First published in Punch magazine c.1987 and reprinted in The Pick of Punch 1987, edited by Alan Coren.
Scanned and submitted to the site by Roger Stanger
I have been banned from four pubs in the last nine weeks, mostly in this Milton Keynes area but from one in Harpenden. I don’t drink, so it doesn’t bother me that much. When I go into a pub it’s because there’s a nice girl there. What I do there is unimportant. I keep buying packets of nuts that I smuggle into ashtrays in little heaps.
“What can I get you?” the girl says.
The reply is metaphysical. Your requirements are so fundamental and even unknown (in their more poetic elements) to yourself that you are lost. My eyes range desperately around the bottles and tins and those baffling pump-handles and I cry out some little liquid menu that rests on top of the head.
“Small beer and a large scotch, please.” Then they say what beer and I ask them to choose - it all becomes involved. If the place is all right and the girl friendly, remaining there is difficult. You can’t drink any more if you’re driving and if you’re not it’s even more important to stay in command.
“I’ll drive you home if you like, “ Lincoln offered. Lincoln is very pretty and seems to like me, so I drink a bit more in order to stay. I have been waiting for someone like Lincoln to say that, make that offer, to me of all people in the White Hart, waiting for it for nearly 50 years - predictably, I gave the wrong answer.
“But then how will you get home?”
Watchers of Jack Trevor Story have since told me that what she said was quiet and promising, but my reply was loud and deep and passionate, making a big deal and letting the whole bar know that Lincoln wasn’t bothered about getting home. What an idiot I am.
She quickly moved away to a more mature chap. So that was the fourth banning. I mean they don’t ban me, I ban myself. Sometimes it’s not my ignorant behaviour but politics. I tirade.
“The first time you say your four-letter word, I know I have to get you out,” says Bill Johnson. He is my best mate for the past 30 years - I have written several novels inspired by Bill as central character. You saw him perhaps on the Paul Daniels show, riding his bicycle with the reverse steering. He has always done things like that and I suppose it explains his choice of friends.
Bill has been with me and contained my exuberance many times but now we are separated - by geography and circumstances. He is now the father of a demanding teenage daughter and I have lost my teenage wives - just recently, since the banning started. Elaine always contained me by being more over-the-top than I am. She taught me to swear but finally rescinded - I thinks that’s the word - and went to university. Although she showed me how to yodel, as it were, I embarrassed her at low table at Oxford and she did not intend to let me turn up too many times at Lucy Cavendish in Cambridge.
“Quietly,” she said, for a few months, like a ventriloquist.
That was my first banning, really. And the worst. I cried only last night, looking down into her dark garden, now lit only by the late white blossom of her plum-tree, shining above her daffodils. I saw her squatting down there in her dungarees, weeding the beds with a table knife, patiently, or combing Queenie’s fur, that mangy dog on her back with her eyes closed and her paws in the air, but now dead.
“You’re always on your own these days, Jack,” said Moura at The Plough at Easter. What embarrassment. It’s that obvious, is it? And what a danger. Middle-aged men start talking to one. The danger is to everybody present. Because, if I detect any blandness in their political or social thinking, or if I detect apathy or worse - if I detect laughter or funny jokes reserved for people like me (the greatest put-down surely) - I use my first four-letter word of the evening on them. Moura, of course, I shall never see again - banned.
The artist in English society today has been banned. Yes, it is a fact and it is what I am saying tonight, Saturday night and stuck here. Augustus John would be banned today and so would all the authors, poets, writers, painters and musickers of my lifetimes - I’ve had at least three (lifetimes), one with each girl, two more with wives. I married Elaine recently, which was probably an error. She took me into ecstasies for many years with her marmalade and preserves, wines, chutneys and delicious cakes and pastries and Greek dishes.
“And now I’m going to re-appraise Joyce Carey,” she announced, taking off her Habitat apron. It was about five years after we had moved from Hampstead to take up this wretched Arts Council job in Milton Keynes. And it was, of course, the beginning of the end - Dwarf Goes To Oxford is my new book about it.
But I am not here to advertise. I want to point out, just after spending a weekend in Tunbridge Wells, that Thatcher or what she stands for has taken the colour out of life in this country.
