Catchphrases, Pub Friends, and Big Steve

quotescover-JPG-23Not long ago at work I noticed something that wasn’t right on the rota so I spoke to our former rota lady about it. She agreed with me, there was a problem but she herself couldn’t do anything about it and I would have to contact the new ‘National Roster Team.’

“Drop them an e-mail.” She said, then added with a giggle. “Tell them you’re not happy!”

Now, at first I don’t think I quite understood that but the other day I had an e-mail from a colleague which was in reply to some procedural point I had raised. The e-mail said something like I’ll sort that out straight away because I wouldn’t want you to be ‘not happy!’

Now, we don’t always notice that something we say habitually has become a sort of personal catchphrase and I’m sure I don’t say ‘not happy’ that much but clearly some people think differently.

trawlboatHere’s another example of a catchphrase or saying that I always associate with a particular person but first I need to tell you about a pub that Liz and I regularly use. It’s called the Trawl Boat and we both know a lot of people in there. I don’t always know their names but then that’s the thing about pub friends, they’re acquaintances and beyond our pub chatter I don’t know much about most of them at all. Anyway, there are the two guys who always stand at the end of the bar and order double rounds (not sure if that’s a comment on the bar service or maybe they just like their ale!). The thin guy who works for British Aerospace and is not happy (oops, there’s that phrase again! ) about being sent by his company to work on a project in Australia. (Wish my employer would send me off on a project like that! ) Then there’s his colleague with the Kojak haircut and a group that I do know the names of, Colin and Dougie, B&B owners in St Annes and Nick who manages a hotel on St Annes front.

The very first guy we got chatting with in the Trawl boat was a guy we called Big Steve. I’m six-foot and Big Steve towered above me, he must have been six-foot six, easy. He was a pretty fit guy having been a former drayman, one of those people who lug big beer barrels about for a living and he was a really easy fellow to get on with. We always used to sit with Steve and have a drink and a natter and when he was due to leave his would pull his jacket on, say his goodbyes and then always say to us; “Nice to see you both again: As always.” And then he would be off.

A couple of years ago we saw Big Steve sometime in December and as usual at the end of the evening we said our goodbyes, wished each other a happy Christmas in case we didn’t see each other before the holidays and Steve said his usual “Nice to see you both: As always” and left.

We didn’t see Big Steve over Christmas, nor through the New Year period and one day we both said together in the Trawl Boat, ‘wonder where Steve is?’ Anyway we thought nothing of it and assumed we’d catch up with him soon.

Later, Liz was chatting to some of the regulars and one mentioned to her that he had been to a funeral the previous day. Liz asked idly who the deceased was and the man answered that it was someone they didn’t think Liz or I knew. It was a guy called Big Steve who used to be a drayman! Well, the words leapt up and hit Liz and I like a slap. Big Steve was gone and we’d hadn’t even had a chance to pay our respects at his funeral. I can’t tell you how sad we both felt.

Liz, being the amateur Sherlock Holmes she is, tracked down the widow and we went to see her to pass on our condolences. It turned out that Steve had died quietly in his sleep and his wife went into his room one morning to find him dead. Not very nice for her but a peaceful passing at least for Steve but here’s a thing about pub friends. I don’t have the phone numbers of any of those guys from the Trawl Boat and apart from the guys who own B&B’s I’ve no idea where they live. Luckily, Big Steve had mentioned Nick to his wife as being a hotel manager and one day they had popped in the hotel for a meal and when Big Steve passed away that was the one contact she had for Steve’s pub friends.

One day, in the next world, I’ll make a point of finding Big Steve and I can see myself now tapping him on the shoulder and saying “Nice to see you again Steve, as always.”

Hope he doesn’t turn round and say “Steve, I’m not happy!”

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Three Funerals and a Pork Pie

quotescover-JPG-12The other day my Mum started discussing her funeral plans with me. She is eighty-five this year and I suppose at that age one starts to think that the day is coming when you won’t be around. Even so, it was pretty shocking to be talking about her funeral.

The first ever funeral I went to was my Uncle Raymond’s. Raymond was my favourite uncle and the most wonderful guy. When I first started work when I was sixteen, going on seventeen, I used to get off my bus, the 152, at the Bluebell pub in Handforth after coming home from work in Manchester and Uncle Ray was there, waiting for the pub to open. Inside he chatted to everyone, the staff, punters he had never met before and at the drop of a hat would produce the photographs from his recent cruise showing him and my Auntie Elsie sat at the Captain’s table. He would come back home with us, have dinner, and then take my Dad out to finish the evening off.

When he died his funeral cortege took a detour past the British Legion, one of his numerous watering holes, and the staff and customers came outside to pay tribute as his coffin passed slowly by.

The funeral was sad and tearful and the wake was pretty similar. A lot of sad people, a lot of tears and my Dad, who had probably lost his best friend was devastated. I was driving that day and was asked to run some long forgotten relative home. I did so and returned a short while later. Only twenty minutes or so had passed but when I returned, I returned to a happy, noisy, enjoyable party, full of laughter and fun. I don’t know what had happened in the twenty minutes I had been gone but I came back to exactly the sort of party that my Uncle Ray would have loved.

When my Gran died the funeral service was held in Marple, I’m not sure why as it was nowhere near where my Gran lived or was buried. The journey from there to Southern Cemetery in Manchester was for me, a masterpiece of motor car management, juggling with high water temperature and having to dive into a garage to top up my car with water.

At the graveside I noticed my Dad making signs to the two grave diggers and after the coffin had slipped into the ground and the final words of the vicar had faded, my Dad, a former grave-digger in years gone by, had a happy and joyful reunion with two of his old co-workers, much to the dismay of my Mum who stood with me and cried her heart out. (Not your finest moment, Dad.) At least he thought better of introducing her to his friends which I thought he was going to do at one point.

A few years ago I went with Liz to a funeral in Lytham. I felt distinctly out of place, an intruder even, as I did not know the deceased or his family. There was however, a rather nice buffet which, under the circumstances, I felt it was important to do justice to. I did feel a little mean when I grabbed the last pork pie moments before a teary eyed lady in black appeared and eyed the empty plate somewhat wistfully.

When I was introduced to her later I could see from her expression she was trying to place me. As I smiled and offered condolences I saw the moment of realisation ; and I almost heard her say in her mind ‘I recognise him- he’s the bugger who took the last pork pie!

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