I can’t believe I’m almost halfway there to doing 100 days; my next milestone target. I haven’t really had any cravings the last few days which is a good sign. I’m still counting days but not in my mind; I need to check with the day counter app on my phone now because I don’t think about it enough to remember without the app.
Over the last few weeks I’ve thought a lot about the role alcohol has played at various points in my life; in the past and more recently. I can think of a lot of amazing times I’ve had while out socialising and pubs have previously played a big part in my social life. I don’t go to pubs very often these days and if I do it’s usually for a meal or at a nice country pub rather than a going out ‘down town’ sort of a night.
Pubs do have a darker side though and today I found myself remembering some of the varied incidents I’ve had when I walked into the ‘wrong’ pub. Here are a few of those times…
A friend had come to visit me for a long weekend back when I lived in London. On the Friday afternoon we went to meet what was to be my new landlady and sign the lease for a new flat I was moving to in north London. We arrived early so we thought it would be a good idea to kill some time in the pub opposite the tube station.
In we went and ordered 2 pints of lager at the bar. It turned out to be a very ‘Irish’ pub and as we were English we weren’t welcome. A rough-looking fella stomped up and stood next to us at the bar and I still hadn’t twigged, thinking he was just coming for his next drink. To better put it in context, this was the 90s when the IRA were actively bombing in England, particularly in London. This bloke got right in our faces and called us ‘Fucking English bastards!’ We walked away from the bar and downed our pints and got the hell out of there, never to return. I think I probably set a personal best for downing lager that day.
Another time, in south London. I was with an old boyfriend whose sister asked us to meet her at a pub in Brixton. In we casually strolled and everybody stopped and turned to look at us, most with a very pissed off look and a couple of guys stood up ready to throw us out. It was a pub where you weren’t welcome if you were white but as the boyfriend’s sister had a kid with one of the barmen she was accepted as family and once vouched for so were we as ‘extended family’. That was another rapid and uncomfortable pint as although the guys backed down from being physically threatening they made no effort to hide their hostility and resentment at our presence.
A few years later I was visiting a town called Haarlem in the Netherlands with another old boyfriend. Haarlem is far less touristy than its big neighbour Amsterdam and so we decided to go into one of the local pubs or cafes as they are called there. It was a ‘brown cafe’ with lots of old dark wood and everything stained dark brown from years of cigarette smoke. This one was called De Komedie and had a circus theme. There were photos and paintings of creepy clowns everywhere and thick rugs draped over the tables. What was most memorable about the place were the people in there.
Everybody was older, probably 50+ and completely and utterly hammered. The two women behind the bar – who looked like sisters – were swaying and staggering around serving the drinks. The drinkers lined up at the bar were loud, slurring, argumentative and incoherent and I’m surprised most of them could stay upright on their bar stools. I would say it had a ‘last chance saloon’ feeling to the place but to be honest I think a ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ description would be more accurate.
We were treated really well though and made to feel welcome by both staff and locals. One of the women from behind the bar made a big gesture of setting up a table for us with beer mats, an ashtray, a candle and a single flower in a small vase. She made us comfy and brought the beers to our table with a smile. It was bizarrely touching to see something done with such care and attention by somebody who was absolutely pissed out of her mind.
To be honest I found the place really disturbing and quite heartbreaking and it left a deep and lasting impression in my mind. I wondered what had happened in their lives to bring them in their later years to such hardcore and destructive drinking. I thought about my own drinking and questioned if I could ever end up in their seats. We could only bear to stay for one drink but left an overly generous tip when we went.
This was probably about 13 years ago when I was in my late twenties but I still think about that cafe. I split up with the partner I went there with but we have stayed friends and even now, when we feel like our lives are threatening to spin out of control or we get lost in depression or fears we refer to it as feeling like we’re ‘going to De Komedie’.
I do hope that at least some of those drinkers have managed to find a way out of that destructive cycle. It still makes my heart feel heavy when I think of them and it also acts as a potent reminder of where we can end up if we don’t take care of ourselves.
Take care of yourselves today, then sleep well, gather your strength and do it again tomorrow – that sounds like a much nicer cycle x