled. The finest of all my drinkers, he never got into arguments, he didn’t throw his weight about or bad-mouth his missus, he didn’t throw up. He just quietly fell asleep with his head in his hands. Leaning on my bar.
The Branch Meetings still start at half-past seven. The Branchmen arrived in their suits and ties, their shining lapel pins, their fresh-trimmed nails and reverence. They stood for the exhortation.
My drinker, having stumbled through to the lounge bar, flopped his weight from the barstool to just about upright and echoed the statement, loosely, “We Will Remember Them”.
The Meeting finished and my drinker was still there. By half-past ten, I was tired. It had been a long day, and it’s never fun being the sober person in the room. I offered to drive my drinker home, wherever that was. I had no idea. He asked for one more for the road. I will say it was obvious he had had a drink, but having had a nap as well, he didn’t seem quite so inebriated. I acquiesced.
The one for the road was pint number twenty-two.
As I bade him goodnight, I cleaned the bar for the fourteenth time that day, made sure all the bottles were replenished and the building left straight, set the alarm and made my way out into the darkness.
I had only driven about fifty feet, when I saw a large, dark figure zigzagging somewhat unsteadily across the road and talking to his boots.
I got him home and he can’t have been too drunk because the wedding went ahead as planned.
Possibly, having trained his stomach and his gag reflex for some years, he was better at downing a vast number of pints than most of us. However, the fastest downing of a Guinness was clocked in at just over four seconds, by our friendly local goat farmer. And the record for mixing is held by the loveliest of our over eighties.
We had a Race Night, a very useful little money-spinner for any local organisation. There’s usually some drink involved, a little alcoholic frisson to add to the nervous energy of betting on horses and races that have already happened. The names and colours change but everyone has a giggle.
The best of the old boys started with a pint of lager, which quickly became two, then there was a double scotch, a pint of Tetley, another Tetley, and two pints of Guinness, washed down with a double Navy rum.
He once told me that I didn’t really smoke because when he was young he would get through an ounce of tobacco and a ten-pack of branded cigarettes in a day.
It was clear, I was in the presence of greatness. He’s still my favourite.