I breezed into the pub the other lunchtime and then reverse-breezed out again after something I’d spotted in the street reached the receiving section of my brain.
What had caught my attention was the sight of Fag Ash Bill smoking a cigarette on the pavement. A familiar sight, true, but there was something different and rather niggling on this occasion.
For what I had spied were two plump tears tumbling down Bill’s cheeks as he inhaled on his tobacco stick.
‘What ails thee, my good friend?’ I asked as I held out a handkerchief with which to mop his moist crinkled-up face.
‘It’s the pain, Dave,’ answered Fag Ash Bill. ‘I really don’t know how to handle it.’
‘So what has brought on the harsh discomfort within you which you barely know how to combat?’ I asked.
Fag Ash Bill stared quizzically at me through his tears. ‘Why are you talking funny, Dave?’ he asked.
‘Sorry, Bill,’ I apologised. ‘I’ve just watched my Knights of the Round Table DVD and I always speak like a medieval bloke after a viewing. But pray tell me, has some varlet upset you?’
Fag Ash Bill sighed as deeply as a heavy smoker could. ‘Neuralgia,’ he said, massaging his stressed-out jaw and wet cheeks.
Isn’t it funny how we guys tend to exaggerate our medical conditions. Take the common cold. It’s beneath men to suffer from it. No, we are struck down with influenza. Similarly, Fag Ash Bill had elevated what was obviously a common toothache into a nerve disorder which sounded more serious.
Still, Bill’s pain was obviously giving him some gyp so I decided to transport him forthwith in my clapped-out jalopy to the surgery of my best pal Eric the dentist.
‘Please feel free to smoke in the car,’ I said to Bill. ‘It’s only old nicotine and fossilised chewing gum which holds the vehicle together.’
A quarter of an hour later we were seated in Eric’s waiting room after I’d booked in Bill as an emergency — an exaggeration, I know, but I couldn’t stand seeing a pub mate in pain. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
‘Bill!’ I hissed into his ear. ‘You can’t smoke in here. Put your fag out immediately or you’ll get thrown out.’ Fag Ash Bill looked captivated by that particular prospect.
I stubbed out Bill’s ciggy in the hinged fold-up ashtray which he always wore strapped to his wrist. Then I confiscated the half-dozen fag packets he had secreted about his person, his all-weather lighter and the emergency box of matches which he also carried in the event that the lighter ran out of petrol, gas, electricity or whatever it was that made the flaming thing function.
Bill and I killed time by leafing through magazines, reading the NHS notices on the surgery wall and counting the ceiling tiles several times over. Then Eric the dentist’s voice came over the PA system. ‘Next patient, please. That will be Mr Fag Ash Bill.’
The voice went on: ‘But if Mr Bill happens to be outside having a ciggy, would my bezzie mate Mr Dave Silver please enter the treatment room and we’ll have a pleasant chat over tea and biscuits until Mr Bill is ready to be examined.’
Fag Ash Bill put down the magazine he had shredded in lieu of a cigarette and turned to me. ‘Something is puzzling me, Dave. Why on earth am I seeing a dentist?’
‘Because you have a toothache,’ I sighed.
‘What toothache?’ asked Bill. ‘I never mentioned toothache. I told you I had neuralgia. I was just thinking back to happier times and yearning for the carefree old days. That’s why I was having a weep and massaging my melancholic face.’
I thought really hard for a moment before the penny dropped. ‘That’s NOT bloody neuralgia. That’s nostalgia! I’ve just made a complete idiot of myself because you used the wrong word!’
Fag Ash Bill looked sheepish. ‘Sorry, Dave,’ he mumbled. ‘I’ll head back to the pub now if you’ll please return my belongings.’
I removed Bill’s smoking stuff from my bag for life and watched him leg it out of the dentist’s at a rate of knots. Bill might have been the most serious smoker I had ever known but he was also the physically fittest bloke and I knew he’d be back outside the hostelry within minutes — far faster than he would have got there in my old car.
I also knew the root of his nostalgia — the girl he had loved and lost. Agnes had worked at Bill’s local tobacconist shop but she abhorred smoking and had refused to spend the rest of her life with a smoker. Poor Bill.
I turned to the only other person in Eric’s waiting room. ‘The dentist will see you now,’ I said. ‘But before you make yourself comfortable in the chair would you mind bringing me out a cup of tea with a couple of biscuits. I’d go myself but I’m absolutely cream crackered.’