With the sun behind him, Swanky Gastro walked into the newly opened ‘Soho’ bar on Guildford High Street on the 22nd August 1988. It was lunch time. Behind the bar was Lee. 19 years old and bored shitless. She had taken the job because college was shit and she needed money to buy tickets to raves, new clothes and drugs.
As he sauntered up to the bar, Swanky knew he was the right man, in the right place, doing the right thing at exactly the right time. ‘Half a Stella please darling,’ he said, taking off his Ray bands, folding one of the arms, leaving the other free to hang in the breast pocket of his grey, cotton suit. As his eyes adjusted to daylight, Swanky caught sight of himself in the mirror behind the bar. ‘Yes,’ he thought, after less than two moments consideration, ‘sweeping my hair back with just enough gel, is exactly the right look for me’.
With a slam, Lee put his drink on the bar. ‘That’ll be a pound.’ Swanky, although initially taken aback by the price, soon turned shock in to smug appreciation at how reassuringly expensive this new continental lager was. He reached for his wallet. Just as his hand made contact with the cold black leather, Swanky looked down at his drink and withdrew his empty hand immediately.
‘This… is not right,’ he said slowly with emphasis. Both his hands were now flat on the bar, one either side of the glass. He stood erect, feet apart. The power pose.
‘Yes it is,’ said Lee, eighteen inches his junior. ‘Half a lager you asked for, that’s what that is,’ she added, still not giving a shit.
Swanky, impervious to Lee’s disdain, continued. ‘It might well be half a pint of Stella Artois little lady, but it is not right.’ He tapped the index finger of his right hand against the glass as he looked down at Lee, whose face was a mixture of pain, nausea and loathing. ‘I can see I’m going to have to help you here,’ he added, feeling just how lucky Lee was to have him to teach her like this. ‘Stella Artois, the premium continental lager, when correctly served, comes in a continental, tulip shaped glass with the brewers insignia on the side. Around the rim of the glass is a thin, gold band, that serves to remind the customer of just what a superior product they are due to enjoy.’
‘So you want a different glass?’ interpreted Lee.
‘Correct in one,’ applauded Swanky, ‘the right glass, if you wouldn’t mind.’
Lee searched around on the sticky shelf below the pumps and found the glass Swanky had described, sighing heavily as she prised it from the old lager that had turned to a sugar glue around the rim. The second summer of love was taking its toll on Lee. Her system was operating more and more on depleted resources. Wednesday’s were by far the worst. ‘It’ll soon be Thursday,’ she coached herself, breathing deeply, ‘then Friday, then thank fuck, Saturday and finally a world I can make sense off.’ Straightening up, she wiped the rim of the glass with the cloth that was draped over the cider pump, and placed it on the bar. With her head propped up with her left hand, in turn held up by her elbow on the bar, Lee picked up the half pint of lager and uncaringly poured it in to the other glass. ‘This guy is an absolute prick,’ were the exact words that passed through her mind, as she did so.
‘One pound…. please,’ she said holding out her hand. Her shoulders slumped. Swanky could tell he’d made an impression as he reached in to his pocket and drew out a single pound coin. ‘There we are my dear. One pound exactly.’ Lee took the coin and wanted to die. ‘Thank fuck,’ she thought, ‘he’s a thing of the past.’
Swanky left the bar and headed to one of the small, circular tables that were scattered around the room. He chose one, just in front of the corner stage, by the half wall windows that were concertinaed open to create the feeling of merging with the street outside.
Sitting with his left side to the window, he turned his glass so the name ‘Stella Artois’ was facing the high street. Then, with great care, he lifted the glass to his mouth. The beer was cold and sharp. He took a small sip and smacked his lips slightly, placing the glass back on the table. ‘Yes,’ he thought to himself, ‘yes, yes, yes. Nineteen eighty eight. Things will never be better than now. Here I am, a professional man of professional means, enjoying a cold glass of premium continental lager, (in the correct, branded glass), in a jazz club, on my local high Street. This will never be beaten.’ Looking up he noticed a poster on the wall behind the stage. It was all the conformation he needed. A live jazz quartet were going be playing on the very stage in front of him in only three weeks time. He surveyed the rest of the room with new authority. Black leather, chrome, black and white photos of all the jazz greats. Ella, Louis, Coltrane and some other ones. The blue light around the base of the bar was a classy finishing touch. Yes, everything was just right.
