What is it about Wigan
Darkness was rapidly gathering as we tied the boats up and many
people were eager to head home. Others went looking for shops. John,
who had left the previous night, arrived in the van to give lifts
home, while others headed for the railway station.
I was getting concerned about the depletion of battery power on my ‘phone, so, when we had eaten and those who weren’t staying had departed, I suggested a visit to a pub so that I could plug my charger in. Fiona and Carlos elected to stay and guard the boats, so Garry, Bex and I went looking for a suitable watering hole. We headed towards the town centre through a deserted wilderness of dual carriageways and light industrial premises. We went under the main railway bridge and found a row of shuttered shops leading uphill on an empty street. Among the terraced shops was a small old fashioned urban pub. Inside, a silver haired slightly unkempt gentleman was sitting on a bar stool and conversing with the shaven headed manager behind the bar. There seemed to be no other customers. We ordered our drinks and I asked about charging my ‘phone. The manager pointed out a plug socket and I connected my device to the mains.
There was a billiard table in an adjoining room and Garry was keen to play. I was reluctant to lose sight of my ‘phone, but with so few people in the building and being in sight of the manager I thought it would be safe.
Bex had disappeared to indulge her feminine obsession with washing and preening, so I had to do my best to provide Garry some opposition. My skills with a billiard cue are only slightly surpassed by my skill at knitting, so the outcome of the games was a foregone conclusion. I did manage to avoid any balls landing on the floor, but actually getting any into the pockets was something that largely eluded me.
After a couple of games a glowing Bex re-appeared to provide Garry with more of a challenge on the billiard table. I sat and watched and enjoyed the beer and the lighthearted conversation. The silver haired man left and, for a while, we were the only customers.
After a few games our glasses were empty and Bex went to the bar. There was some commotion around the bar and then a tall, hard edged but dishevelled man with tattoos and a shaven head entered the room and sat next to me. He tried to strike up a conversation about boxing. He would have been better employed trying to discuss the mathematical equations underpinning string theory. I have never had any interest in sport in general, but I reserve a particular disdain for a sport in which the object is to cause brain damage to your opponent . The man, who had clearly drunk deep earlier in the evening, kept telling me that I knew various people associated with boxing. I insisted that I had never heard of any of them.
I sensed that the friendly atmosphere could quickly turn through 180 degrees, so I refrained from the sarcasm that always tempts me in such situations. I mentioned that I lived in the next town to Ricky Hatton. This impressed him so much that he hugged me. I was not too perturbed by this, an excess of alcohol often makes men unusually affectionate, however, as he started to nudge closer to me and sing along with the love songs that were playing from wall speakers, I began to get uneasy.
Bex returned with beer, then went back to the bar, I think to complete a conversation she had started with the manager.
I lifted my glass to drink and Garry did the same with his. The over friendly boxer followed suit. “Isn’t that Bex’s pint asked Garry”. “I’m not sure “ I replied. “It’s Mine” asserted the boxing man, vehemently. I looked at the table and counted the pint pots- one, two. I knew one was mine, and Garry’s was alone on the other side of the room, so it looked very much as though the other one would belong to Bex. I began to think that our friend was angling for a physical encounter, either violent or of a more intimate nature. Of the first possibility, I had no intention of spending a night in either casualty or the cells. Of the latter, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. So far, Garry and I had followed a policy of appeasement, but I knew that the man would keep pushing this to provoke one of us into challenging him.
Bex returned and sat down. She lifted her pint to her lips. Garry pointed out that she was not the first person to drink from the glass. Bex put her beer down with a loud expression of disgust and asserted strongly her rights of ownership. The man limply claimed it to be his and told Bex that she was a lesbian. Rather than deny the assertion, Bex stood up and launched into a tirade against the man, claiming to be more extreme in her affections than even the ancient inhabitants of that sun blessed isle but that didn’t give him the right to drink from her glass. The brave boxer visibly withered as she pointed out what a hypocrite he was, as he was obviously gay. The manager came in as Bex continued her verbal assault, using every colloquialism and euphemism for same sex liaisons that I’ve ever heard. “Mind what you say”, said the manager, “because I am gay”.
Bex explained what had happened , and the manager, quietly but firmly, ejected the boxer, who now looked greatly subdued. The force of Bex’s wit laden tongue lashing had a more sobering effect on him than any number of left hooks. The manager agreed to replace Bex’s polluted pint. I suddenly remembered my ’phone and rushed into the bar to check on it. I let out a cry of “me ‘phone’s gone”, but the manager allayed my brief panic by producing the missing item from behind the bar. He had moved it as soon as our pugilistic friend entered the establishment.
There followed an interesting conversation about the difficult economics of the licensed trade. The manager was a caretaker manager , employed by the brewery to keep pubs ticking over between tenants. This, it seems to me, is a much more sensible arrangement than the periodic boarding up and refurbishment syndrome that seems to afflict so many pubs.
Drink drunk and pockets empty, we left the friendly manager to contemplate his empty bar and ambled back through the mean streets of Wigan under the pitiless glare of streetlights. Back at the boats, I carefully examined the water level. It looked disconcertingly as though it had dropped about an inch whilst we were absent. There was little I could do at such a late hour, so I climbed into Lilith’s forecabin , dropped the bed flap and climbed into my sleeping bag.