We have a couple of particularly quirky pubs near us. One has to be visited at Christmas time, without fail.
This pub, run by a garrulous gay couple with theatrical leanings, is a veritable feast for the eyes, a chocolate box of taste, bearing testimony to every knickknack and piece of memorabilia ever created. (That is the impression it creates as one walks in through the door)
We are drawn to it for those special occasions when atmosphere and experience is everything. My eldest daughter has held her birthday dinner there for the past few years, ever since the day we turned up for a quiet evening drink and were struck by the curious eccentricities of the place.
A carpet, matching one that once adorned the floors of our own living room when pattern was the choice of the day, still graces the floor. When we had that carpet, in the early nineties, it was christened “the carpet you can lose a sausage on” by a friend when I was describing how hard it was to see if the children had dropped food or toys on it. I had chosen it because it reminded me of the flooring found in the oak panelled libraries of famous country houses. (Ideas above my station perhaps.)
In the pub, the carpet flows from the oak panelled bar where chandeliers glisten above one’s head and Toby jugs dangle from the beams and perch on window sills, through the vestibule where a host of music scores, theatre programmes and hats and feather boas cascade off the shelves and on, down the steps into the dining area where candelabras glisten, a piano waits to be played and glittering streamers drape the windows.
The food is always good and the staff never fail to make one welcome. Its eccentricities are what makes it so entertaining and we love its quintessential sense of Old English Hospitality.
For high days and holidays it beats all the other pubs hands down.
Just round the corner to us though, there is another, less opulent pub which has undergone some serious changes over the past few years. Its latest owners are friendly and eager to make one welcome and to make a success of what has been a pub of mixed fortunes.
It is of course, our duty to support local business so when our daughters hear that a Karaoke night is planned, they immediately sign up for it and promise to bring as many people as they can. Unfortunately, the date is changed at the last minute and many of their friends cannot make it.
Being staunch supporters of new ventures ourselves and with the promise of a meal out and an evening’s entertainment, we elect to go with them.
The event is to start at 9pm so we turn up at 8 o’clock, all eight of us. (Not all the family can make it but those who could are here). The older ones amongst us have already decided we will stay and watch for a while but will leave by 10.30pm. We are greeted at the bar by the land lady. Are they serving food? The landlady beams,
“Oh, yes, of course,”
“Where would you like us to sit?”
“Anywhere you like – we have laid a table for eight in the dining room,”
The bar is reasonably full though not packed. The dining room is empty.
Well, it is early yet!
A table had been set for us. We sit down and the menus are brought to us. Between ordering and receiving the starter, the landlady tactfully suggests we might like to move as we will be in the way of the team setting up the equipment. She suggests we move some other tables together to form a larger one.
We are happy to oblige and decamp to the far side of the room where we push three tables together and carry our cutlery and napkins to their new home. I am carried along in the throng and end up sitting with my back against the wall in the corner. It is very cramped. I will not be able to leave quickly. My fellow diners, on this side of the table, resort to sliding under the table to go to the bar in between courses.
There seems to be some delay in the arrival of our starter – a long delay. Eventually, the first course arrives for which we are by now more than ready. Not everyone is impressed but the alcohol is flowing freely. (I am not drinking but wish perhaps I was) The main course arrives at 9.50pm.
We wonder why the equipment has not been set up yet. After all, we moved specially to allow them access. A couple of people loiter in the shadows and dart curious glances at us from time to time. They nibble on sandwiches and peanuts. Two more join them and we assume they are all together.
The meal is disappointing. I have ordered a fillet steak.
“How would you like your steak?” asks the waitress at the time, “Medium, rare or well done?”
I have been caught before, by asking for “well done,” too many times and memories of receiving a charred apology for a steak live on.
“Medium please,” I say brightly.
“Is that medium rare or medium well done?” asks the girl.
“Er, medium well done I suppose, just medium really…not rare,” I falter.
