The Cock and Bull

The place had been there for years, but we’d not been in before now. We thought we’d try it this time though, Kate and I, just to snatch a quick drink after the film which had finished later than expected. It was, we thought, close to last orders. No time to get anywhere else and it was good to escape the muzzy autumn rain. 

From the outside, it looked like one of those places where the locals, the elders, those women and men who’d been around the block a bit, would attempt to hold court, share the benefit of their wisdom and experience. Some of them might stare as you walked through the door but, if you stayed long enough, you’d learn something about something or someone or something else. You’d expect an odour of wet dog, a dart board, Scampi Fries and Nobby’s Nuts behind the bar. You’d expect wisdom. You’d expect. 

We stepped through the door into a small porch-like area. On one wall was a pin board and a set of ads, presumably from the locals. Some asked for stuff; others were offering stuff. Someone from the Roundabout Mums and Tots Group had put up a poster for a ‘Hot Choc Friday.’ Must be the new Tea and Coffee Morning. Someone else had crossed out the second h. On the other wall someone had stencilled the phrase “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Albert Einstein.” Someone else had scrawled out Einstein’s name and, underneath, there sat what was presumably the culprit’s graffiti tag. 

Kate looked uncertain, but the cold outside and the relative heat of the air we could feel beyond the door drew us from the porch through to the pub. 

The single room beyond was small but overly-typical pub: typically stripped back bare floor boards, typically mish-mashed reconditioned rustic furniture, typically drippy candles in old wine bottles. Of all the tables, the two largest were already taken. The rest of the room was empty, barring the lingering smells of stale beer and stale competition. Tonight was Quiz Night. 

The first group, on the far side of the room, were huddled together at a table that was too big for them. One or two were wearing tweed, some office wear: skirts, blazers, trousers. Others were in chunky knit sweaters. There were beards as well as hairless faces, some shaven, some not; the odd novelty pair of socks; an odour of ales, cigars, port, whisky, pies, bangers, mash, gravy. There were few who spoke in the group; those who did were highly vocal though incomprehensible. Occasionally, one of the tweeds would attempt to voice something across to the other table which was, more often than not, poorly received.

Nearer to us, by the door, were what must have been the other team. They were more miscellaneous and there were more of them, though their table was still overly substantial. They were all looking downward, as if they were fully focused on the competition at hand. If it’d been last month, they’d have been on the gin. The month before it would have been prosecco. The month before that, fruit cider – probably pear. This month was Apperol. They were drawn to the effervescent but, for them, there was no best drink overall – just whatever was right for the context of that evening. Each time a tweed called across to this group, some seemed deeply aggrieved, some violently stunned and some nervously looked round their group, intrigued. 

Kate and I wondered over to the bar to order some drinks. The bar offerings were as divided as the clientele and as odd as the little man who popped up to serve us. His hair was fluorescent, swept upwards into a fountainous spray; his grin moronic, but his eyes were hypnotic. He apologised for the delay – he’d been putting on a tune for the music round. He’d have been better off apologising for the tune as it was, I think, something by Justin Timberlake. Kate plumped for some kind of energy drink in a futuristic looking can called Progress whilst I chose a pint of White Rabbit. 


Whilst he served us, and in between switching tracks for the quiz, the sprout haired man got to talking. He told us more about the divisions in the room. At one stage, he said, these had all been sensible people with sensible ways of communicating. Over a clip of some kind of cover of True Colours, we found out that the reason some of the tweeds didn’t speak was because their mouths had been violently clamped, closed. During a snippet from one Ariana Grande track or another, we were told that the effervescents had had their eyes and ears glued shut. They used to be some of the brightest minds of their generation, used to work together, talk together, have their disagreements but (part of the Sound of Silence was playing now) that all came to an end. 

I took a swig from my glass. The beer tasted curious. Kate took a sip from her Progress then looked over to me or tried to. Her eyes were jammed shut. I attempted to speak but my lips wouldn’t move. 

The barman grinned his inane grin, looked at us with his hypnotic eyes. Turning from the bar, I noticed that, snuck into each group, there were one or two members who looked just like this man. 

Turning back, the barman told us this was the tiebreaker round. No one could leave, he said, until we could tell him aloud the name of the soundtrack from which all the tunes had been picked. 

No one had left yet and, as the tunes went round and round and round, it felt unlikely we ever would. 

The sound of silence rang in Kate’s  ears. 

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