The last we knew of our hero, J.R Protagonist, he was trapped in David Cameron’s constituency in NW Oxfordshire, trying to find a pub to celebrate New Year’s in that hadn’t turned into a private party with pre-sold tickets. Newly determined to have a pint (regardless of the fact that only moments before he realised he couldn’t have one), he wasn’t really bothered, our hero treads the wet pavements on the outskirts of Witney manor. And lo and behold his stubborness is rewarded with the only open pub in Witney: the New Inn, the town’s biker pub of course.
But the door is always open in the most unsavory of haunts to the most unsavoury of clientele and our hero is guided through the door by a vision of badges of real ale casks as surely as his vessel is guided by the north star, across the lounge to the wooden bar propped up by the bent elbows of bikers .
The Liverpool Organic Brewery stout looks familiar and tempting but he settles on the Doombar ale from Cornwall where the pirates call you lover before they slit your throat and burn down your cottage rental. The pint is poured by a young raven-haired barmaid, still enough to be preoccupied with her own presence and thankfully largely oblivious to the rows and sets of cartoon eyes leering at her every move from my side of the bar. “You’re the only pub in town that’s open to anyone without a ticket”, I volunteer, as a way of saying something somewhere more than a grunt upon getting my pint.
“I know, it’s a shame”, Millie answers; as I later learn her name to be.
“It used to be nice when the parties were just parties, you know and everyone was welcome. These days, it’s got so, much more . . .” “Exclusive”, I finish her sentence.
“Exactly” is Millie’s reply and under her raven hair I detect the universal youthful look of recognition that bleats: ‘help me, I so hate my job; I am bored out of my mind’.
“Where I’m from, a party is more of an inclusive idea”. My remark is punctuated by a sharp elbow in the small of my back as one of the regulars takes off his jacket. By accident, intentionally.
“oh sorry, mate, did I get you there?’ The long haired man snorts as if he were Stephen Frye. Our hero shrugs to cover the offense as much as the pain form the jab and now that he knows he’s trespassed this far, he strides ever forwards.
“Yeah, last year you see, I was in Barcelona”, he lies. In fact he had returned to Liverpool before the New Year, but time means nothing when plotting revenge. “Now Barcelona knows what a party means”. Millies’ pupils widen.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona, you know I’m doing my degree in art and design and I just would love to see the streets, the museums”. “But of course!”The rest of the conversation is a series of holiday snaps as I cover the ground between La Rambla and Quartier Gothica. By the time I wax lyrical on Gaudi
“Who is Gaudi?! “You must go to Barcelona right now just to find out. You cannot understand design if you haven’t seen Gaudi”, the daggers streaming from the sets of eyes on my side of the bar have become sharply deadly. I realise that not only have I trespassed, I’ve pitched a tent and am selling sausages. I smile at Millie who now tells me her name and I wish her a Happy New Year.
“Oh, what are you going to do now?” she asks a little emphatically,
“I’m off shift now”, she adds
” and if you’ve got nothing better, why not tag along to this party I’m invited to, just over the road”. I fix Millie with a smile and a gaze that I only blink once during as I know my life is now at risk from the eyes at the bar. Like some kind of twee but pregnantly lethal episode of Doctor Who. I must beg off,
“Oh, thanks; that’s ok, but I think it’s an early night for me. You go on and have some fun”. Millie extends her hand across the bar.
“My name is Millie”, Millie says. And I am catapulted to the purple heathered hills of Snowden in the presence of my now gone friend Millie, the nun’s company, stradling rocks and mine entrances and talking about God and Man and Being. I smile again at raven-haried Millie and squeeze her hand knowing that age is not just a matter of a number.
Age is where your mind dwells.
Where you’ve spent your time. Whilst Millie’s mind races ahead to the parties she should and would go to, mine is perched on a Welsh boulder in the past: the memory of my noble seated Millie framed against the wet green and purple hills, surround me. I smile my good bye to both Millies and the eyes on the bar surrender and disappear.