The King Offa

Pete and I rewired his living room the other day. Just the sound system. It’s taken me a few days to convince him that the centre speaker should go either over or under the television rather than on the windowsill. Now he wants to move the subwoofer from behind the sofa. I’m not sure this is the best plan but I have discovered that The Car isn’t funny when the soundtrack includes a disturbing subterranean rumble throughout.

Saturday we discovered this. After Kerrie’s friends had helped me stick labels on cassettes for festivals, cast and crew. We played the film and no one seemed to laugh. Must have been the bass. Yes, for sure. Or maybe their sense of humour is very different to mine. Like way out there. Lost. In suburbia.

As if to test that last statement, Pete insisted we all go to the pub round the corner–the seventies nightmare pre-fab construction that is The King Offa. Who was King Offa? Who cares? It was an Offa I could have refused (but a pun I couldn’t prevent) and, well you’ve just got to know haven’t you? No, actually. You haven’t. Pete won, though, because he’d just cooked the curry to end all curries. You can’t really argue with good food, can you?

Here’s what I’ll be missing when I drink in American bars: Firstly, a large empty room on a Saturday night with a fruit machine at one end, a quiz machine at the other and a pool table in the middle. Four kids aged roughly seven to 11 surround the fruit machine and are feeding it with coins. Three others, aged about the same and equally as rough are gambling on the quiz machine. Their parent or parents are nowhere in sight.

The only people of legal drinking age (just) are the couple in the corner, he with shaven head, her huddled close, out of the light, sharing a corner. We cross the chipped tile floor (all the rage here in nomansland) and wait for the bar-girl, who eventually appears and is clearly modelling herself on the latest household name from reality pop television. She’s got the spikey hair and she can pour beers. Nearly there then, isn’t she? Somewhere. Success? Just round the corner.

As the theme from Deliverance strikes up, Kerrie and Pete proceed to demonstrate that they’ve played pool before, deftly avoiding whacking shaven headed pre-pubescents with the cues, which is the main skill in this bar. Four badly-drawn regulars with faces scribbled sketchy in dreariness sit propping up the bar in the room opposite ours. They share half a bottle of charisma while looking through to our side, no doubt acknowledging our talents in this area, this arena, this pool pit.

Eleven o’clock clunks around in the palace of fun and a barman appears with the inevitability of the costume store owner at the end of an episode of Mr Ben, an old childrens’ cartoon where the hero went on a magical adventure each week only to be brought back to reality in the last minute. Now there are three phrases in the English language which go hand in hand with our whole culture. The three phrases which say service will always be anathema to the British psyche. The King Offa barman rings the bell and rattles his lines off like a true pro.

“Can you start drinking up now, please?”

“Can I have your glasses now, please?”

“Can you start making a move now, please?”

In other words, sod off. We eke out our welcome to the last minute, thirty minutes past eleven. Thirty minutes past even the hour a rather worn-out looking young woman with greasy hair of indeterminate colour had come in to collect her offspring. But surely the hour was yet early for them to be up and around, frolicking, gambolling and gambling the night away? Maybe they were off to joyriding class next. Maybe some fireworks.

Fireworks. Yip. Three weeks to Bonfire Night but the UK has to be subjected to a bombardment of explosions every night before and after for at at least two months because, well, yer gotta, aintchya? It’s fun. No, it isn’t. It’s tragic. And it’s tragic because it lacks magic. The smiles are all on the surface, expected because someone is holding up a big cue card for them, telling them how to behave.

Concorde flew it’s last passenger flight on Friday. For the regulars of The King Offa, they’ve got just as much chance of flying on it tomorrow as they did a month ago. Actually, it’s not so much that. They probably had as much chance as I did of travelling around the world. It’s more the oppresive feel of the place. Joyless? Soulless? No, just sad. It’s the thought that those kids will never dream of creating something like a Concorde while their brains are being turned to mush by gaming machines.

That’s the real horror of The King Offa. Television shows them they can have it all, large it up, expect it as birthright and big up themselves. But there’s no satisfaction in getting it large or otherwise. High expectations. Low challenges. Credit card lifestyles in the making. Bang! Whizz! It’s your birthday. Sparkle sparkle. Here’s the world! Can you start making a move now, please? No. Because no one really means it and you don’t really care.

From nowhere obvious, a subterranean rumble continues all along the street.

2 Responses to 'The King Offa'

  1. Lizzie Says:

    I stood at the door waiting for you to say hello. You ignored me again. This can’t go on, if it does you know what will happen.

  2. pete Says:

    King Offa. Important local English character. King Offa – pub. Local pub.

    Wherever we are in the world there are places that we are familiar. There are people we know nothing of.

    It’s “nice” that you have experienced my “local”. A friendly crowd of very “Cheers” survivors looking towards the door hoping for light to enter their lives. I myself have found inspiration from people like this and hope to continue to do so for the rest of mine.

    A good game of pool with friends, an unexpected conversation with someone perhaps from my fears, a moment of observation makes me feel alive. I am not perfect, I am inspired.

    Never judge a pub by the drugs dealt in the car park.

    Love Pete