Stories from a troubled time, an examination of the present, the past and what is lost.
amorals 2: Precious Thingsview galleries
A week to the minute I was seated at our table on the right against the wall on entering the Playground. I surveyed the pub from my seat and decided this was indeed the best seat in the house. I could see all the tables except for the alcove between the table and the door. And, more importantly, the table was in shadow thus it faded away from view but it was not in a full alcove so less desirable. So it will probably always be free. If I become a regular at the Playground I want to have a regular table.
Once again the pub was busy, even in these times. Though with the curfew I guess the afternoon crowd can’t be far off the after-work crowd as this is a residential area. Though with the city working from home perhaps this cannot be called a residential area any more. Perhaps there should be a new zoning law to allow for the new normal. And the curfew put an end to the after dinner crowd. It seems the type of place to do a lock in, though I suspect a lock in during a curfew would be a non-starter.
I recognised most of the afternoon crowd, if not all of them. The lone man at the bar, outside the demarcated serving area, of course. The trio in the shadows, this time the couple are listening to the one who was reading a book last week. The large group in the booth have shifted about, or perhaps are different people. The young ones at the door and the kids in the centre.
I spoke to the barman while he poured my pint. I had not planned a conversation though this is something I often do. I was feeling buoyed by my afternoon adventure in being a man of action and words bubbled forth from me. Unlike the other ten thousand minutes since I had last been seated on this chair. All that time I had been passive. Inert. Doing nothing more than was required of me to do. Eat beans on toast. Sleep. Leave for work on the days I was working. At the appointed hour. Receive stock. Unpack. Take orders. Deliver at eleven, two and four. Get minimal exercise as I cycle my round with the delivery trike. Shop on the way home at the end of the day. Beans, bread, milk, coffee, whatever fruit they have in. They had apples and melons.
While he was pouring my beer. I remembered Martha had said his name was Aesop and was suddenly curious about such a name.
“Aesop, is it? That's quite an unusual name.”
“Been a while since someone has asked me that. No it was not my birth name. It was the name I was given because I was quite a story teller when I was a child.”
“Storyteller. How fascinating. Do you have a storytelling night here?”
“No, not that kind of story teller. I used to make up stuff. You know, tell tall tales. I would have been preteen then. Way back.”
“Wow, that is a long time for a nickname to stick. I had a friend called Jumbo back then but he aint no Jumbo now, either ironically or not. Not a name that would suit him.”
“To be honest I brought back the name when I took over the pub. And you know how it is. Some decisions just stick.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean.”
I took the beer back to the table. Took out my sketch book and started doodling. Squares. Circles. Lines. Nothing complex, I was too distracted to concentrate on putting on paper anything in front of me, though one day if I am a regular here I hope I will be the one who draws interesting little pictures on the napkins. I did not see anyone else drawing so there may be an opening for that role. I was distracted because I was unsure we had a definite plan to meet today. Last week we parted, first James then I shortly after him with a cheerful see you next week same time same place. But sometimes that is a firm arrangement and sometimes it is no more than a hope. I had thought about texting Martha to check if she was coming but did not want to seem pushy. So decided simply to be a man of action and see what happened. At worst I would have a better diary entry than the food consumed over a 24 hour period. Food diaries are the thing for Januaries.
Delightfully what happened was Martha came. A little earlier than she had been the week before so when she gave the sign for do you want a drink I shook my head and pointed to my beer. She chatted quietly to Aesop as he poured her beer. Then dropped her head back and guffawed. I wondered if it was something Aesop had said, or something she had said. She can do that, laugh as loud at her own jokes as other people’s. Martha is wonderful the way she chats to people. She entertains while at the same time making them feel they are special. An unusual combination, I have found, as people are usually either talkers or listeners. Talkers are great to get things going but can be a bit much in an intense discussion as they have a tendency not to listen. Listeners may have the most brilliant ideas but they have a tendency not to say anything unless they are brought out of their shell. I would call myself a listener rather than a talker. Happily so, though I sometimes wish I was a talker. As Martha approached the table I decided to be a talker. Instead of asking how she was, or even what she had been saying to Aesop, or what had made her guffaw, which is what I really wanted to know, I mentioned the one new thing I knew.
“I was chatting to Aesop earlier and did you know Aesop is not his real name, it is a nickname he got because as a child he was a liar.”
“Yes, I had heard that. Though the story only makes sense if you use the euphemism of telling tales.”
“Oh, yes. Of course. Anyway it was all before he was a teenager even.”
“Teenagers, I had a long chat with Aesop about his teenage years a couple months back. That was a long time ago for us. You have a teenager, he is a teenager now? Still? Sorry, been a while.”
