Friday Afternoon

The King’s Head was down the street and round the corner from work and you could usually be there with a drink in your hand by ten past five on a Friday. It wasn’t a bad place to go at lunch time either. Their steak was big and they put plenty of mushroom sauce on it and there were chips, and other things, you know, other things were on the plate too. But no-one minded too much about them. Beer went well with a steak from the King’s Head – beer goes pretty bloody well with everything – and you could order a beer and a rump at the same time, at the bar, which made the whole operation quicker and gave you more time at the pokies while Rex and the boys cooked your meat and put a bag of frozen chips into the oven. Rex was a good bloke. He used to be a drinker in the King’s Head, like me, until one Thursday night, trivia night, he challenged Shelly the owner to a game of darts. If he won he could drink free for a week and if she won he would work in the kitchen for a week – that was his promise, and Shelly agreed to take him on. She knew Rex was a lightweight and she also knew that she could count the number of darts games she’d ever lost on the fingers of one hand. Growing up in pubs means you tend to be a kid with good pool skills and an excellent aim when you’re holding a dart. There’s very little else to do. She was confident she’d win, and she did, of course, because she was a good player and Rex, at the time, was an unemployed slob wearing a stinking flanny who was drinking too much and was barely able to stand as they played their game. She held him to the bargain though, and a good thing too, as Rex proved to be very good in the kitchen – his mum used to enter cakes into the Deniliquin Show and some of it must have rubbed off – and the full-time bloke who was working in the kitchen was a bloke all the ladies liked because he had a pretty face and hair which flopped over his face and his name was Guy (but you didn’t pronounce it to rhyme with pie, you pronounce it to rhyme with wee). He was French, in fact the only reason anyone could think why Shelly hired him was because he was French and she must have assumed that all French people are good at cooking, and he was a backpacker, and his heart wasn’t really in it. He had no idea how to cook a steak and he didn’t even try to get chips right and he really wanted to move on. He wanted to take his girlfriend, who nobody really knew about until he left and she went with him, and leave and travel to Brisbane, but he stayed through some kind of misguided loyalty to Shelly, who had believed him and given him an opportunity, and he also stayed because there was a cue of young ladies leading out the kitchen door most nights and Guy hated the idea that he would have to give up the regular and frequent and diverse sexual conquests which were available to him as the chef at the King’s Head. We told him that there would be plenty of women wherever he went, but he didn’t believe us. He would shake his head and slowly rub the stubble on his chin and say, “No. I cannot leave. It is no good for me. I have to stay here. I like it here.” (He pronounced here like “ere”, which was pretty funny, just like they do on Allo Allo). When Rex came into his kitchen Guy realised his time was up. He started helping the new man, even though it was still his kitchen, and he told Shelly she should give the man with the rotten-smelling flannelette shirt a permanent job. So Shelly did. And she got more customers because of it. And the boys in the kitchen were happy too. Rex was working and saving and planning a holiday, because he hadn’t been told yet that you don’t get leave when you work in the kitchen in a pub. Everyone was happy. I was happy. I’d had my steak and a couple of beers for lunch this Friday and now I was back after work and planning to get stuck in. That’s what Fridays are for, after all. You get the formalities out of the way and then you get down to the King’s Head.

The usual crowd were there, in their positions, as I walked in. There were other people too, not regulars, civilians as we call them, but the usual faces always stand out and we nod when we see each other. My mate Steve was at the bar and he gulped down half a beer when he saw me. He said, “Your shout, mate”. And it was. And we drank. And it was good. Rex appeared from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dark tea towel, a tea towel he uses because it hides the stains which cover the thing – all chefs use a dark towel, he reckons – and he asked Shelly, behind the bar, for a glass of red. Firstly, he has started calling himself a chef, which he isn’t, and I remember Rex when he thought that is was sophisticated to ask a woman’s name before you groped her on the dance floor. Mind you, we were both young then, not that the same kind of thing doesn’t still happen, every now and then, but the point is that this man isn’t a chef of anything, in any way, and he never has been. And a glass of red? Well, we told him he was a poof for that. He said he can’t drink too much beer any more. That beer gives him reflux or something. He also said that wine is good for you. And it goes better with food. Steve leaned over, close to Rex, and said, “Mate, I read something interesting about red wine in the paper this morning” – and Rex leant in too – and Steve’s work boot connected squarely with Rex’s balls, folding his body in half and sending him to the deck like a big, sweaty sack of shit.

We agreed it was the best thing.

“He had to be told,” I said. “It would have been rude to say nothing.”

“Exactly what I thought,” said Steve. “A mate should tell a mate, or else he isn’t a mate.” He proceeded to pour out the rest of his beer onto Rex, as Rex moaned and had a bit of a cry. “And I’d advise you to shut up, mate” Steve said to Rex. “It’s my round. If you’re well-behaved, I’ll buy you a beer.”

And he did. And we drank. And it was good.

Published in: on June 20, 2013 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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