One day I decided to join the navy. I’d figured that my life wasn’t really going anywhere (see Book) and that somehow military service... for Queen and Country and all that... would be a little more interesting. Besides, I quite liked the idea of blowing things up and travelling the world for free, too. I’d momentarily considered joining the army but I’d recently seen Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket; so that was out. And some years previously a friend had tried to become a fighter pilot but had been rejected quite early on in the process because he’d admitted to getting stoned once... so that was out, too. I decided on the Royal Navy and with one of the MoD’s pressgang offices situated right in the centre of Bristol I made an appointment to see an advisor there.
Being me, I’d obviously approached the idea of a career on the high seas with the same lack of consideration and foresight that I’d tended to approach the majority of my vocational aspirations. However, in those few days before the meeting I took a couple of minutes to give some thought as to just what I would do if they foolishly signed me up. I played it through my head like some kind of internal dialogue. It went something a little like this:
‘So… military service then. That’ll mean having to get up at 5am and have orders barked at me all day. I’m not going to enjoy that.
‘Okay. I’ll be an officer.
‘But officers get orders barked at them all day, too.
‘Aha! Yes. But they also get to bark orders at someone else.
‘Good point. So what kind of an officer?
‘Well, for a long time I’ve had an interest in communications. I’ll be a Communications Officer.
‘I don’t know. A boat?
‘What kind of boat?
‘Um... A submarine?
‘But there’s no room to move and a chance I can be crushed, drowned and blown to pieces... all at the same time.
‘Fair point. How about a ship?
‘I could get drowned and blown to pieces on one of those, too.
‘Okay. So I need to do something that won’t involve me getting crushed, drowned, blown to pieces, irradiated, suffocated or shot. And it needs to be something that won’t involve my having orders barked at me all day. Aha! I know: I’ll be an Admiral.
Okay, so perhaps I wasn’t being particularly realistic about a possible career in the Royal Navy: after all, there’d be a fairly long waiting list for the position and everyone on that list would have considerably more experience in this navy lark than I. There was the fact that no matter how I approached it I’d still have plenty of people barking orders at me for great lengths of time to come, plus, I’d also failed to consider that my physical affliction (I have some weird, fucked-up bone thing in my knee) would probably not allow me anywhere near basic training let alone beyond it. I thought about all that, acknowledged that when it came down to it I was a complete and utter coward, and thought, ‘Oh well. I’ll get myself a job at The Horn and Trumpet instead.’ So I did.
The Horn and Trumpet was a city-centre pub in the city-centre of Bristol. It was a huge place with a bar stretching all the way back to the rear of the building and to a kitchen serving mostly chicken in a basket, fish in a basket and pretty-much anything else ‘in a basket’... with chips. It was a haven for nutters, oiks, yobbos and chavs and on a Friday and Saturday night the police would park in the lay-by outside and wait for the inevitable booze-fuelled moron to be dragged out to them by the doormen. Its management team consisted of two Irishmen. There was Pete, who looked like a psychopath. And Nick, who actually was one.
I remember an evening during which some chav with an alcohol-induced speech impediment tried to order a drink from me at the bar. Both Pete and Nick happened to be standing a couple of feet away and after his various protestations at my refusal to serve him any more booze (those protestations consisting primarily of the word ‘fuck’, or rather something that sounded a little more like ‘sshhpffuckleshsh’) Pete turned towards Nick and in his charming Irish lilt said simply, ‘Get this piece of shit out of here.’ With somewhat surprising calm and professionalism (to begin with, at least) Nick asked him to leave. Chav refused.
