Twice this week, I’ve made a beeline for a bar. Nothing unusual in that other than the fella behind the jump acknowledging my familiar presence with a knowing smile, and a significant glance toward my self-medication of choice.
Chaucer coined a phrase now found in the common lexicon; ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ although I’m more taken by Mark Twain noting that ‘Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it’.
Fair point fella. If we did politics on the hedgehog, I’d be all over that referencing current events. But we don’t, and as this blog is all about me let’s instead pick a couple of examples which brought me up a little short this week.
Monday finds me bored in the same hotel I’ve already wasted fifty nights this year staring at walls. Those walls are not something I can stomach when autumn light pins you to a room with not much of a view. Instead I’m up and out, walking the streets, shunning the bright lights, looking for a place to eat alone. I’ve been doing this for twenty plus years and it’s never glamorous. Especially in Coventry 😉
So after much perambulation I’m back in the hotel. I trade a high five with Petoir – he’s the lovely fella behind a shiny bar and a similar suit and tie provided by the hotel, but inside that he’s far more interesting. We talk family, football teams and fantasies – him: bringing his wife and child over, me: retiring and giving this shit the middle finger.
In between he pours me the beer that has been our calling card over all these months. I give my thanks, while nodding to the other poor bastards I see weekly living in a world exchanging home for money. We never really talk because their iPhones virtually project a physical distance I nowadays think of as ‘London’.
Some are pissed already. Many are desperately heading that way. A few amusingly believe they are the main event. Others exit stage left. All the world’s a stage and we’re merely players apparently. Could be that – whatever it just feels desperately sad. I’ve been here in over a hundred bars in more than forty cities and it’s all horribly familiar. And that does breed a bit of contempt for your life choices.
Bar closes, now it’s just me and Petoir sat on the other side. He’s knocking back decent brandy while explaining that everyone treats him like shit. This is not the way it works back in Poland. Apparently they stab you in the front rather than slice you with impatience and passive-aggressiveness. Or, worse still, just an ignorance which considers you a proxy between their entitlement and a drink.
This really pisses me off. Some of that is because I’m also half cut drinking brandy, a little because I’ve been guilty of similar behaviour in the past. But mostly because of what belonging should feel like. It feels like this:
Four days later, I’m making determined tracks to the bar of our local in Ross. I name-check Jamie behind the bar, check out how his world is before making a three fingered gesture triggering a phalanx of favourite beers leaving the taps.
While I worry that maybe this is a cipher for alcohol dependancy, I love this pub for its old-worldly charm, it’s comfortable chairs, it’s lack of electronic coin magnets, it’s choice of conversation over music – but even so, this feels a bit too familiar, a bit to close to the knuckle, a point between giving up and selling out.
So I chuck it out there; is this as good as it gets, is this a rut we’ve dug for ourselves, am I just being a pretentious twat? The view from those who I’ve come to rely on to calibrate my moral compass tell me it probably is, we probably have and you definitely are. They also explained something far more interesting.
‘This is community Al. You’ve never lived in the same place as long as this. You’re always searching for something better. But this is what real life is like, flawed individuals and messy lives. Stop worrying if this is what you should be doing and get amongst it’
I’m paraphrasing here; it was more ‘stop being a dick and get the next round in’, yet the totality of that narrative wasn’t lost on me. My best friends are anchored in a time and place with an iron certainty it is will endure. Familiarity isn’t contemptuous – it’s binds you to some important certainties. It’s not perfect but you’re a local, a person who gets it, an advocate of what is right, who can – and should – make a difference.
I never wanted to settle down. That felt like getting old. The idea you weren’t windswept and interesting was a little demeaning. Not being tied to a place because no place was quite good enough for you. The grass was always greener. Even when it wasn’t.
The difference between a generic hotel bar not even close to living the dream, and having a beer with my best friends has made me reevaluate that long held maxim.
Usual? Right now that sounds pretty good.