“Oh I’m sorry but the chef is bound to ask you see,”
Chef must be very particular, I think to myself. I look forward to a juicy but medium steak.
The steak sits on my plate. It looks like a biscuit. If it was ever juicy it is now a dried out husk of its former self. The others have their own concerns with soggy rice and cold food that was meant to be hot. We consider sending it all back but it is now almost 10pm. Can we just eat and go? Has the Karaoke been cancelled? (Hope springs eternal).
Most of us forgo dessert.
Eldest daughter has drunk a little too much and eaten too little. She is determined to see the evening out. A sneaky look into the bar shows us that everyone else has gone home. We are the evening’s entertainment and the audience!
In the meantime, the people giving us the eye from the shadows have emerged into the light and are suddenly active, plugging in equipment and climbing on chairs to trail wires round the room. One apologises and asks me to move so he can plug something in behind me. We take the opportunity to ask why it is being set up so late.
“We had to wait for you to stop eating so it’s your fault,” the cheeky chap replies.
I’d hit him with my handbag if I could reach it but it is under the table and as I said before, it is very cramped here.
Finally, at 10.30pm, the microphone is tested and the DJ launches into his welcome song. He is quite good. Our daughters have filled in forms with the songs they want to sing. Correction, they chose the songs but one of the shadow people, a girl, had other ideas.
Now, my elder two daughters – the younger as well who is not here tonight – have always enjoyed parties, Sing Star, Karaoke and just about anything that allows them to get together and sing. Their ‘party piece’ is Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”. Second daughter spots it on the list and declares that she wants to sing it.
“She can’t sing that, I’m singing it,” the shadow girl announces, eyes flashing.
My daughters stare at her in amazement. They choose another song not wanting to cause a scene.
Submitting their selection to the DJ, they return to their seats with the shadow girl’s eyes burning into their backs. This is going to be fun!
The DJ finishes his introductory warbling and calls up Shadow Girl. Shooting smug glances at us all, she grabs the microphone and launches into a sad wail that is neither terrible nor good, just – depressing. Her boyfriend, we think he is her boyfriend though both seem very friendly with the DJ, slipping him bits of paper and nudging him to play this song or that song…sings a funeral dirge. I kid you not. We are almost in tears of despair by the time he finishes.
Eldest daughter is on the edge of her seat, eager to pick up the baton. Finally, they are allowed the microphone and give a pretty good rendition of a song that neither like.
Shadow girl is back before we can blink. This time she performs the Tina Turner number to our table. We are a captive audience, at least, I am. She does not impress.
The boyfriend is on next, then Shadow girl again… Landlady and Landlord get in on the act and our girls have another go. I am just thinking that perhaps now we can go home when son-in-law gets up and surprises us all with a startling arrangement of a song that I cannot name for the life of me. Fuelled by alcohol, his deep baritone reminds me of Pavarotti, his sudden high-pitched warbling surprises and his intermittent lapse into Acka Bilk, stuns. I can only think that his talents are wider than imagined though he is wise to stick to his day job I suspect.
Shadow girl and boyfriend are back in front of the screen, though neither watches it. They are now both playing to an audience.
Well, sorry folks but this audience has had enough. It is 12am and I am leaving.
I manage to free myself from my corner and we older folk make our excuses to those who prefer to stay (Eldest daughter would not dream of leaving when everything is just getting going and mother-in-law has baby son for the night).
We leave them to it and head out of the empty bar and home.
I believe daughter and son-in-law, roll in at 3am. The next day we are treated to some stories about the shadow girl and her partner who turns out not to be her boyfriend (too much competition perhaps). It seems they are ‘Groupies’ and go from pub to pub following the Karaoke DJ.
I am still recovering from my enforced imprisonment behind the table from where I had to listen to Shadow girl sing for an hour and a half. Well, it was entertaining to say the least.
Apparently, there will be a fortnightly Karaoke evening at the pub from now on. Hmm, Do remind me not to go!