Saturday, 25 January 2014

How To Drink Booze In Cardiff

Once upon a time I was a newspaper journalist, living and working in Cardiff. Sometimes, after finishing work for the day, I would call in at one of the city centre pubs for a quick drink. Rather a lot of my colleagues were of the same disposition, so we went out together fairly frequently. And every now and then, generally just before a weekend, we would get a gang together, hit the town, and drink a LOT.

We had an established late-night routine which suited such long, boozy sessions well.  It would always begin with an animated trawl around the city centre pubs. More than just a few ports of call, naturally. Pints would be sunk, shop would be talked, jokes would be cracked and, like bitches, we would sometimes tear apart the characters of absent colleagues.

Come the dreaded bell (always at 11pm sharp in those days) a call would come from within the party to adjourn to a bar we knew called Kiwi’s. This would be roundly hailed as a BRILLIANT IDEA, if not an especially progressive one. Kiwi’s was our de facto post-pub destination. A no-brainer. And so our small pack of pisshead hacks would rise as one and stagger across St Mary’s Street to extend the night’s revelry.

Kiwi’s harboured many attractive features. Crucially it remained open until very, very late. It was also very handy for hooking us journos up with more of our kith and kin. As various late editions of our daily newspaper were painstakingly put to bed back at our offices, Thompson House, so the tired and thirsty subs and print-room boys would knock off, grab their coats and make for Kiwi’s. A chilled first pint of the night would reward their short, sober walk. And we hacks, already on our tenth or eleventh jars, would be waiting for them with beery grins and a cluster of tables and barstools which we had commandeered for the benefit of all.

Our relationship with Kiwi’s was strong. They wanted our money: we wanted their booze. So we flashed our press cards a bit, jumped the odd queue, swerved the weekend door tax and generally lorded it about a bit in there. This narrow bar, wedged inauspiciously between rinky dinky jewellery stores and fashion boutiques in what was by day a well-to-do shopping arcade, was our press bar of choice - and we made full use of it. We Western Mail-ers were on permanent nodding terms with the doormen, bar staff and guv’nor. 

Meanwhile an actual press bar, called ‘Press Bar’ and sited directly opposite the front doors of our place of work, remained entirely unpatronised.

Nobody ever left Kiwi’s early. Or so it seemed. Perhaps we collectively considered it ungracious, in some way, to consider jogging on before the staff decided among themselves that it was high time we were booted out. So we stayed on course, drinking and chattering through most of the wee hours. Every now and then, one or two of us might have ventured up the narrow wooden staircase to the small dancefloor upstairs. But this was rare. The music was generally awful. And there was no bar up there.

Closing time was always late – but it still came, every night, nonetheless. When it did, we would allow ourselves to be ushered out quietly and quickly. We knew and accepted Kiwi’s rules. Then, still sheltered under the arcade’s glass and iron canopy, honourable drunken goodbyes would be said to those parties heeding distant calls from warm beds. Off they would trot, gradually, to their suburban Cardiff digs… more than likely picking up a bag of greasy chips or a kebab on their way to the cab rank.

But, let’s back up. Consider our friends from the nightshift. They started late: they have drunk less booze. They are more than likely gagging for yet more pints. But can this desire of theirs be accommodated? Thankfully, yes. It can.

Only a few minutes’ walk from Kiwi’s, in Charles Street, the super-late drinker’s salvation lurks underground. Very few passers-by suspect any late-night/early morning activity beyond the dozen or so wrought iron gates which punctuate this road.  But the experienced eye of the Western Mail  nightshifter knows which one to swing quietly open, which concrete basement steps to quickly trot down, and which of Charles Street’s anonymous front doors to gently rap on.  Behind that door is a secret all-night bistro. 
There’s food, gentle Spanish music and, most importantly of all, a fully-stocked bar.

Just like Kiwi’s, this joint knows its newspaper clientele very well. A barmaid serves drinks, with no sign of ever planning to stop, while the sun outside slowly gains height. And it’s here that the nightshifter will stay, until he himself decides it’s about time to re-emerge, blinking through the cruel daylight and barging past confused city centre shoppers, to head for his home and a few hours sleep behind thick curtains.

And it surely doesn’t need saying? Any dayshift journos who find themselves still up and at it, happy to keep their nocturnal colleagues company through this final stage… well?

They will of course, by this time, be very, very pissed indeed.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Not sleeping yet.

THE DEAD do pretty nicely out of us, the living. We forgive them all mortal transgressions (no matter how irritating they might have been while alive). We would rather focus on treasured memories of earthly goodness. We do what we can to keep their spirits and names alive through misty-eyed remembrance. And we frequently concede that our fondly-related anecdotes, fine and remarkable stories that they are, benefit from the subtle little tweaks in dialogue and circumstance that we bestow upon them. We are proud to be fine ambassadors for our absent friends. Our dearly departed.

We do this because we love them and we miss them. And because we respect and pity them. But there's a little something else in there, too. We're a little worried. We don't understand death, you see. And we cannot be 100 per cent sure that the dead aren't still, you know, here.

That fanciful feeling, probably propagated a little too successfully by religion, that death is followed by something approaching omnipotent immortality, is both appealing and slightly worrying to us mortals. Do we want to be watched over by our dead friends and relatives for the rest of our lives? Is that a beautiful and angelic thing to happen? Possibly not.

A better notion is that of the temporary guest pass. Something that allows the dead to swoop back into the mortal world to maybe say some goodbyes or exert some kind of supernatural influence to universal benefit. That would be a cool thing. And I think it might happen.

My flight of fancy is this: when people die, they re-integrate with the universe. For a short while they are able to exert some kind of influence on the world they have left behind. The dead have superpowers. For a little while, at least.

Here are some anecdotes that will mean nothing to you:

1) My father sent his old car to his funeral.
2) Liz sent a butterfly to her funeral.
3) Ali sent a rainbow to her funeral.

Maybe the transition from life to death is a lot more like going to sleep than we realise. Maybe, when we die, we get a little bonus time to swoop around and do something a little crazy with the world before we are led away from it forever.

We all have to sleep sometime, but before the lights go out. You know. Maybe leave your mark somehow.

I like the idea of a last hurrah. So does E out of Eels. Here's a verse from one of his songs.

 "You're dead but the world keeps spinning
Take a spin through the world you left
It's getting dark a little too early
Are you missing the dearly bereft?"

Eels 'Last Stop: This Town'.