“Dad, what were you doing to June in the back of the car going home?” asked Caroline, my daughter. It was the last straw in a pretty strawy weekend - Sussex is like going back 50 years.
“Now look here, Caroline,” said I to her, quite fed-up. We were sitting in a small but over-priced country pub in a place called Sale Green, I think, and I had recognised the chap in the window as Harry Andrews, the actor. “Now listen, daughter, last night we went through the whole evening, chat, drinks, darts, without my swearing once - right?”
“Wrong, Dad,” she said.
She then destroyed my halcyon memories of conforming to Tunbridge Wells. The first time she and Rohan had taken me to their local, which was in middle-March, I had apparently, apparently, passed out and been put outside in the Range Rover for an hour, then brought in again, and normalised. But this time I had purposely, of course, watched myself pretty closely. Well, somehow I had got away.
But is it so terribly terrible? Does it mean that a person, regardless of his talent or lack of it, shall not be allowed mad-drunks any more? If so, the quality of mercy is not being very selective these days. I’ve seen Peter O’Toole fighting and covered in blood and laughing, watched John Hurt creep up behind me in the mirror at the Coach, NW3 and grab me by the neck, heard from his chauffeur, Gustave, about Dicky Burton doing things heroic and dangerous which would have sent ordinary people to jail.
Take the case of Colin the jazz drummer, top in his class, Ronnie Scott’s and The Stables and The Hundred and everywhere; he has stopped drinking altogether. It can be done. Drink fruit juice. Tea.
“I’ll have a double tea!”
Well, not tea - that’s slang for potleaf, isn’t it? Colin and I discussed it many months ago, this pub-banning in England. In that wildly discursive manner we mad-drunks adopt. The discussion of related issues. Art, the liberal arts, of which drinking or drugging or girl-watching and man-watching are a somewhat pleasant part, innocent in all its facets, is not banned in Paris or New York or anywhere where art is still part of the colour of the nation. My most fervent hope for Labour is that they will see this in the nick of time and get rid of that red - let’s have a few pastels, another George Brown, some scandal, discover a corrupt son or daughter on the game.
“What do you actually do, Colin?” I asked, during discussion.
“I hit people,” said the drummer.
Ah, that is a problem. Unless they are related to you.
Still, now I’ve got his particular mad-drunk crime in print, it doesn’t seem too bad at all and you may like to know that his real name is Bryan Spring and our connection is his greatest rimshot and mine, Rosie Dalziel, whose father is a doctor and who reads for Cape, writes for Tribune and was Maggie’s and my favourite flat-sharer at 18 East Heath Road, 1965-1977. Now I think of it, that was probably the fin de siècle of the mad-drunk age. One night my Dwarf, pre-emptively I see now, pushed me into a six-foot sewer trench in Canon Place and left me for dead.
About the present, as Doctor Faustus was heard to remark, the only time the golden past comes to Milton Keynes is when Goodtime George Melly rides in. But this is the optimum place when one writes one’s long-awaited autobiography. Nothing is likely to top it or distract you. Old letters, in the archiving, old columns and tear-sheets and books give me names like John Heath Stubbs, the poet, and the night he was banned in Bloomsbury and eight of us crossed the street in ritual protest keeping our glasses - Ian Hendry, John Watson, Byron Rogers, Maureen Pryor, Rosie and me and Fred - a cat-burglar who had just done John Watson’s block but had a special no-go arrangement with friends.
And that’s us, you know, at the far end of the Museum Tavern, Maureen with her waggish shine, fresh out of Ladies in Retirement, John Ingram being beastly to dinosaur publishers and nobody waiting long for the first four-letter word. That is the colour, the missing colour, nobody getting burgled, nobody getting pissed except in some fruitful way.
Copyright © the estate of Jack Trevor Story 2002 Not for reproduction. Copyright in all work by Jack Trevor Story is the property of the author's heirs. Permission for use of this material can be obtained through Jackie Edwards (Story), Peter Story, Lee Story or Michael Moorcock. Reproduction of copyright material whether in text, visual or audio form by unauthorised sources strictly forbidden.