‘Lee, go and wipe the tables.’ A gruff, red faced man had stuck his head out the office door, and seeing Lee slumped, head on the bar, felt compelled to order her to do something, to be sure he was getting his monies worth. Lee rolled her eyes, sighed and with as much anger as possible grabbed a cloth from the sink. It dripped, cold stagnant liquid down her arm as she picked it up. Lee swore as she squeezed last night’s putrid bar juice in to the sink. Muttering under her breath about the boss being a one thing or another, she reluctantly worked her way around the tables in the bar.
‘Excuse me,’ she mumbled when she came to Swanky’s table. Prompted, he lifted his glass, revelling in the duty to care the proprietors were providing for his comfort. Unnoticed, a small puddle of golden liquid had formed beneath the foot of Swanky’s glass. A single shaft of the bright afternoon sun illuminated it. Creating less than a single second of divine beauty that went unseen by either staff or customer. In fact, only one pair of eyes saw it at all. Those of a passing young girl who carried the memory of that ethereal moment throughout her life. Citing it in several interviews, both in print and on film, as the exact moment she knew the angels wanted her to create art and make the world beautiful again.
The sodden cloth landed on the table with a cold, wet, thwack. Lee pushed her hand in to it and smeared the spilt lager around the white, vinyl tablecloth, before moving on.
‘Guildford,’ thought Swanky, replacing his glass on the table, ‘has made it. To think this place used to be the butchers. When I look at this street now, and I see the big names. Our price, Smiths, Hallmark Cards, M&S, I can hardly believe it. The new sophistication of the age. If Dad could see me now, he’d be proud. He’d walked by this way every morning on his way to the bank. All those years. He knew it was coming. Guildford’s golden age. He was right. He always was.’ Swanky looked down at the gold watch on his left wrist. It was a meticulous piece, presented to his Dad for a lifetime of service as a check in clerk at the local branch of Lloyd’s. The thin, almost molecular second hand, gliding around the clean, white face and simple gold numerals. Silently brushing away the past.
Swanky felt a swelling in his chest that led to a sense of assured comfort that his father had done all he could for his son. He nodded gently to himself, smiling as he reached in to his pocket and took out a packet of Gitane. ‘Ashtray please,’ he called to the room. The crash of a pile of thin, steel ashtrays falling to the floor was followed by Lee’s footsteps and an ashtray appearing on the table.
Crossing his right leg over his left knee, Swanky sat back in his chair and, with his gold lighter, lit his cigarette. A plume of thick blue smoke rose around him, before making it’s way on to the street. A woman with a double buggy, being pushed back against the building by the mirrors of a passing lorry, tutted and waved her arm to clear a way through the cloud.
With his right leg elevated across himself Swanky had the chance to appreciate his outfit. His suit was a little more expensive than his usual one, but he was right to spend the extra. The cotton was thin and beautifully woven. The trousers held their creases all day. Slate grey was perfect with the turquoise of his t-shirt, which, in turn created the ideal bed for his thin gold chain. Taking another drag he nodded again as, exhaling he continued his examination.
The Ray bands hanging from his pocket. Jacket sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow. His thin, snakeskin belt with its gold effect buckle. Trousers straining in all the right places. His bare ankles and his faux leather woven loafers.
As he looked at his shoes he stopped for a moment. Frowning, he straightened himself in his chair, becoming tense, and put his cigarette in the ashtray. With his left hand he pulled the toe of his right foot up slightly to bring the whole shoe closer to his face. Moving it in to the light. A worried expression came upon him as he moved the shoe from left to right, inspecting it, anxiously. Then, quite suddenly, he stopped, relaxed his shoulders, exhaled deeply as he let his foot come to rest on his left knee again. Everything was fine. He had been right to buy the charcoal grey as opposed to the granite. The charcoal contrasting with his suit as opposed to the close proximity in shade of the granite.
Taking his cigarette from the ashtray, he smoked, tapped his foot to the jazz fusion, acknowledged and completely understood why the barmaid found him so attractive, whilst proudly congratulating himself on his decision to, once again, vote Tory.
image by Oli Jessop