Issue 199, Winter 2011
Meself and Chips were down the Blind Ref one night when this young head-the-ball walks in. A young lad he was, a right looking head-the-ball. “Ay ay,” says Chips, sucking the stout out of his mustache. “Here comes trouble.” He was a man of few words was Chips, so when he said something, you’d prick up the old ears, and as I recall this remark of his now, I wonder did part of him know what was going to happen—though if it did, you’d have to say the rest of him didn’t, or else it wouldn’t have, if you follow me.
Your man sails past us and orders himself a pint and truth be told at that point we thought no more about him. It was Christmas Eve and the pub was in an uproar of seasonal cheer and so forth. There was tinsel around the cigarette machine, and holly poking out from the picture of Sir Alex Ferguson; Leonie the lounge girl was wearing a Santy hat as she dropped round the drinks and Wayne was sweating behind the bar and he with a row of pints waiting in front of him. “Is there any chance, I wonder,” says I to Chips, “of a Christmas pint?”
“It’ll be a cold day in hell before you’d get a Christmas pint out of Wayne,” says Chips.
I shook my head. “If Martin was here,” says I, “it’d be a different story.”
“If Martin was behind the bar you wouldn’t put your hand in your -po-cket all night,” says himself. But Martin was over at Anfield for the Arsenal game. “It’s bad enough he’s a Liverpool man,” Chips commented, “but then he leaves us with the Prince of Darkness here on Christmas fuckin Eve.” He directed a black look at the aforesaid Wayne. “That prick would water down water,” says he.
The night was wearing on and every few minutes now you’d have someone’s missus charging through the door and scanning the crowd till she found her oul fella and dragged him off to the eight o’clock Midnight Mass. Mrs. Chips knew better than to try and pull his nibs out of there, though. Christmas Eve, Easter, the Day of Judgment itself—they could be dropping the atomic bomb and you wouldn’t budge Chips. When his day’s work was done he was into that pub and that was the end of the story.
Shortly after young Head-the-Ball comes in anyway Leonie arrives at our table in her Santy hat and asks if we wanted to buy a ticket for the Christmas raffle. She’s a gorgeous girl, Leonie, I was always after Wu to ask her out. “You ask her out,” Wu’d always say back, with a face on him—that’s Wu for you, a brilliant handyman but not a million laughs, probably because of being from China where the Communists took a tough line on jokes. I bought a ticket and Wu bought five, but of course himself had to raise an objection. “What kind of prize is a ice-cream maker,” says he, “and it the height of bleedin fuckin winter?”