By Andrew Laws
One of the reasons I love The Steamboat is that it is just far enough away from the town centre to dissuade rowdy townie types, and close enough to the town centre that casual drinkers drop in as much out of curiosity as the need to quench a thirst. I guess you could say that this pub sits in a cosy margin between light and dark – it’s tucked away from the beaten path, but not so hidden as to make it obscure. But if you did say that then you’d be far from original because you’d be repeating what I have just said.
This ability The Steamboat has to draw passing trade from folk a little more adventurous than the norm means that regular drinkers like me are often treated to meeting people whom we will only ever meet the one time. Some folk are passing through on their way elsewhere, and I guess some folk only manage to find this mysterious location just the one time.
The charm of this public house is that it is warm and welcoming to such a degree that strangers often find themselves holding long conversations with folk they have only just met. The Steamboat nurtures niceness! It would be rude for me not to give you an example of the loose tongue this atmosphere inspires, and as I don’t consider myself a rude cove I shall do just that…
A couple of nights ago I found myself sharing a bowl of complimentary olives and nuts with a tired looking chap called Clive Corrabinston; after a few polite conversational nothings he decided to share what was troubling his soul.
“Do you ever give money to beggars or homeless people?” Was his opener, and I replied telling him that yes I did, and more often than not I stopped for a chat, because many years ago someone told me that a cruel chunk of homelessness was its loneliness. He appeared much relieved and went on to tell me this curious tale:
“I was in a town near Ipswich last night and as I was walking past an ill looking man sat on a bench he asked me if I had any spare change. He had a kind face and looked so wretched sat there shivering in an old sleeping bag that I rummaged in my pocket and gave him the loose change in my pocket. He thanked me and I turned to walk away, and if I had of walked away just then I would have avoided my mind being troubled by the tale he told me. He asked if I was in a hurry and I answered that I was not, in fact I was walking to the library to kill some time before catching a train, so he invited me to join him on the bench. I didn’t see what harm could come of it so I sat down and asked him how I could help. He laughed, sighed deep and then told me there was nothing I could do to help him other than listen to his sad tale.
There was something silted and awkward in the way this man in a bag spoke to me; it was like he was choosing his words so carefully that he rehearsed every sentence in his head before speaking it out loud. At first I put this down to him being drunk, he was supping from a can of strong cider that he was worrying in his hands between sips. But as he turned his head to speak to me I saw that he had a spark in his eye, it was sliver of brilliance, like the reflecting edge of an exposed diamond hidden deep in coal. I asked his name but he wouldn’t tell me, so I’m afraid I have no way of telling if his story was true, but the details he used and the mathematical and scientific sounding language he employed in the telling chilled me to my very core.
This man solemnly asked me if the large hadron collider at CERN had been built yet, I replied that yes it had, and I must confess I looked about the man for empty cans, I was wondering just how much he had drunk. He took several sharp intakes of breath (like a child holding back tears) and held his filthy hand up to his mouth as he turned and looked so deep into me that a cold shiver ran down my spine. He talked at great length about areas of research planned for the future at CERN; he claimed that there were experiments planned to take place deep beneath those Swiss mountains that were the stuff of nightmares.
What he told me next staggered belief – this man claimed that he was a particle physicist, and I’m sure you’ll agree that fact was remarkable enough on its own, but what he told me next worried me gravely; he claimed that pedantically speaking he hadn’t been born yet, and wouldn’t be for another ten years!
I was growing tired of what was becoming an increasingly far-fetched tale so stood to leave; he did not ask me to stay. I reached down to pick up my bag from the pavement and this teller of tales grabbed my arm with all the power and resolve of a panicked man, and with watery eyes said,
“Turn it off, for the love of good make them turn it off!” I smiled awkwardly and pulled my arm from his grip, he shook his head and looking down at his can of cider he quietly muttered,
“Please make them turn it off.””