A good weekend was had by all. Most meals were consumed outside, and this is surely the sign of a good weekend. On Friday a bunch of us had a barbecue on the downs, but a massive electrical storm had us take refuge at the Coach and Horses pub.

At first we were sat at the left-hand side of patio, as you see it in this photo. On the other side were a group of guys. They were mostly of the big, muscly and tattooed variety. They looked no strangers to trouble, but they didn’t look like bad guys. Just the kind of guys that it might be just a little too easy to get the wrong side of. One of their number was having trouble controlling himself. He looked young, late teens or early twenties, where everyone else seemed to be in their thirties. Every couple of minutes he would find himself on the verge of a fight with one of his friends and there would be a confrontation that he would end up backing down from. Inbetween squaring off with his friends, he would look over at us, hunting for some minor infraction from our group that would justify intervention.

Before anything happened though, it really started to pour, and our group went inside, where the other guys stayed under cover on the other side of the patio.

We’d had a few more drinks inside when Phil and I decided to make ourselves a couple of roll-ups to smoke on the patio. The moment we stepped outside to smoke, the young guy started on us.

“You look like a couple of benderssaid he.

“Don’t listen to him, he’s a nightmare” said a bag of tattooed muscle, in a friendly manner

I was immediately wrong-footed by this. The first problem was that I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to respond. His comment hadn’t offended me. I didn’t really care one way or another if he thought Phil and I were a pair of benders. I knew I had to say something, but I didn’t know if I should act offended, because his comment was intended to offend. I didn’t know whether to look at the guy trying to start on us or his friend trying to reassure us that he was all mouth and just to ignore him. He even smacked the guy on the side of his face with the back of his hand to prove his point.

This didn’t deter the guy though. He hit out with a few other comments suggesting that he would very much enjoy a fight with me and Phil. Phil found his tongue before I did.

“We’re not big guys, what are you picking on us for? Why not try it on with one of them?”, pointing to a row of his massive friends.

“Here Les, this one’s a bender and he wants to kiss you” says the guy, about me. I’m still not really in the spirit of the whole thing, a bit bewildered. I just mumbled something like:

“Yeah… a bender… want to kiss him…”

At this point our relationship to the other guy took a turn for the worse. He was either being friendly in an aggressive way or aggressive in a friendly way, and it was only a matter of time before we rubbed him up the wrong way.

The young guy bounced a 5p off Phil’s head from point-blank range. I missed this, only seeing a 5p hit the ground next to my feet, not understanding why at the time.

“You want to wind him in mate”, said Phil to the up-till-now friendly guy.

He didn’t like this.

“What do you mean I’ve got to wind him in?”

“We’re just trying to enjoy our cigarettes in peace, we don’t deserve this” says Phil

Phil and the previously matey guy are now squaring up to each other. At this point I finally started to feel a bit of adrenaline, and with it anger.

“You can go and smoke your fucking cigarettes over there” says he to Phil, pointing away from the bar. All the other guys in this group were standing by watching this, not saying anything, but waiting to see how it all panned out.

Neither Phil, nor the bigger guy were for backing down, and it genuinely seemed like an all-on-two kicking was inevitable. At this point, belatedly and inspired by Phil’s solo display of bravery, my nuts arrived and my voice with it. If I was going to get a tanking for doing absolutely nothing, I wasn’t going to be squealing for mercy.

I felt the little rager demon in me that almost never comes out. I can’t fight, but I can bellow my head off, and it confuses people into thinking I can fight. It was last used on a train in Barcelona to good effect about a year ago, and it must have been about the year 2000 the time before that.

We all stood there, no-one saying anything. Phil and I finished our cigarettes, but it seemed that we shouldn’t leave straight away. It just felt that if we did that we were going feel knuckles or worse raining down as we turned our backs. So we just stayed standing there.

“It’s just a laugh mate” says the big guy, returning to a bit more of a friendly mode.

“Well I don’t feel like I’m in on the fucking joke” I heard myself say.

Some friendly banter then started to emerge. The tension seemed to break and we each shook the big guy’s hand, the three of us saying there was no problem, no hard feelings, that sort of crap. We went back into the pub, and had some more drinks. Adrenaline stayed high though, because I knew we still had to walk through them to leave the pub.

When we did leave, nothing happened, nothing was said and we walked on. As we got further away from the pub and the risks of a confrontation diminished to zero, my bravery increased. I increasingly awarded myself a hero’s role in the affair, and chose to keep alive the memories of my anger, and my readiness to snap at the next provocation. I let the memories of the fear and my shaking limbs subside.

Maybe I should ask Phil to narrate his own version.

Yeah, we almost got ourselves into a scrap on Friday. I squared up to a guy twice my size. Robin smoked a cigarette and said he wanted to kiss him.

P.S. I also heard a cracking line yesterday. A guy selling the big issue was raging at a girl busking because she was on his patch. In the exchange, she shouted at him “Why don’t you get a squat!” in the same way that someone might have shouted “Why don’t you get a job!”. She had a squat, so why couldn’t he get one? It revealed a class conflict I never knew existed.

Yeah! why don’t you occupy someone else’s property in a quasi-legal manner you leech!?


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