“Yes, seventeen. He is doing OK. He is struggling a bit with school. He doesn’t get much done on his fortnight out. The news is full of stories of how difficult distance learning is for the young.”
They say the virus didn’t change our lives, it just made the changes that were going to happen happen faster and harder. When I am feeling melancholic I say that happened to my son: gained his adult independence of me hard and fast at fourteen. The weekend visits were not practical in the lockdowns. The Skype calls missed. I still message when I think about it but I don’t think about it that often these days. And I don’t message when I am feeling melancholic.
“I heard his mum left, oh, I forget the name of the place she went after HB.”
“Yes, she moved back to Bristol when my boy was in year five. So that makes it. Oh. A long time ago.”
“Must be hard getting to see him these days.”
“Yeah. But we have the internet.”
“So many things became strange in the new normal. Things you don’t even think about.”
“Are you working with year fives?”
The question had the desired effect. Martha started chatting about working at her school. She gossipped about her colleagues, mentioning names I recognised from last week. I nodded. I said ah ha. When I thought she was expecting me to make a more pertinent comment about a colleague she had mentioned the week before I asked instead if she was still doing Aesop’s fables with her class.
“The cock and the pearl.”
I guffawed. She looked at me, curious.
“Well, last week you talked about Aesop’s fable then told an erotic story that fitted the fable then this week your Aesop’s fable is all about cock.”
Martha looked at me silently, doing her best not to roll her eyes.
“And here we are in Aesop’s pub. And the story telling. It is too much.”
“Well, I guess so. Aesop did once tell me a story that kind of fits a bit with the fable.”
“You like collecting stories?”
“Everyone has stories to tell, sometimes it needs a little drawing out. I guess I have the type of mind that reconstructs their stories into narratives.”
“And you remember them. How do you remember all of them?”
“I have a little black book.”
“No, not really. I type notes on my phone, just a sentence or two.”
“So you have enough to publish a collection.”
“None of my notes have enough detail for a story.”
As she spoke James walked up to our table.
“Ah, James. Just in time for Martha’s tale of cocks, pearls and both Aesops.”
“Actually, I was just popping by to say I couldn’t make it today, but I certainly make the time available for one of Matha’s marvels.”
“Enough time for a beer?”
“Fraid not, Martha.”
James sat on my side of the table creating an audience.
“So. My challenge is to tell Aesop’s story in the form of the Cock and the Pearl.
“OK. One of the things I like to ask people is what was the first porn they saw. I ask it of people of many ages but
“Now I would like you to imagine the young teenage Aesop strutting about like a cock, erect, head held high, his little red comb wobbling to and fro. Perhaps I am taking this a little too far, but he really was a young cock trying to impress his cousin who was a little less than a year older than him but physically a lot more mature. When puberty is late it is hard, when puberty is early it is embarrassing but by the time others catch up it is cool.
“One day when he was visiting his cousin took him to the next door neighbour’s house. Where Aesop grew up people did not lock their doors. Also it was hot so you can imagine two young teen boys sneaking about in the neighbour’s house wearing those skimpy silky running shorts and tees, keep that image in mind for later.
“The cousin took them into the main bedroom. Aesop felt uncomfortable being there, at that age he still had a clear sense of right and wrong, an idea of adult and child and the neighbour’s bedroom was definitely adult. The cousin took a chair to the wardrobe and pulled out a magazine from under the winter blankets. It was the days before duvets. He stuffed the magazine under his tee and the boys slipped out of the house and to their garden den. Just a clearing behind a bush but in hot countries that is all that is needed for a den.
“The magazine was a photo story, little black and white photos showing the intimate relations of a couple in explicit detail. As explicit, that is, as a five centimeter block can be, with space for the speech bubbles. Although every few pages had a larger half page image with more detail. They didn’t read the story. Aesop said he was not even sure if the story was in English. He had no reason to believe it wasn’t but the only time in his life that he has come across another magazine like that one was when he was living in France.
“I have come to the end of my tale which has not fitted that well with the story of the cock and the pearl. Afterall the pearl the cock finds is useless to the cock, he spits it out in disgust and searches for a juicy barley kernel. So in this story the photo story was Aesop’s kernel not his pearl. Next week I will give it a bit more thought and prepare a tale that is closer to a fable by Aesop.
“But what I like about this story is it gives us a chance to think about what exactly is our own porn pearl, if it really is something erotic, something as delictible as a kernel of barley for a hungry cock or if it is just a useless hard rock we hang on to because we think it is what we are expected to like. Most of porn is like that, not in the least bit erotic.”
I finished my beer in the silent pause Martha left.
“And I will be here next week for your tale and your company. I have already shifted things about to give myself this time off. Thank you, Martha, it was wonderful.”
“I too will be here, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. James, which way are you going for I need to skidaddle too.”