By Andrew Laws
As I’ve mentioned before; the atmosphere in The Steamboat is usually calm and relaxed, but sometimes a mischievous wind blows through the bar and even the most restrained of regulars can get a little wild. I say a ‘little’ wild because while spirits might raise occasionally nothing really bad ever happens.
One of the most subdued of The Steamboat regulars is a bloke called Steve Soup, and he’s never so much as raised his voice above a murmur before, so when we were all getting a bit rowdy last Tuesday his little outburst took us all totally by surprise. Let me explain…
We were all enjoying a quiet Tuesday night drink and it was such a slow night that Big James the barman was tidying up the funny little room behind the kitchen. The funny little room behind the kitchen is one of those rooms that all old pubs have, a room where things get put when a home can’t be found for them anywhere else. We heard James chuckling to himself and after much pleading he came through to the bar with a large cardboard box to show us what was making him titter so much.
This large cardboard box contained what we could only guess was a collection of lost property from a simpler age. We all had a good rummage in the box and each claimed something that we either found amusing or desirable (mostly the former). Then things started getting silly. James started pulling out odd hats and garish scarves and doing impressions, none of us knew who he was trying to impersonate but that just made it all the funnier. The more obscure and bizarre the impressions got the more we laughed and tried to join in. If these scene had taken place in a primary school classroom and all the players had been of an appropriate age I dare say we were making so much noise that the teacher would have given us an ‘oi oi oi’ and demanded that we settle down.
But as we aren’t primary school children - and Big James has never exhibited any interest in scholarly discipline - we became louder and louder until a particularly thick pair of glasses brought our fun to an unexpected end. James pulled said milk bottle bottom spectacles from this box of forgotten wonders, put them on and proceeded to do an impression of what I can only describe as Mr Magoo’s 6’ 5” younger brother. Our howls of laughter were brought abruptly to an end when Steve Soup slammed the flat of his hand down on the bar and yelled a most vocal disapproval. We all froze, people stopped drinking mid-sip, pool balls stopped rolling on the table, darts hung in mid-air and I dare say if the landlady hadn’t gotten rid of the old vinyl jukebox then a record would probably have stopped turning on it’s turntable!
Steve grabbed his cigarettes and minced out into the pub garden in lieu of an explanation, and once normally started to restore itself to the fringes of our stunned group I followed him. I must admit I wanted to find out how we had upset Steve as much out of curiosity as compassion. By the time I joined him on one of the old picnic benches he had sucked the life out of one cigarette and was hastily trying to get another one on the go. Before I had a chance to open the interview Steve apologised, and told me that he wanted to explain why Big James had touched a raw nerve. This suited me just fine so after I had made a trip to the bar and back to buy us both a fresh pint he told me this:
“You know me old mum still lives up on the moors near Newcastle right? Where she moved after me old man died and me sister ‘ad ‘er first right? Well I’ve not been up to visit ‘er as much as I should and she ain’t afraid of ringing to let me know. So a few month back I went up for the weekend just to check she’s alright. My sister don’t get there much ‘cause of the kids playin’ up. Well I was helpin’ meself to her pantry just art-er arriving and I see all this cat food, bleedin’ tons of the stuff. Now she ain’t got no cat as far as I know so I asks her why she had tons of cat food.
Hang on, ave I told me old dear’s blind as a bat? No? Well that ain’t fair really- she’s just got proper bad eyes, poor dear can’t tell where the ground is when she ain’t got her specs on and ain’t much better with them, it’s a proper good worry. So I say: I asks her why the cat food and she tells me there’s some strays who come to her back door and she likes lookin’ aaafter ‘em. I notice that she ain’t got no catflap and she says she calls ‘em into her house at night and shuts then in with her when she goes to bed. She says she likes the company in the house.
Fair enough I thought, but that really was a lot of food so I asks her how many cats she’s been feedin’ and she sighed a bit and shrugged. Ses she don’t know because the little buggers move about so fast, then ses ‘not like the big lad’ and then tells me that there ain’t anywhere near as many littluns showin’ up since that big lad started commin’ a few month back. Well ‘ow much do he eat I ask ‘er? Gawd – about five or six tins and a big bowl full of crunchies every night she reckon! Farkin’ ‘ell I say, and she clipped me round the ear for it.
She reckons this big lad is proper friendly once he’s been fed but she have to be careful because he’s nearly ‘ad her over a few times, but she likes ‘im because he’s big enough for ‘er to make out, and she’s ‘ad enough of standin’ on the other poor little buggers that come round her way. I ask ‘ow big this big lad is and she reckon she can pat him on the head without bending down too far (because she can’t).
Then she tells me she’s worried about the big lad because he’s getting fat and she’s feelin’ guilty for over feedin’ him. She reckon that when he sit on her lap she has to shift him off arter a while because he’s so heavy he hurts ‘er legs!
Well I can tell you I was a bit worried about my old dear, I reckons she’s losing it so I goes out to the pub near her for a swift one, but there was some fella there who couldn’t half talk and I were gone longer than I thought. So when I got back to me old dears I rung the bell and she shouts saying to use the key under the mat cos she had this big lad on her lap. Fairs enough I think so I let meself in and do know what I saw on me old dear’s lap?”
I said I didn’t.
“Stretched from one arm to the other, right across ‘er (who was sat in the middle stroking its belly) was a bleedin’ panther sound asleep!”