Now, if there is such a thing as a sensible drunk he or she would, more often than not, comply with a similarly polite request, particularly if it originated from a rather dangerous-looking Irishman missing his two front teeth. Not Chav. Chav wore a Ben Sherman shirt and his face was covered in pits. A barely visible half-caterpillar rested between his nose and top lip, while his 2-carat necklace from Ratner's shone the colour of a blood-orange, reflecting his lobster-pink skin. His hair was closely-cropped and both of his arms and his neck were decorated with tattoos reminding me of the graffitied walls of the pub’s toilet. Clutching the bar with both hands in an effort to remain vaguely vertical, his eyes seemed to survey the area but were unlikely to be making any sense of it. I imagined that his lack of comprehension of his surroundings were a particularly familiar feeling to him. I also guessed that his IQ was somewhere in the region of about four.
In addition to Chav’s delightful speech impediment and the yobbo’s typical interpretation of bar etiquette, hours of pouring alcopops and cheap lager down his throat had eventually rewarded him with significantly-misplaced delusions of adequacy. As a result he had determined that he was sufficiently sober to remain put and decided to communicate this by using his fists to negotiate staying for another drink. Within a second he had raised himself from his position of providing support to the bar to stand-up and look threatening. He pushed-out his chest in an attempt to bulk-out his spindly frame, and then drew back a clenched fist to hurl towards Nick’s head. It was then that gravity intervened.
All of a sudden Chav performed a kind of oddly-acrobatic lunge. Unable to maintain stability he then spiralled down towards the floor and let out a muffled yelp as his chin bounced against the bar. A moment later and he came to rest in a crumpled heap on the carpet.
Together with one of the pub’s gigantic doorman Nick moved in to gather up the mess but without warning it then exploded in an angry ball of flailing arms and legs. For a second Chav looked as if he was performing a badly-choreographed tribal war dance, but on closer inspection it appeared more as though he was demonstrating his reaction had he just opened a wildly-shaken box of wasps. With a range of indecipherable obscenities flying in all directions Chav was taken by the arms in a vice-like grip and then dragged through a table into the street. There, he was hurled into the back of a waiting police car.
What happened next I found rather bemusing: not only had the police failed to take the opportunity to handcuff Chav, they had, for some reason, wound down the windows in the back of the car. In a split second Chav had reached out, opened the door and fucked-off down the street. Apparently, he was finally rugby-tackled into a tree and given a few hours uncomfortable respite in a concrete box.
It was not the first time that some pissed-up moronic oik proved troublesome at The Horn and Trumpet and there were always plenty of opportunities for Nick and the pub’s many doormen to drag some booze-fuelled idiot out onto the pavement and to a waiting police vehicle. Weekends were generally unpleasant shifts to work but as I think about it now, despite all that there was actually something oddly intriguing about the place. It had a strange type of charm that in my mind’s eye I liken to the cliché of a saloon of the Wild West. It was a modern day ‘spit n’ sawdust’ kind of pub, only without the sawdust. Where, in a saloon in 1880’s Tucson, Arizona, for example, one would push through the wooden swing doors with a self-rolled cigarette between one’s teeth and observe unshaven gunslingers chewing tobacco and playing poker, in the 1990’s Horn and Trumpet one would swagger through the doors and observe freshly-showered oiks smoking Lambert and Butler and playing pool. The vague similarities would continue as a brawl would erupt from nothing and for no apparent reason. Fists and chairs would fly while the modern-day equivalent of the saloon piano: the jukebox, provided an accompanying soundtrack. In the saloon Buckshot Jimmysprinkles would shout ‘Yee-Haw!’ and break a bottle over someone’s head. In The Horn and Trumpet Tyrone, Darren and Kurt would do exactly the same. I was rather disappointed though, that not once during my time at The Horn and Trumpet was anyone lifted-up by their collar and britches and slid along the length of the bar, their head crashing through the plaster and into the kitchen at the end. Still, the similarities continued on as I looked around within my mind’s eye: where in the saloon working women can-canned on stage and waved the hems of their frilly frocks up high, in The Horn and Trumpet overweight, orange-skinned girls with big hair like unkempt pivot hedges shrieked and cackled and made gobbling sounds like turkeys. They took occasional sips of alcopops and coke-flavoured vodka through straws, their outfits nothing but strips of brightly-coloured cloth far too narrow to hide the blubber overflowing their waistlines or the tramp-stamps in the smalls of their backs. Where the odour within the saloon was a pungent mixture of sweat, tobacco and horse dung, in The Horn and Trumpet it was of sweat and Lynx deodorant, of hairspray and cigarettes and of cheap perfume and stale beer. Twas an almost palpable atmosphere of uncompromising despair. To describe it as ‘thoroughly unpleasant’ would be both rude and unkind to the putrid stench of all things revolting and repellent.
