COLUMN: July 6, 2017

drink
A cooling glass of cider in a perfectly ordinary pub in London. Price: £47

I HAVE A naturally quiet voice. It is sometimes hard to tell whether I am whispering or shouting. It does not help that I make the same cupping gesture for both activities.

Part of this is because I have a lisp, which was cute when I was a small child, made me a target when I was a larger child, and is just annoying now I am an adult.

It means that I spend far too much of my life avoiding S sounds in conversation. There is no way, for instance, that I could ever romance a woman called Cecilia. I would have to call her Thingy all the time.

Similarly, I could never take up with a coastal-based marine fossils dealer, because I could never explain her job.

But mostly my quiet voice exists because I am polite. I do not think that anybody should be forced to listen to me when I am having a conversation. It would be nice to think that people engaged in conversation with me did not feel forced so to do, but they are not my concern.

My concern is that I am never considered That Man In The Pub. For there is nobody worse than That Man In The Pub.

You hear him before you see him, and then when you see him you immediately know that the voice you heard came from him even if, for that moment, he is not speaking, because his appearance is as loud as his voice.

There are two main types of That Man In The Pub. The first wears a suit and appears to be aged about 35. He may not actually be 35 – he might be in his twenties – but he has always wanted to look 35. He is probably an estate agent. He may not actually be an estate agent, but he has always wanted to look like an estate agent.

This man does not wear a tie, but he does have a pocket square. The pocket square is the most ridiculous piece of clothing since Adam and Eve donned fig leaves. (Incidentally, does anybody know how they managed to attach these fig leaves? Did they have Pritt Sticks in the Garden of Eden?) It is a handkerchief that you cannot actually use as a handkerchief. Its only use is as a signal to other people that you are a person to avoid.

The second type of That Man In The Pub wears a football shirt. It is a never-ending source of amusement to me that if I turned up at the pub dressed as Spider-Man I would be lambasted. Also I would have no idea how I would drink anything through the mask.

However it is perfectly acceptable for a man with a beer gut and an approach to personal hygiene and fitness rarely seen in the modern game to pretend to be John Terry.

But what the two types have in common is an overwhelming need for everybody in the pub to know that they are there. They have to be the loudest in their group. They think that banter is a good thing rather than a substitute for a sense of humour for people who cannot think of their own jokes.

I witnessed the first type this week. I was in London for a meeting and had an hour to kill before my train home.

I went to a pub, because there is only so much entertainment to be had in a station waiting room, ordered a drink, and sat in the corner trying to look as if I hadn’t been stood up.

In he came, wearing a pinstriped suit and shiny shoes, surrounded by his entourage of nodding pillocks. The party sat around me and started talking across me. I know I was going for a discreet effect, but I did not realise I was actually invisible.

The subject matter chosen by That Man In The Pub was wide and varied. It concerned the ugliness of his companions, the likelihood that they might be homosexual, the likelihood that various female tennis players might be homosexual, and the physical attributes of the female bar staff. And all of it was delivered in his outdoor voice.

I tried to hide my distaste, finished my drink, and left them to it, glad that I am able to say I am not like That Man In The Pub.

But even if I did, you wouldn’t be able to hear me.

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