I’m meeting a mate for a few beers tonight. I know that’s not earth-shattering news to most people but dads will know the importance of such a statement. I get an evening off. No teeth brushing tussle, no bed time routine, no creeping around the flat trying to silently cobble together an evening meal so as not to wake the little darling. Tonight I won’t have to hear the dreaded words from my partner as she gets into bed: “Can we just have a brief chat about the credit card bill?”
No. This afternoon my son will regard me with bemusement as I strut around listening to Snoop Dogg and get ready. I’ve even had a shave. I’m not bothered about the rule we have about chocolate today – let him eat as much as he wants! It’s not my problem sucker, I am outta here! Tonight, I am free to assume the mantle of McFly (not the band!) and travel back in time to glory days. I am free to drink and be merry without a care in the world or a thought of mortgages or recycling or whether Oliver’s PE kit has been washed. I am the man I used to be and so is my mate. We are both unshackled from fatherhood for a few glorious hours.
Though of course, we aren’t really. This isn’t 1992. Both of us have lost our hair and the drinking den we loved back then is now a gastro pub. I know exactly how tonight will go.
Upon arriving at our old local we will tut at the change of name and raise our eyebrows to each other in a silent chorus of “Not like the old days” or some similar sentiment. We will make our way to the back bar and get a pint (real ale for me nowadays, I can’t drink Stella any more). Taking our seats, we will look around and comment on the slate grey paint job and the bare floor boards. The eulogising about the merits of the tatty old, deep red carpet of our youth, sticky with beer and fag ends, will take about twenty minutes. Usually the conversation will contain phrases like, “It echoes like a bloody train station in here now,” and, “It’s lost all its charm, hasn’t it?’ I say usually because this is not our first rodeo. It isn’t the first time we’ve been back to the local since it changed, and it won’t be the last. It won’t be the last time we chime out the same complaints (“Look at the bloody menu! Pad Thai for Christ’s sake!”). But that’s the point. Tonight doesn’t work in a bar that neither of us has ever been in before. Tonight we need the old pub to have changed. We need to have a memory of the old place for our old memories to flow.
Tonight is about those glory days. OK sure, the first hour or so is taken up with asking about the kids, schools, wives, how much the last MOT cost. Sure, we both have our phones on the table in case the wife texts about the kid not being asleep yet. Sure, we groan a bit as we lower ourselves into chairs that are, despite our arses being more generously upholstered nowadays, a bit too hard for our liking.
But somewhere in that conversation about today, one of us will say, using the time-honoured method, “Not like in (insert year) when (insert name) did (insert funny incident) with (insert name).”
And we’re off. The pints are flowing and we’re joyfully telling each other half-remembered stories about a past that we both lived. I’m telling him about when he rolled his car avoiding a fox, he’s telling me I took a whole E my first time and wandered off on my own at the St. Pauls festival. We’ll tell each other about the time we took mushrooms and had a joint hallucination on a staircase turning to liquid in that pub in Clifton. The pints keep flowing and we keep telling the same stories, pausing to try to remember that girls name that we couldn’t remember last time either. Stepping outside to smoke, we berate the smoking ban and our rose-tinted beer goggles convince us that the smoggy atmosphere of a nineties pub was better, though of course it wasn’t. We point out the place we caught our mate fumbling drunkenly with another girl we can’t remember on the bonnet of an old Cortina. As we stub out the cigarette that we only half smoke these days, we joke that we wouldn’t have done half the things we did if everyone had smartphones with cameras back then. Especially that one thing, you know with the… and the… and we hid out in the… you know the one I mean. Ah those were the days. Though of course they weren’t.
We don’t talk about the shitty bedsits we lived in, scrabbling around for rent every month. No mention of the night shifts in a petrol station or the endless soundtrack of infatuation and heartbreak that played us through our teens and 20s. We forget to mention that all we really wanted, what we drank to forget that we didn’t have, was someone to love us, a home of our own that didn’t smell of mould and a reason not to go to the pub every night.
Of course life was stressful then. Of course we had money and relationship problems. Of course we hated most of the transient jobs we did to get money. Of course we had as many, if not more, dark days as we have now. What we remember tonight though is the brightness of the good days. Perhaps they were brighter than our good days now, maybe they only seem that way because they were the anomalies in a blurry landscape of monotony and angst. I must have spent over eighty percent of evenings in the Nineties in the pub but I’ll be buggered if I can remember more than about 20 of them.
No. Tonight is not about the drudgery and pain of touring every night, churning out the same tunes, hoping each night that something amazing will happen. Tonight is the one off greatest hits show. All the best memories, every one a banger.
So tonight we will sing of those glory days whilst the youngsters in the pub look on with barely contained pity for these old dogs, barking on about ancient history.
And that’s fine. It’s the way of things, the circle of life if you will. One day those skinny little kids with good hair and cheekbones will be the old guys with a head like a shaved kiwi fruit and a body like a half-filled water balloon. One day they will tell their stories to themselves on the odd occasion they make it out of the house in an evening for something other than a parents evening. And then they will know the joy of the stolen evening in the pub, the chance to play the greatest hits, to get that old buzz without waking up somewhere different each morning with a hangover that would kill a horse.
So here’s to glory days. Hears to the greatest hits, to knowing we made them, to being thankful we lived through it all with no criminal record or photographic evidence.
Here’s to the perspective of distance.
Cheers. Now where did I put the aspirin?