We walked through the park and out again, then past Downing Street, Big Ben* and Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was closed to sightseers, unless you wanted to join in the service. There were two bouncers on the gates, deciding if people really wanted to sit through a service or not. I wonder how they decided who was a church-goer and who was a mere sightseer?
"Do you love God?"
"Do you really love God?"
"I... No. No, you got me. I just wanted to see the stained glass windows."
There was a little church next to the abbey that was open, St Margaret's and we wandered in for a look. Claire asked me what kind of church it was.
"It's so Church of England." I said, looking at the jolly little cushions hanging on the back of the benches that prevented the worshippers from having to kneel on the cold stone floor. So comfortable and jovial those C of E services!
Afterwards we realised that obviously it's C of E, because it was in Westminster and was probably used by members of parliament and the Queen at one time and the Queen is the C of E's biggest fan.
We then decided to cross the river and walk along the South Bank... Can you say 'the south bank' or is South Bank an area? Oh who knows. I feel like a really bad tourist in London, one who hasn't done any research and doesn't know how to queue properly.
It was such a grey day, the river was dark and the sky was dark, a bleak cityscape in the distance choking up with rolling, black clouds, the tops of buildings invisible in the white mist. It was bitterly cold too, a proper January afternoon, but both of us like walking so we kept going.
We walked all the way to Tower Bridge, talking as we walked about London and leaving London. Claire doesn't know if she'll stay another year. It's funny when you haven't settled into a career yet, so you don't know where you'll be in a year's time, or what you'll be doing.
At the moment I'm still hoping to get a copywriting or social media job. Although I set today aside to work on my CV and instead I'm on here, writing crap. I'm still doing the freelance work but it isn't enough to survive on and I really want to quit my pub job.
Last night was a strange night in the pub, it's what I wanted to blog about really but I don't know if I should share it, it's not very uplifting. As one of my three favourite sickly sisters wrote in Wuthering Heights:
"I'm going to tell it, but take care not to smile at any part of it."
So last night didn't get off to a good start. I was serving two Argentinian teens at the bar and asked them for ID. It annoys me that I have to ask people for ID who look 21 and under, even if I think they're over 18. Each day we sign a piece of paper that says we will adhere to 'Challenge 21' and they regularly send people in to test us.
There was one other guy at the bar and when I asked the second teen for ID (they were actually both 24 but looked as though they could have been 18) the guy, who was short and baldy, exploded:
"Christ's sake do they look under 18?"
I can't remember if he actually swore or not, but that was the gist of his outburst. I was so angry that for a minute I couldn't think of anything to say, I just stared at him, feeling anger spread through me. Eventually I opened my mouth and started shouting at him. I could have been used as the How Not To React example in a customer service training video.
I told him that I HAD to ask people for ID who looked under the age of 21 and he said that was a stupid rule and said the legal age for drinking was 18, so I told him I KNEW what the legal drinking age was and if he didn't like it he could leave.
But he didn't leave!! He stayed!! And I served him!! Like an idiot.
I don't know why I served him, I guess I wasn't entirely sure if I had the authority to throw him out. I was so angry I was shaking. When customers kick off in the pub I normally explode and I don't deal with it very well. But I don't understand why you would start yelling and getting aggressive, just because there is someone getting served before you.
I can't believe I served him. I think my brain mede me do it automatically. He suddenly tried to be really polite when I was serving him but I couldn't look at him or say anything, my hands were shaking as I put his Fosters down on the bar. (It's always the Fosters drinkers who kick off, always.)
A few hours later, I was over it. The pub had been full of Arsenal supporters but once the match was over, everyone cleared out until there were just a few people left. One of them was a regular customer, David. The first time I saw him he was wearing a huge, wide-brimmed hat and he looked like a scarecrow.
