“‘Course,” said the man in Cavalry Tweed, “this wossname, situation is not exactly conducive to philosophical discussion is it? Too bleedin’ cold for the synapses to function fully if you ask me, and,” he muttered darkly, staring at the man who wore a Meerkat T-shirt under his thick, brown duffel coat, “it is not even possible for some of us to stand their round on account of forgetting to bring their smart phone.”
“I bought the last round,” said Meerkat. “With cash. They still take it – although I don’t suppose you’ve brought any.”
“Anyway,” added the man in the moleskin waistcoat, “you haven’t even got a smart phone.”
“Altogether different,” said Cavalry Twill. “I have taken a principled stand against overbearing data intrusion.”
“Too bloody tight to buy one,” said Moleskin as he gathered up the empty glasses in anticipation of the Landlord’s tray-bearing appearance.
“Are you aware,” continued CT, ignoring Moleskin’s aside, “that the government know exactly where you are at any given moment if you carry one of those things?”
“So, if an ordinary working man…” started CT before stopping short, suddenly aware that Moleskin was staring pointedly at him. “Doctor says it’s a miracle I can walk, let alone work – what, with my back… Anyway, as I was saying, if an ordinary man was doing a bit of off-the-books tiling, for instance, he ought to be very careful about having his phone with him, if you catch my drift.”
“It was my sister-in-law’s bathroom. It wasn’t ‘off-the-books’, it was gratis, a favour. It’s not been easy for her to get stuff done since our Dennis… you know.”
“Ran off with the barmaid from the Dog and Duck, yes we know,” CT smirked. “Besides,” he ploughed on, “not just interested in monetary remuneration, your Johnny Inland Revenue. Payment in kind is also taxable you know.”
“Hang on,” coughed Moleskin. “What do you mean ‘payment in kind’?”
“Never shy of finding ‘alternative payment methods’, your Barbara, from what I hear.”
“Well you hear wrong,” snapped Moleskin, half rising to his feet.
“Three pints of Best,” said the Landlord, lifting the pint glasses from his tray. “Two packets of peanuts and a packet of pork scratching for his lordship here.”
“Full of your aflotoxin, peanuts,” said CT, opening the packet of fried pig skin and loading his mouth. “Not at all good for you. Especially old ones.”
“What are you insinuating about my nuts?” asked the Landlord. “Once! Once in twenty years I give you a slightly out of date packet of peanuts. Once! And anyway, they’re like pickled eggs: what can actually go wrong with a salted peanut. I’ve had them on the bar in a little bowl for months. Nobody’s ever died.”
“I thought,” chipped in Meerkat, seizing the opportunity allowed by a brief lull in conversation to change the subject, “that fresh air was good for the brain.”
“Well, that depends,” said CT as the Landlord loaded the three empty glasses onto his tray and went back into the bar to Google ‘aflotoxin’.
“On what?” asked Meerkat.
“On whether you’re wearing a hat. It is a well known fact that neurons need warmth. If your hair has started to thin, you will need a hat in order for your neurons to function properly in external environments.”
“Is that why you grabbed the seat under the patio heater?” asked Moleskin. “Thin hair and no hat?”
“Privilege of team captain,” said CT. “Sheltered spot in order that quiz sheets do not blow about in the wind, also do not get soaked by that nithering nor-easterly coming round the corner by the lav and pushing the drizzle through the gap in the tarpaulin. Doesn’t care for wet paper your rollerball.”
“Who made you team captain?” asked Moleskin.
“Tradition,” said CT. “Best quizzer gets to be captain.”
“Can’t argue that he knows a lot,” said Meerkat.
“Certainly a bleedin’ know-all,” said Moleskin.
“How come we’re allowed to be a team anyhow,” asked Meerkat. “Isn’t there something about not mixing with other households?”
“Nobody really knows,” answered Moleskin.
“Depends,” said CT, “on whether you are classed as a ‘bubble’”
“What’s a bubble?” asked Meekat, picking up spilled peanuts from the grass and laying them on the table. “I’ll gel my hands before I eat them.”
“A bubble,” answered CT, “is what you form when you are not all from one household, but you still want to do the quiz.”
“So like a team then,” said Meerkat.
“Similar,” said CT. “Except that teams have to wear facemasks even under this ex-boy scout marquee. Being a bubble, we are exempt.”
“It’s ok,” said Moleskin. “If anybody asks, I’ll say I’m his carer.”
Cavalry Twill snapped his fingers at the young female barmaid as she passed the table having dispensed drinks nearby. “Three pints of Best,” he said.
“Please,” added Moleskin.
“And Moley’s paying,” continued CT. “On his mobile phone, no doubt, so he can explain to the tax man where all his money’s going.”
“I don’t think that’s strictly true,” said Meerkat. “I think they’d need some special permission or something… to look at your phone, I mean. I think they’d have to get permission from a court, or the Queen, or something…”
“Not so,” assented CT. “It’s all out there, on the cloud. Anyone can access the cloud. It’s a free resource. A constitutional right I believe.”
“We don’t have a constitution,” said Meerkat. “At least, I don’t think we do…”
“Yes,” snapped CT. “Well, we all know what thought did.”
“I don’t,” Moleskin winked at Meerkat. CT saw it, but chose to ignore this particular challenge.
“We have a constitution, it is just not written down. It is what is known as,” he continued, “an unwritten constitution. It is also why the Queen can drive her sheep across London Bridge.”
“I didn’t know she had sheep.”
“She owns all the sheep in the country,” said CT smugly.
“Are you sure you don’t mean Swans?” asked Moleskin.
“Ah,” said CT. “A very common mistake to make. Nobody would be foolish enough to try and herd swans across London Bridge. The monarch can, of course,” he continued, “also sequestrate anybody’s roast lamb dinner of a Sunday and,” he paused for emphasis, “all associated accoutrements, including mint sauce and redcurrant jelly It is known as Sheep Upping…”
Moleskin, who was about to raise the fiercest of objections, half stood, with the air of a man who was certain he was right, when the ancient speaker above his head crackled loudly. “Alright,” boomed the Landlord. “If you’re all ready, we’ll begin this week’s quiz. Question One: what toxic substance can be found in peanuts?”
Moleskin sat down heavily as, with a smug grin, CT began to write the answer, and Meerkat cleaned his peanuts with sanitising gel…
I love these three. They are a joy to write. They have the kind of conversations in which I have found myself participating a thousand times. Should you wish to, you can also find their first apprearance here…
NB As I write this, England’s pubs are closed and I am anticipating what will happen when they eventually re-open: who will be able to meet and under what circumstances. What will actually be allowed, to quote Moleskin, ‘Nobody knows’ and fewer yet understand…