With the exception of a very limited number of individuals the majority of the weekend clientele of The Horn and Trumpet guzzled lager as if their lives depended on it. They jeered and honked in a dialect of complete nonsense (see Book), their conversations of fighting and football an obligatory shun of all things civilised (see Book, again). Like I said, these shifts were generally unpleasant to work through but during the week things were occasionally less depressing. Sure, they still attracted idiots in jeans and white trainers trying to outdo one another in their efforts to make the case for mass euthanasia, but the days were (mostly) quite peaceful. And there were actually one or two regulars of the bar to whom I was quite prepared to give the time of day. In particular there was a guy named Miles. Miles was nice. Miles was a mercenary.
Miles was what I refer to as a Wild Goose. It’s a term I use in reference to a movie with Richard Burton and Richard Harris, a movie about a group of ex-soldiers undertaking a mission somewhere in Africa. It’s a term I use because Miles was, as the name ‘Miles the mercenary’ suggests, indeed a professional mercenary. I know this not only because people spoke about it in hushed tones but because he and I spoke at length during the daytimes when the pub was quiet. Sadly, Miles was also an alcoholic.
For somewhat obvious reasons Miles was never boasting or enthusiastically forthcoming with details of his profession but on occasions he’d mention things enabling me to build up a picture of his life in my mind. He was never one for bravado, for that was more Pete and Nick and the other regulars’ forte, but we’d often speak about our hopes for the future and of our pasts. Miles’ past was, of course, far more varied and shocking than my own.
Miles was in his late forties, early fifties perhaps. He was heavily tanned with deep-set eyes and leathery jowls and he looked, quite simply, like a man who had been in situations in which I’d have been sobbing like a four-year-old girl. He resembled The Joker from the Batman movie because he had a huge scar running from ear to ear: a ‘Chelsea smile’, as I was to learn later. One day I asked him about it and he told me in the most gentle way that he really didn’t want to speak of it. At that I simply nodded and changed the subject. Miles was grateful for that and he and I enjoyed a few more weeks of conversations before one day he arrived, to my surprise ordered a cup of coffee and told me with a keep-it-under-your-hat wink that he’d gotten some work. I never saw him again.
Now, I really don’t know whether it was all bullshit. Throughout the months of my employment at the pub I’d seen and heard plenty of nonsense about fighting and I had been told stories by the likes of Nick and Pete that were simply too ridiculous to be even remotely true. I’d also discovered how to recognise some of the traits of that bullshit by then as well. Sure, it may have been all conjecture and rumour; some glamorised ideal that had simply built up around Miles alongside just a massive volume of crap, but I don’t think so. Miles went away and a few weeks after that I left The Horn and Trumpet to work somewhere else. I then went off to university and on my return for my first Christmas break I met up with my friend John (from ATI) for a quiet drink. John wanted to say ‘goodbye’ as he was going away ‘on holiday at Her Majesty’s pleasure’ for ‘aggravated TDA.’ Both Pete and Nick had since left but a guy named Robert with whom I’d worked before was still there. I asked him about Miles and he told me, ‘Miles never came back. No one knows what happened to him.’ And that was that.
I like to think that it was all indeed conjecture and rumour; that Miles had sobered up, gotten some more legitimate work and moved on with his life. I like to think that but it’s probably not true. Whatever happened to Miles I doubt I’ll ever know and while the thought that lurks in the back of my mind is sad, and if I’m honest: particularly chilling, I do hope that he’s okay. I wish him all the best and you should too. Stay safe, Miles, my friend.