The Spanish guy who is the 'team leader' told me that David has terminal cancer, liver cancer. I can't believe he still drinks as much as he does. David used to live round the corner, but he got thrown out of his accommodation for a reason he won't tell us and was homeless for a week. He's 70 years old! I can't believe he was homeless, but the Spanish guy swears that David came in every day for a week, shaking and sleeping by the fire, until he was rehoused in another area.
As everyone cleared out, David came and sat at the bar. He kept telling me to cheer up, to smile, to be positive. I was trying my best to smile at him but he said I wasn't smiling enough. To demonstrate he would give me a massive grin and widen his eyes, which made him look like a smiling skeleton. He kept getting off his stool to do a little dance, then he'd sit back down and tell me about the area.
He said he misses the area, he doesn't like where he's been moved to. He told me that he was born and raised in the area where the pub is. Even though it's really central and touristy, it used to be really rough, which explains why some of the elderly regulars seem really skint. I guess they bought their houses decades ago when property was cheap and now they live in one of the most expensive areas in London on their little pensions.
David kept telling me to be positive. He wanted me to give him my hand so I did, because I didn't know what else to do. He squeezed it really hard and said, "I'm giving my positivity. Blahagaah osmosis you rahgrag positive rahgahblah osmosis."
It's really hard to understand him, because his voice is really croaky and he slurs his words a lot.
After he'd transferred his 'positivity' to me, I felt happier. I was bouncing around and smiling and David said to the Spanish guy, "See! It'sh workin grababa blah rah!"
Then he started look glum. He told me that he's abused himself for years, how he led 'a bad life, a wicked life' and how he can't believe he has reached the age of 70 and this is his life. I felt like I had really sucked all the happiness out of him by letting him squeeze my hand.
Then he started laughing, throwing his head back, his mouth wide open, tears streaming down his cheeks.
"Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable... I knew them, I knew them. I made wigs, I did wigs."
(I feel really mean but I didn't believe him, I don't know why, it just seemed as if he was having a bit of a mental episode, rather than telling me about his life. Maybe it is true, I wish I could find out.)
Then I realised he wasn't laughing, he was crying. He was wailing and moaning and I didn't know what to do. The few people still left in the bar looked over and looked away again. Nobody knew what to do. I was crying a little bit because it's awful seeing somebody cry, especially an old man who probably has a good reason to be so upset. How can you comfort somebody who's just told you they've ruined their life and that they are going to die soon?
We kept trying to get him in a taxi but he wouldn't leave. He started crying again and through the wailing and snuffling, I struggled to understand what he was saying, but this is what I heard:
"...see things before they happen gaaaaah brahgah a boy on his bike I grah bah snatched him up then a lorry grah rraaaah waaaah he would have been killed how do you explain that? (More crying.) It happens so often, so often... And it's horrifying. (Here he looked at me wide, scared eyes.) It's horrifying! How do you explain that? My mother had it too. Maybe it's a family malady."
Eventually we got him into a taxi but fuck me, I'll never forget his skeleton face staring at me as he cried and told me he can see the future before it happens.
Since we're talking about the occult, the lovely deputy manager at work also tells me mad stories about angels and ghosts. She once told me that someone she knows back in Poland tried to kill himself 'for a joke' because 'he likes adventure and everyone said that he can't kill hisself, so he try to do it to show them' (I really think something was lost in the translation). He was really drunk apparently and was doing something dangerous anyway, whether or not he really tried to kill himself for 'a joke' I really don't know, but he almost succeeded. He saw a hooded figure with a scythe, decided it wasn't for him and came back to the light.
She also told me that she performs colonic irrigation on herself. At first I wouldn't believe it and I kept laughing and telling her that she must be thinking of something else, then she started describing the process to me, which involves a Pepsi bottle with a hole in the lid, thin tubing 'like jelly' and a bit of water.
*It was strange to see Big Ben in his formal attire, at work. I'm used to seeing him in Holiday Mode at Gare du Lyon, joking around and being a big cockney #LAD. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should read my blog more.