I was asked to choose a public place or space, observe it and write about it – find the drama in it.
A Wetherspoon’s pub, I thought – refuge of the common man and woman.
I chose the one in Liscard, Wallasey – a place that’s literally at the end of a road to nowhere, on the northern tip of the Wirral Peninsula.
In theory, Spoons pubs should be good everywhere, selling decent ale and wine cheap and with food available from morning to 10pm-ish. In theory …
There is no juke box or piped or live music. Good. No darts board. Good. (Look this is only my opinion …)
And the Wallasey Spoons has attractive ochre and brown carpeting and lots of cosy booths and wood panelling.
But there's something unpleasantly industrialised about this chain of pubs. They’re too big – cavernous barns. The bar staff are usually young, and lacking in character.
And splattered across the walls and all the tables are big, garish menus and drinks posters. This promotional garbage ruins the atmosphere.
Then there are the customers ... I shamelessly listened in to people’s conversations and observed their movements and behaviour (because I’d been asked to, see * at the end) when I called in for a late lunch recently.
I ordered food and a glass wine of and gave the charmless barkeep my table number, as demanded, resisting the impulse to tell her: “I’m a free man not a number!”
I sat down. To my left four men in their fifties and sixties are being lairy. Roars of laughter, coarse cackles – quite cheering at first but it soon starts to grate.
Immediately in front of me, in a beige windcheater and wearing trainers, is an elderly guy sat on his own reading the Liverpool Echo. Reading it like an old person; methodically, page by page, not just flicking through.
In front of me, a couple in their early thirties, out with their baby. An air of sadness hangs over them. They seem to have had an argument. Their baby is placed right on the top of their table in its carrier thingie, surrounded by pint pots and empty crisp packets. Doesn’t seem quite right somehow,
To my right, a trio of local girls (judging by their Scouse-ish accents) yammering away non-stop. “She wouldn’t shurrup about it,” one of them says. “Why didn’t yer come to our party? Why, she kept sayin’. Was it because Jamie was there? F**king hell, I don’t even know who Jamie is. She’s mad, her.”
Behind them three youngish local people, two women and a bloke. With them is an older guy with a southern English estuary accent. He’s loud too. It’s an unattractive accent, in my view, jarring on me, winding me up. Suddenly he’s bellowing into his mobile: “Where are yer, babes? ‘Old up, I’ll cam ovah and see yer. Give us a capple of minutes, I’ll be there. Don’t move.” He makes his excuses and leaves.
My meal arrives – a very industrial curry. The nan bread is floppy, like it’s been microwaved, and the poppadoms, instead of being fried, have been grilled – nasty. The meal comes without the promised mango chutney. “Oh yeah," says the hurried and disinterested waitress. "I’ll get you some. I’ll be back in a minute."
Now a man, possibly mentally ill, has sat down on the table right next to me. He is staring at me and smiling, maybe leering. I don’t like this. I feel uncomfortable.
Then he starts sneezing. Really loud. He’s having a total sneezing jag. Now, I HATE sneezing! Sneezes are right at the top of my list of things that can't be tolerated, alongside wire coathangers and Phillip Schofield.
It’s getting ridiculous. I’m counting his sneezes. Twenty-four so far … twenty-five. Some of his snot must surely have gone onto my curry and into my drink. He’s sitting very close to me.
I can’t bear this any longer. I get up to go, leaving half of my meal and quite a bit of wine. Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one! Is he ever gonna stop?
The young women across from me are also leaving the pub, seemingly for the same reason. One of the girls says, “F**king hell, that guy’s sneezing for England.”
* I was asked to go to a public place, observe, and write it up – part of a play writing course I’m on at the Everyman in Liverpool.