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  Keith Snell

The Pub Outing

by Keith Snell

Tim cringed as Ivan’s beer belly slumped in the seat alongside with a belch of early morning whisky.

“Alreight young Timmy?”

He pulled the lead of his iPod clear of Ivan’s considerable backside and mumbled a begrudging ‘Hello’.

Straggles of greasy black hair fell like a withered hanging basket from the worst comb-over Tim had ever seen. Saggy chins and ruddy cheeks jostled in time with spluttering lips as he bellowed greetings to more arrivals.

Regulars from the Pig and Whistle were quickly filling the dilapidated, single-decker coach as Tim desperately looked round for the safety of an empty seat. He was supposed to be sitting with Rachael, but she was late. It was their first date, and now the pub troublemaker had taken a shine to him. Tim glanced anxiously at the line of smiling figures making their way down the coach then out through the grimy window at others milling outside in the car park sunshine. She hadn’t changed her mind – had she?

Most of the faded blue seats were filled and the landlord was checking off names on a clipboard when he caught sight of a hurrying figure in a floral pink dress. She arrived breathless in the doorway, brushing back a straggle of sunflower hair from flustered cheeks. “Sorry I’m late,” she panted to the driver.

She spotted Tim’s waving hand and made her way down the aisle with a wide grin. Ivan stared her defiantly in the eye, his bulk plugged into the protesting narrow seat like a stopper in a bottle. There was no way past him and he wasn’t for moving.

“Pretty please, there’s a window seat next to Freda,” said Rachael.

She knew Ivan and Freda had a history, although exactly what sort of history she wasn’t sure. It was clearly not the sort she had hoped for as Freda overheard and jabbed a scowling two-finger gesture in their direction.

Ivan  pointed to an empty seat four rows up. “Get thiself sat down lass, or are tha gonna stand theer all day.”

She gave him the look reserved for pub gropers and stomped back down the coach with a clatter of high heels. A moment later her face appeared above a headrest. “Keep it zipped,” she mouthed with an ominous roll of the eyes towards Ivan. Tim nodded, but he’d already decided he was going to tell the slobbering hulk exactly what he thought of him.

Suddenly a hand clamped his own to the armrest. He froze as Ivan’s backside raised itself an inch from the seat with the sound of a watery trombone. “Ahhh...needed that,” he grunted.

It quickly became clear that the stench of last night’s pub crawl was the least of Tim’s worries as a half-bottle of Johnnie Walker appeared  from the grimy fleece coat. Tim realised that confrontation wasn’t such a good idea after all as Ivan’s unshaven face leered close. “Here Timmy, set ya up for the day.”

Ivan wasn’t the sort of man you said no to when he’d had a drink, and from the looks of it he’d had plenty - most of it down the front of his Man-U T shirt and faded jeans.

“Bit early for me Ivan; I’ll hang on till breakfast if it’s all the same with you.”

“Some kinda wimp are ya lad? Get a slug of this down yer gullet.”

Tim caught a glimpse of gold fillings through puffy lips as the bottle jabbed against his chest. He hated whisky, but it was either that or run the risk of one of Ivan’s tirades. The stuff tasted awful, like hospital anaesthetic burning his throat. Ivan snatched the bottle back with a growl of approval and slipped it back into his coat. Escape was out of the question now.

A loud cheer erupted as the doors hissed closed and the engine burbled into life. The landlord swayed upright in front of his congregation clutching a megaphone borrowed from the five-a-side football team. As the coach lurched on to the main road he grabbed an overhead luggage rack and stuttered a hesitant “One…two…three….testing,” into his new toy.

“Reight lads and lasses,” crackled the thin mechanical voice, “fust stop, breakfast at Aggy’s Tea Parlur in Longridge; then it’s Blackpoo, an as much as tha can drink.”

Another cheer was quickly followed by Ivan’s fist punching the air and an ear-splitting rendition of Here we go, Here we go, Here we go

Tim slumped his head against the window and resigned himself to half an hour beside the flatulent lump of lard. 

By the time Aggy’s Tea Parlour came in sight Ivan was snoring his head off with the empty whisky bottle clutched to his belly like a prized teddy bear. His head jerked upright at the lurch of brakes and crunching gravel in front of the ramshackle transport café. “What? Where?” 

“He’s doing my head in,” muttered Tim across a plastic tablecloth of greasy bacon and runny eggs.

Rachel squeezed his hand and glanced to the next table where Ivan was ear bashing the driver over a tatty road map and a can of lager.

“He’s harmless enough, and besides, he did let us have the coach for free.”

