Chapter 29

So anyway, this bloke walks into a pub, right, and he says to the barman, he says “Tell you what, mate. I killed someone the other day.” So the barman looks him up and down and he says to the bloke, “Oh yeah?”. And so the barman looks at him, and he looks at the barman, and he says, “Yeah. I’m a murderer.” And the barman raises an eyebrow and goes back to wiping down the counter.

It doesn’t work, does it? It isn’t just the way you tell ‘em. There’s no way it possibly could work. The punchline doesn’t have any punch to it. You need an angle. Maybe there’s Dr Crippen, Fred West and Jack the Ripper all sat in the lounge bar, comparing notes. Maybe the barman has a stash of heads in the fridge. Maybe there’s a bloke sat at the bar ready to make an inappropriately cheerful comment.

You have to make a joke out of it. It’s the only way you can persuade your mind to get over a thing like that. It’s like seeing starving refugees on the news. You open your eyes to the world, and you wish there was some way you could unopen them, some way to unsee the things you’ve seen. There are terrible things out there in the world, and the only way to deal with the knowledge that they exist is to tell yourself it’s funny. If you start to take things seriously, you’ll turn into Lisa, constantly irate about something or other, always making a collection in aid of this or that, forever seeing some new injustice. There’s more than enough injustice to go round. If you allowed your mind to acknowledge what it sees as the truth, you’d acquire an obligation to do something about it. You’d go mad with the sheer enormity of the problem, becoming some kind of well-meaning Sisyphus giving money to any charity you could find. You have to isolate yourself, protect yourself from accepting that it’s really real.

In theory, there’s this archetype of the barman as confessor, agony uncle, dispenser of sage advice on worldly matters, all through jaded, seen-it-all-before eyes. There’s the myth of pub as community. If it ever did, it certainly doesn’t exist now. When was the last time you had a real conversation in a pub? I don’t mean an argument about whether Space Raiders or Monster Munch was the king of potato-based snacks, or whether Marilyn Monroe was sexier than the girl out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mean a conversation. Something that involves two people opening themselves up, taking a risk, connecting with each other on some deeper level, saying something that isn’t hidden behind a smokescreen of irony and post-modern bullshit. When was the last time you made a statement, set out your stall and told somebody how you felt? Of course I don’t want the world to turn into some nightmarish Jerry Springer show, or some more touchy-feely equivalent, but I want to live in a world where we can talk about things that matter.

OK, rant over. By the way, it’s Monster Munch. No competition. And Marilyn, any day.

Where can you go if you want to open up your heart about something private? A friend? People don’t want you to lay that kind of shit on them. A shrink? I don’t have that kind of money, and besides, I don’t trust them. The Samaritans? I’m not the kind of poor sap who does that. A priest? Yeah, right.

I couldn’t have done it. I’m not that sort of person. But the evidence is there. How could it not have been me?