Jeremy Clarke

Under pressure

A social leper tells you of his miserable existence

Text settings

Friday night I put a clean shirt on and went up the Griffin. On Friday nights the Griffin is taken over by bikers. You know the kind of thing. You go in and it's all heavy rock, leather and the smell of skunk.

The bikers were singing a song about the landlord on Friday. To the tune of 'Bread of Heaven' they were singing, 'The landlord takes it up the arse!' It was funny to see how hilarious these bikers thought their song was. Well, the landlady, his wife, wasn't having it. Trembling with rage, she climbed on a chair, found her balance, cupped her hands round her mouth and yelled, 'Just because he takes it up the arse doesn't mean to say that he's a poof, does it! The only poofs in here are you lot!'

I had to push my way through to get to the bar. When I got there, the barman asked me whether I was going to leap over the bar again like I did the last time I was in. I said I thought it was unlikely. I took my pint into the adjacent pool-room.

I used to play a lot of pool. I had a job once, in a halfway house for recovering psychiatric cases, where all I did was play pool all day with a succession of drugged-up schizophrenics. The pool table was a good one and the standard of play of these schizophrenics was high. One of the reasons it was so high, I think, was because of the major tranquillisers they were on. Yes, they had the shakes, but more importantly they didn't panic or become frustrated when they missed the pocket. It was this unemotional approach to the game that made it such a good school to learn at. That was ten years ago, though. I haven't played much since. But seeing that floodlit baize again, I was overcome with nostalgia and put my 40 pence on the table.

The bloke I was up against clearly thought he'd been born to play pool. I got the impression he was the pub champion. When he addressed the cue ball, people turned to watch. To address the cue ball, he got down low and squinted through the smoke spiralling from the roll-up stuck on his lip. He struck the ball with confidence. He was a roller rather than a blaster. Nothing pleased him more than a gentle touch-in. His first pot was a long one-hit to perfection that dropped in a corner pocket without touching the sides. 'Shot!' I said. He ignored me.

When it was my go, my game was hampered slightly by one of the onlookers. There was a row of bikers on a long bench, all of them completely off their faces. As I got down to address the ball, this biker woman made it her job to put her head in my face and shake her hair violently from side to side in time to the loud rock music coming out of the juke-box. Nobody seemed to think that this was in the slightest bit unusual. But I'm not making excuses. He creamed me fair and square, this bloke. He broke (nothing down); I missed an easy tap in; he cleared up. I offered him my hand and he ignored me again.

Now I don't mind being beaten, but he'd insulted me as well. 'Another one?' I said. A barely perceptible suggestion of a shrug. I set them up and broke. Without bothering to bend down to address it, I slammed the cue ball so hard that two balls, a spot and a stripe, flew off the table. My opponent effortlessly pocketed three successive stripes, then tried to tickle in a long one and missed. He examined his cue tip as if it might have been the cause of his error. I pulled off an almost impossible double and smashed down the rest without pausing between shots to think ahead. I beat the bastard.

I went to the bar to get another drink. While I was waiting, I noticed that Sharon had come in with her new boyfriend. I noticed her because her boyfriend had thrown a large gin and tonic, glass and all, at her from the other side of the pub. It had missed and sort of exploded on the wall behind her.

While her boyfriend was arguing with the landlord about whether he could stay or not, I went over to see her. She said he'd thrown the glass because he was drunk and because she was spending too much time talking to other men. While she was telling me about her holiday in Morocco, a handsome young biker bowled up to her and asked her whether she'd like to go for a spin on his Buell. 'Sorry,' said Sharon, 'I'm having a row with my boyfriend at the moment, so it's a bad time to chat me up.'