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Pubs, Fuffs and Hangovers

January 21, 2013 | by Faber Social

Tags: Here Comes Everybody, James Fearnley, The Pogues

‘This room smells of fuffs!’ my dad would say. ‘Fuffs’ was the family word we had for ‘farts’. Of a Saturday morning, he strode across the room I had when I spent a year at home – retaking my A levels after failing them at boarding school – more or less holding his breath. He threw the curtains open with a slashing noise and wrestled the casement window catch as if warding off a snake with a stick. ‘And the fuffs smell of Boddingtons!’ he said. ‘Noxious with fumes, your brother’s room!’

At the weekends, my brother and I went down to the pub – the Bridgewater was the closest, after that the Egerton Arms, or up to the Cock on the East Lancs, or along Worsley Road to the White Horse, occasionally to the White Swan in Swinton, or down the old railway line to the Blue Bell in Monton.

The Bridgewater Hotel had been renovated more than a few times since 1965, when I had been corralled on my way home from primary school to go in there to get a packet of Park Drive for a labourer. It was just a flagged hall with a staircase coming down into it, a counter where they sold cigarettes and doors off to the saloon and the vault. In the seventies it went through the last days of the Raj. For a number of years, it was carpeted – due to the Bridgewater Canal across the road – with a motif of narrow boats against a blue background, though the canal itself left a livid orange tidemark on the ducks that swam in it. Manchester United footballers started going in there and at the weekends it was rammed. The Egerton Arms was plain, with beams and a horse brass or two. The Cock was a bit of a hike, through the woods or all the way up Walkden Road. It was spacious inside, with a jungly carpet, square recessed wooden columns, a fireplace, beaten copper pitchers and plates and lurid pottery ranged across the pelmets. The White Horse near Moorside was a narrow, white-painted place, shrinking away from the road. There was a bar at one end and, from March to August, a guy called Nick Hodgson could reliably be found in there. For half the year, by foot, he sprayed weed killer on the pavements. He wintered abroad. The White Swan at the foot of Partington Lane was a massive, brick-fronted building with a tiled floor and panelled rooms. The Blue Bell was the Eccles Sixth Form College students’ local. There was a sticky green patterned carpet and a fireplace and a view across Monton Green. It was base camp for parties and after-hours drinking the year I spent at home, retaking my A levels.

There was lager, pilsner, bitter, mild and mixed. There was Bass, Burton, Boddingtons, Robinsons, Kronenbourg, Heineken, Mackeson, Carlsberg, Holts, Holsten, Watneys, Guinness and Hydes. After hours there was even home-brew – evil, fuming stuff which more than once forced my head into the nearest toilet bowl to eject.

Conversations in the pub were conducted at shouting level. People stood at oblique angles to one another. Men stood in circles and treadled and checked out what was beyond – newcomers, women with frosted curls, guys in cheesecloth shirts and girls in tight dresses. They pitched their jokes in and shifted their weight from one foot to another, and clutched their pints to their stomachs, or, if they had one of those heavy dimpled glasses, put their fingers through the handle and supported it by a thumb hooked into the belt, which they thought looked cool.

At the bar, you had to bump shoulders with people you didn’t know or didn’t know you knew, or didn’t know if you might know or thought you knew but didn’t. You had to hold money up. You had to lean in, with your elbow in the wet, and shout things out like ‘When you’re ready!’ and then bellow your order and have no regard the people walling you in, then you’d have to guard your pints backwards, elbows out, and reverse through the mob behind.

After, there was the walk home, through the woods which in the summer were dusky and heavy-scented, but with a chill damp note now and again from the canal, or along the old railway under the trees, the branches kept back once by the trains but which now crowded overhead and cupped you in the dark. Once you got used to the ever-present rush of the motorway beyond the trees, you could pretend it was quiet.

My brother and I would talk the whole way – about stuff: A-level retakes; his day-release from Salford Tech; our dad. We’d stop to piss into the bushes for minutes on end, and then resume the conversation, talking into the dark, the dead railway dim under the trees, the ends of our cigarettes arcing up to our mouths.

‘I can’t understand the need!’ my dad said, when we’d gone through the stages of getting ourselves out of bed and were hunched at the kitchen table, coping with breakfast. ‘I can’t understand the constant need! To go to a public house’, he said, ‘when we have all the beer you might want to drink here!’

He conjured a picture of the family, my mum and dad in the living room, sitting on the sofa and armchairs re-covered in the seventies, they with their gin and tonics, us with a highball glass each with lager in it, the television not on.

Dad’s tipple when he wanted to tell you stories you’d heard before was Famous Grouse. I sat up with him one night hoping for a new one, into the small hours. In the morning I heard him groaning while he put his shoes on, late for Quaker Meeting, where he enjoyed being the one to greet those attending. Last in that morning, the room already quiet with bowed heads, my dad with throbbing temples, the only place to sit was the row at the front, where the table with flowers was. He lowered himself onto the chair, crossed one leg over the other and caught sight of a dog turd which had somehow attached itself to the toe of his shoe.

— James Fearnley is the author of Here Comes Everybody | jamesfearnley.com