A stranger came into the pub the other evening which prompted me to go over to Dave the barman with a smug look plastered all over my face.

‘See,’ I said to mein host while pointing out the newcomer. ‘You really don’t need a juke box to attract more customers.

‘The fellow who has just walked in is about the fourth stranger we’ve had in as many months. The punters are positively flocking in. You don’t need songs in order to sell more of your diluted ale and watered-down wine?’

Knowing how much Dave the barman yearned to install a music machine, my juke box comment managed to push his buttons and he reacted with the sound of silence.

‘There’s no need to sulk, Dave,’ I said. ‘Look, I’ll go over to the stranger’s table and buy him a drink.’

The prospect of money dropping into his till prompted Dave the barman to break his silence. ‘Don’t try to use your charm on him, Dave,’ implored mein host. ‘I need the business and your smarminess might put him off.’

‘I won’t, Dave,’ I promised. ‘But is smarminess an actual dictionary word?’

‘God knows,’ sighed Dave the barman. ‘But if it is, you possess it in abundance, my insincere friend.’

So I walked over to the latest stranger and plonked myself down, uninvited, on a chair. ‘You’re a fine, friendly-looking fellow and under normal circumstances I would purchase a pint for you or buy you a Burgundy,’ I purred.

‘Unfortunately, I find myself embroiled in one of my periodic struggles against penury and thus have no money on my person. I was therefore wondering if perhaps YOU might buy ME a glass of something.’

The stranger shifted uncomfortably in his chair, shook his head and said: ‘Not the old fallen-on-hard-times story. Mum said you’d probably try that on.’

‘Sorry?’ I said. ‘What has your mother got to do with our little chat?’

‘My mother is your Mrs S. I am your first-born, Dad.’

‘My first-born dad? What’s a first-born dad?’ I responded. And then I mentally inserted the comma and the true meaning dawned. ‘Is it really you, my son? How come I didn’t recognise you?’

My son sighed. ‘Because we never see each other these days. Whenever I’m at the house, you are in the pub. Our paths never cross.’

I glanced nervously around the bar. ‘If I were you, Son, I’d vacate the premises pretty swiftly. The authorities frown on under-age drinking.’

My son sighed again. ‘But I’m 44, Dad.’

I counted on my fingers. ‘So you are, lad. Blimey, the years certainly fly by.’

My first-born stared at me for some time — and I knew that I had been rumbled.

‘You nearly had me fooled there, Dad. I really thought you’d taken leave of your senses. You knew damned well who I am all along. Why do you insist on playing these games?’

Dave the barman, who had ambled over to eavesdrop, answered the question. ‘Because your father, although I deeply respect him as a human being and a long-standing acquaintance, can be a devious swine when it suits him’

‘He pretends all sorts of things just so he can stimulate conversation and find material for that decidedly unfunny Spanish newspaper column he writes every week. I sometimes wish the Madrid authorities would make him go and live there.’

I shrugged my shoulders because I didn’t care. (Actually, I shrugged only one shoulder because I did care a little.)

‘I’ll tell you why I behave the way I do!’ I cried. ‘It’s because I’m lonely. My best pal Eric the dentist got married and I haven’t seen him for ages. I miss him tremendously.

‘Believe me,’ I continued, my lower lip trembling with emotion, ‘I am the staunchest defender of everlasting love but I would have thought that even Erica the dentist’s wife would have been sick of him by now. After all, they’ve been married for some months.’

By this stage of my heartfelt monologue, I noticed that the pub regulars were gathered around me. I thought warmly that they had assembled to offer support to their tortured hostelry friend and colleague. But in cold reality I must have been boring them to bits because they now started to drift away, yawning deeply.

My eyes brimmed with tears of nostalgia as I resumed talking. ‘Eric the dentist and me were very close at school. Indeed, we were so inseparable that everyone called us The Three Musketeers.’

‘Three?’ queried both my son and Dave the barman. ‘So who was the third?’

‘There wasn’t a third,’ I replied. ‘But who’s ever heard of The Two Musketeers?’

There was a long silence and my fellow pubsters approached again to see if I’d finished whingeing. But I hadn’t.

‘Did I ever tell you that Eric the dentist and me were so close that everyone called us The Magnificent Seven?’

‘Seven?’ queried both my son and Dave the barman. ‘So who were the other . . . oh, never mind.’

I gazed moist-eyed but unseeing into the middle-distance as I recalled some more stuff. ‘Come to think of it, there was an old film called The Magnificent Two. It starred Morecambe and Wise and it wasn’t that funny. But I went to see it at the cinema with Eric — that’s Eric the dentist not Eric Morecambe — and I do miss him.’

Before I could break down sobbing again, my son bought me a large whisky and water (mostly water) and Dave the barman let out a cry of triumph as he lovingly placed money in the till for the first time that evening.

‘I’m just a lonely guy,’ I mumbled into my glass of diluted scotch.

My son’s ears pricked up. ‘That’s the title of an old Little Richard record,’ he said. ‘Hey, have you guys ever thought of installing a juke box in the pub?’



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