Magazine article The Spectator

Fever Pitch

Magazine article The Spectator

Fever Pitch

Article excerpt

On Saturday I went to a wedding and didn't touch a drop of alcohol and it was fine. I enjoyed myself more, I think, than if I'd been slinging them back. On Sunday evening, pleased with myself about this, and seriously considering permanent sobriety, I went to the pub. The England v. Germany match had been over for several hours and every face in the bar could have stood in as a model for that wonderful Picasso of the absinthe drinker, put up for auction the other week.

Of the people in the bar I knew to speak to, two were the drunkest I've seen them. One, a genial, chuckling character who is always pleased to see me, was unusually sullen and apparently so preoccupied with unhappy thoughts that he failed to acknowledge my greetings. Later I came across him in the gents, swinging punches at the tiled walls.

Another chap, constitutionally morose and known for his cynicism, had been stripped right back by the drink to the basics, exposing an unexpectedly warm, affectionate and cheerful person underneath.

I ordered a pint and went outside for a fag. More customers were outside smoking on the pavement than there were inside.

Passions were at fever pitch among the redfaced, red-shirted, glassy-eyed smokers. A debate was in progress about whether it was permissible to compliment a woman on her figure in the presence of her boyfriend. The controversy had arisen earlier in the day and now the boyfriend was having it out on the pavement with the complimenter. Both sides of the motion had their vociferous seconders. Reasoned debate was rapidly descending into shrill personal insult and seemed about to descend even further into violence. Would that the Prince of Wales were there as head of ton to make a nice judgment on the issue.

I moved away and gravitated across the pavement towards another group of smokers, just in time to hear one woman ask another woman why she was spreading an unfounded rumour that she was sleeping with a certain man. The question was asked in a matter-of-fact tone masking unfathomable anger. The rumour-spreader, blonde hair, square glasses, responded with the smoothness of a practised liar. A misunderstanding, she said, and then she proposed a plausible tale of how it had arisen. Trev was in this knot of smokers and listening gravely, head down, arms folded. …

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