Earlier this week I was watching the C4 tv programme ‘Very British Problems’ based on the book by Rob Temple. It describes our national tendency for unnecessary apologising, an obsessive interest in correct queuing etiquette and dramatic sighing in the presence of loud teenagers on public transport. I read that it was hilarious – a bit like Grumpy Old Men but with cutting irony so I thought I’d give it a go. Well I nearly laughed…er that’s it.
It featured two women rabbiting on who I didn’t recognise, the two chaps off The Last Leg (though not the witty Adam Hill) and something of a surprise, Stephen Mangan, who’s just finished filming the latest series of the excellent UK/US joint production Episodes with Matt le Blanc (of Friends fame) and James Corden. James bloody Corden who has just negotiated a $5m 2 year extension to his current $6m contract presenting The Late Late Show over in America. And it got me thinking, what the frig are they both doing on this tin pot little programme poking slight fun at our British foibles? Can’t they sleep? Furthermore Stephen Mangan must do more voice overs than almost anyone on UK tv and radio ads. He seems to do them all apart from the ones for webuyanycar.com where the v/o is done by none other than James Corden. What is the current darling of US late night tv doing promoting a car sales website? He could be enjoying the beauty of Carmel beach or checking out the stunning sequoia forests or watching the Miami Heat play some cool basketball or shopping for matching Corvette Stingrays with his missus. No he’d obviously far rather catch the old red eye and spend several hours in a sweaty sound studio behind Charlotte St voicing such inspirational words as ‘We’re the UK’s largest car buying service and have helped over 750,000 customers to sell their car since 2006’. It’s not Richard III is it? It’s not even Richard Curtis though I guess it must pay well eh?
Anyway what’s the point of this posting other than to be surprised (not really) at people’s lust for money? Well if you can cast your mind back to how I started this posting, I was going on about the programme’s presenters talking about our strange little ways and, by example, the chaps were discussing how awkward things can get over the buying of rounds in pubs etc. You would’t think there was much scope to fill a 15 minute slot in the programme on this subject would you? But you’d be wrong. They were talking about the guys who get the early rounds in before the numbers get large or, conversely, those who cling on till the bitter end hoping the numbers will reduce before they have to get their round in. And all manner of tricks in between.
And it reminded me of a chap I was at uni with and after we’d left we both worked in the City and used to meet up for the occasional drink/catch up. This was in the very early days of our working lives and neither of us had much cash. But everytime we met I’d turn up first, at the time we agreed, whilst he’d arrive 5 minutes later by which time I’d got the first round in. Then he’d buy the next one, then I’d end up getting a final one. So I’d end up always buying two rounds to his one. At first I just passed this off as chance but after this had happened several times I decided to turn up deliberately late one day and turn the tables. He was at the bar and upon seeing me necked back the last of his beer leaving me to get the next drinks in. Unbelievable. The bloke was generous in some ways (which didn’t actually cost him money) but he had absolutely no shame at dodging buying a drink if he could. I just couldn’t play the game like he did and stopped meeting him for drinks and lost all contact.
Now this example of poor bar manners contrasted sharply with the unwritten rules at the pub where my father-in-law and brother-in-law used to drink in Carnforth. Now this is a proper working class town built around the railway and George was a proud railwayman. Son Colin was a lorry driver and they both enjoyed a beer or two at the Shovel Inn after work. And occasionally I’d join them. Now there’s something genuinely honest about the relationship between working men who have to rely upon each other to do their often hard and dirty work. And in the pub this meant I was introduced as George’s son-in-law, rather proudly I think, as C’s husband and studying at university and this meant that any friend of George’s or Colin’s was a friend of mine for the evening. So when someone wanted to buy George a drink, they bought for Colin and me too, regardless of whether I fancied it or not (and these guys could drink). And the round was bought for you as ‘in’. So at various points I’d be reminded that I had 3 drinks ‘in’ or already bought for me by George or Colin’s colleagues, some of whom had already left. How the barman kept up with it is a minor miracle but he was absolutely trusted. Now George and Colin reciprocated with rounds and I tried to keep up but it was always a losing battle. I’d have to donate 2 or 3 of my drinks to the chaps and they’d still return home pretty coherent whilst I had to be carried back in a bag. I swear to you that weeks later when I returned and popped in to see George, the barman wouldn’t allow me to buy a drink, reminding instead that I still had two drinks ‘in’. Class.
I dare say it’s all changed with the passing of the old railway guys and the shrinkage in the train services and the demise of barmen who can keep count in their heads. But it was the most mannered and trusted system for buying rounds of drinks I’ve ever known and can just about remember.