Bored witless, I go into town with no particular intention other than to get out of the house. I think about going to the pub but each one I look in is empty. The streets of the town are empty, the pubs are empty and I’m empty. The only place with any sign of life in it is the British Legion club. Through the first-floor window I can see people with pool cues moving around.
I press the buzzer and am let in. My friend Rick is in there. He’ll have a pint of mild, he says, but he can’t buy me one back. He’s a bit skint at the moment. I offer his friend one as well, but his friend says he’s OK for the moment. The beer is amazingly cheap.
I’ve not seen Rick for over a year and I’ve forgotten what a very great bore he is. Always when he sees me, he turns to whoever he’s with and says, ‘See him? He’s a whore of literature.’ Rick is sitting with an old bloke who is doing everything he can, dress and hair-wise, to look young. Because it’s what I do too, I take an instant dislike to him. ‘Tell me,’ says Rick’s friend. ‘What was the cornerstone of your desire to become a journalist?’ ‘Money,’ I say. ‘So tell me,’ he says primly, ‘why don’t you make a living selling drugs?’ And that is the extent of my conversation with him.
I turn from Rick’s intellectual friend and try Rick, to see if he’d changed his song at all since I last saw him. He hasn’t. He’s still going on about all these various women who are after him. I haven’t seen Rick for ages, but he doesn’t ask me anything about me, he just launches into his latest women problems. And you only have to look at Rick to see that it’s all a complete fantasy. Sad really. He’s 55, with Bobby Charlton hair, one leg shorter than the other by a good couple of inches, rotten teeth, and he smells of fish. He smells because he lives in a semi-derelict church and, although there is water running down the walls, there are no actual washing facilities.
So I watch the game of pool in progress and half listen to Rick’s sexual fantasies for a while. One of the recent complications of his hectic love-life, he tells me, sotto voce, is rats in the bedroom. He’s taken this gorgeous 25-year-old to bed with him the other night, but she’s fled after a rat has shot across the counter-pane. ‘It puts women off,’ he advises me in all seriousness, ‘having rats in your bedroom.’ The most surprising element of this particular fantasy, for me, is not the rat or the gorgeous 25-year-old – it’s the counterpane. I thought he slept under a pile of old newspapers.
There’s a pool match going on, British Legion B v. King of Prussia B. Rick is captain of the former. He punctuates his confidential sexual fantasies with shouts of encouragement to his players, who, it has to be said, need all the encouragement they can get. ‘Shot, Jim!’ he shouts, or, ‘Well left!’ For crucial shots he suspends his filthy narrative altogether so he can give the pool table his undivided attention. ‘So I get my hand…Think about it, Ronnie!’ Ronnie is faced with an impossible snooker. We watch in sceptical silence to see how he tackles it. Ron strikes the cue ball hard. It bounces off all four cushions without hitting anything, loses momentum and drops into a corner pocket. ‘So I get my hand right in,’ says Rick, and his unimaginative sexual fantasy resumes.
It gets to the stage where I’m watching the pool and only pretending to listen. Then the bar manager comes out from behind the bar laden with little wicker baskets piled up with roast potatoes straight from the oven. He places one on our table. ‘Did you know there was a whore of literature in our midst, Dave?’ says Rick, pointing a finger at me. ‘No, I didn’t,’ says Dave politely. ‘Dave – whore of literature. Whore of literature – Dave.’ I offer Dave my hand. Dave looks perplexed.
The thing about Rick, though, is that he has a heart of pure gold. His church, though semi-derelict, is a sort of unofficial hostel for the homeless. He lets people stay in his church for nothing and for as long as they need to. And he helps them in any way he can. He’s a kind of very boring saint, really. Some of his immediate neighbours hate him. There’s only one rule: no drugs. As he gets mostly alcoholics staying, the rule is largely irrelevant.
So I can look at his innocent, strangely unlined face with its wispy beard and the unlit roll-up stuck to his upper lip that waggles as he speaks, and even though I am so bored I am fast losing the will to live, I can look in that face of his and feel a tremendous love for it. Once a year is about enough, though.