Are you alright there?

I went to my favourite local pub at the weekend, I stood at the bar and the young man behind the bar came over to me and said, “Are you alright there?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’m fine, how are you?”
“Oh, I’m alright,” he said, “What would you like to drink?
The penny had dropped methinks.
I can’t help but feel that “Are you alright there?” is not the right opener for bar staff or anyone interacting with the public, well, General Practitioners maybe, yet “Are you alright there?” seems to have become quite prevalent. Sure, engage with your customer, something like, “Hi, what can I get you to drink?” or “Hello, what would you like to drink?” something mentioning drink, something getting straight to the nitty-gritty, to the matter in hand would be more appropriate. Is it me? Is this just another step along the road to grumpy old man-ness?

A little later three young people, two men and a woman, came into the pub, bought one drink and sat at one of the tables, thankfully there weren’t three straws, two it seemed were quite admirably abstaining. Shortly thereafter a fourth young man appeared and greeted one of the already present young men with a handshake worthy of any fervently imagined lodge of masonry, free or otherwise. They touched clenched fists and then, opening their hands they drummed their fingertips each against the other’s. Is this a new thing or something re-discovered? What’s wrong with a firm handshake? Maybe amongst the flower of our youth it’s perceived as being old and fuddy-duddy, I don’t rightly know but I do know that it looked extremely silly. Okay, let me qualify that; it looked extremely silly in my opinion, not that that counts for much.

Meanwhile in the other bar two more young men had appeared each wearing a peaked, baseball type cap, back-to-front. Again, this is something that I’ve never really “got”, unless you are a racing driver or some sort of aero-ace when you might reasonably turn your peaked cap around to stop the slipstream getting under the peak and whipping it from your head. Is it trendy? Well, I suppose it must be, given that so many young people seem to be doing it.

What went wrong with trendy? Ever since I first saw the Tony Hancock film, “The Rebel”, way back in the 1960s I always fancied myself as the suffering artist come beatnik type, you know the type; the roll-neck pullover, beret, small pointy beard. Oh yes, I think I could quite happily live in an attic room, somewhere on the south bank of the Thames or the left bank of the Seine or even the eastern bank of the Vistula. Roll-neck pullover, beret and small pointy beard, man, that was trendy. Baseball cap on back-to-front and jeans halfway down your arse? No, sorry, not trendy, more like tragic and not even in a Greek way.

As a teenager, I never really aspired to “trendy”, not in any serious way. I was a teen, slap bang in the middle of the 1970s; large lapels, tank tops and bomber jackets never really did it for me. Flared jeans though, that was another matter. In one of my latter teen years I visited a local haberdashery store and bought a few yards of floral design trimming-ribbon, about three quarters of an inch wide, and meticulously sewed it over the outer leg seams on my favourite flared jeans, top to bottom. I was so proud of that and when I’d finished I thought they were the bees knees, my dad thought it was somewhat subversive; boy with flowers down his jeans, what’s the world coming to? Picture me then, flared jeans with floral accompaniment, Barclay James Harvest “Octoberon” t-shirt and brushed denim jacket, wide lapels of course but then you couldn’t really avoid them in those days, outside of bespoke tailoring. And the thing was, I didn’t feel trendy, I sort of felt anti-trendy.

In 1978 I took felt-tip pens to a plain white t-shirt and decorated it in accordance with my tastes in slogans, music, world-view, whatever. “Reunite Pangaea” was the main thrust of the design as I recall and over my heart, or where I imagined my heart to be I had written, with embellishments; “Closer to the Heart”. I remember walking into town one sunny Saturday and an old woman, well, older than me at any rate, who was walking towards me, began to read my t-shirt, I could hear her say as we passed; “Closer to the heart, aww, that’s nice…” 

I read avidly as a young man, as a young boy come to that. Then, fuelled by 2112 and A Farewell to Kings I started to read “Atlas Shrugged”, started to, it was very heavy going, for me, then. Plato’s “Republic” was easy, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, no problem. Anything by Richard Brautigan whose books I did sort of feel were slightly trendy; A Confederate General from Big Sur, In Watermelon Sugar, Sombrero Fallout, even the titles were trendy, for me, then.

“Women in Love” and “The Rainbow” by D. H. Lawrence, I don’t remember much of the book, Women in Love, tainted perhaps by memories of watching the film adaptation but The Rainbow, that left its mark, even now I can see the horse drawn cart in the narrow lane, I can feel the weight of the years… And if that’s not from The Rainbow, but I think it is, then I’m thinking of a completely different book, but I don’t think I am.

I’ve often thought, down the years, that I could, that I should write more but whenever I put pen to paper in any sort of premeditated manner I just seemed to stall. I think I’m happier just writing down things as and when they come to me. I mean, look at this, I started in the pub bemoaning something or other, grumpy old man-wise and now I’m reminiscing about flared jeans and books I’ve read and do you know what? I’m happy with that, and if you’ve read this far (your having read this far I take as tacit satisfaction with what you’ve been reading), I’m happy with that too; I’m alright with it. Are you alright there?

3 thoughts on “Are you alright there?

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