Tim looked out of the window to the blue lettering along the side of the hand-painted, yellow juggernaut - Ivan’s Express for Luxury tours in congenial company.

“Do you think we should report him under the Trade Descriptions Act?” he said, taking another sip of lukewarm coffee from a chipped mug.

Rachael slid a fifty pence piece across the table and pointed to the jukebox. “Elvis and Blue Suede Shoes,” she whispered, “it’s his favourite. Maybe it’ll put him in a better mood.”

A minute later Ivan’s face lit up like a halloween pumpkin at the sound of ….Well it’s a one for the money....two for the show…three to get ready then

“Everybody, on’t dance floower,” he yelled, leaping to his feet.

A moment later, an elderly couple who looked like a good walk would kill them were gyrating like zombie rockers from a sixties movie. Others quickly joined them, tables were moved aside and in no time at all the place had taken on the air of a Saturday night disco.

Rachael checked on Ivan then grabbed Tim’s hand and dragged him outside to the empty coach. They cuddled up on the back seat, kissing between nervous giggles. She’d fancied him since school and was beginning to think he wasn’t interested. In the end she’d given up hinting and got her friend Patty to ask him outright. Even that was like pulling teeth when his mates found out and managed to convince him it was a wind up.

“So when did you decide you fancied me too,” she whispered, avoiding his gaze.

He ran a finger across her cheek. “At school,” he replied nervously, ”in the last year.”

“What!” she said, pushing him away with a scowl, “You mean you wasted three years of my life because you were too soft to ask me out?”

“It wasn’t that …it was just that I didn’t.. y’know…couldn’t think what to…”

She yanked him close and kissed him hard on the lips. “Now that’s what’s called a wind up silly.”

Tim felt his cheeks burning.

“It’s true what they say about men,” she laughed.

“And what’s that then?”

“That they’re from Mars.”

Tim frowned. “So you’re a sucker for flying saucers and little green men?”

“Looks like it,” she said curling an arm round his waist.

Ivan was too busy eyeing up a potential dance partner to notice they’d gone. A wide-eyed waitress uttered a stifled shriek as the crazed space hopper seized her. The café owner was screaming, “stop it, stop it this instant, we’re not licensed for dancing”.

She made a grab for the nearest reveller and found herself in a cheek-to-cheek boogie with a nose-ring skinhead. His tongue flicked a gold bobble in her face and she instinctively jerked a knee upward. He staggered back clutching his groin and she made a dive for the juke box.

“Out, the lot of you; out now before I call the police,” she yelled, holding up the electrical plug with a shriek of triumph.

Ivan slowed to an one-legged wobble with the look of a schoolboy caught in the girls locker room.

“Only a bitta fun gal, what’s yer beef?”

They stumbled out into the car park, Ivan pausing to give her the benefit of his mooning skills, narrowly dodging the half-eaten pork pie she hurled.

Rachael and Tim ducked down as the others trooped on board. With a bit of luck Ivan would be too busy haranguing the driver to notice his drinking partner was missing.

“Timmy, where the hell are ya?”

Ivan’s glowering form blocked the aisle as he scanned the rows of seats for a familiar face.

“He’s there with Rachel,” yelled four of his so-called mates with pointing fingers and cackles of laughter.

“Get yer backside up ‘ere lad, there’ll be time enough for snoggin when we get theer.”

Tim ignored Patty Taylor’s grinning thumbs-up from the seat opposite as Ivan thrust a can of luke-warm Heineken in his lap. “Wash thi breakfast down with that.”

By the time the coach pulled into the car park below Blackpool tower Tim was feeling distictly light headed. Three lagers and Ivan’s insistence on singing football anthems for the last hour had been a nightmare. His ribs were sore from drunken elbows and jibing fingers when he couldn’t remember the words and he was sure his sense of smell had suffered irreparable damage. Luckily Ivan stopped to bestow more words of wisdom on the befuddled driver which gave him the chance to do runner.

Rachel caught up and dragged him to one side. “You ok? Has Ivan been giving you a hard time?”

“I’m fine,” he muttered with a wary eye on the cheery throng alighting from the coach, “let’s get outa here before he notices I’ve gone.”

They hadn’t managed ten yards when Ivan’s voice boomed out.

“You two! Back here on the double.”

Rachel gripped her handbag ready to administer a swift smack round the head as Ivan pinned Tim to the front of the coach between two rusty wiper blades.

The watery eyes swayed an inch from his face. “Think on lad. Back here at midnight, and yer better not get up to anything tha shouldn’t wi ma daughter.”

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