Get Your Laughing Tackle Around this
Prior to my adventures in Norfolk, there came a point in my life when I needed the services of a best man. Although, as you may recall, the choice of wife proved an error in my judgement, the candidate for best man was a much less risky selection process and could have come from a rather extensive list. It is the nature of the hospitality industry that every person you meet becomes a friend by virtue of their being your customers. Such droves of “friends” often led me to seek solace in a snooker hall across the road, run by my soon-to-be best man, Malcolm.
The day was warm and sunny and the street was crowded with rushing shoppers and office workers. I dodged between the cars and trucks snarled up at the intersection of the high street and the main road out of London. Grabbing the handrail I ran up the stone steps to the large, double swing doors and burst through into the dark. Before my eyes could adjust to the lack of light, I stood and listened to the silence. A dim orange glow hovered across at the far side of the room and beneath it stood Malcolm. He was a short rotund chap with cropped black hair topping a round puffy face, and he stared at me with his beady eyes and grunted a “Good Morning”. I bought a pint of some innocuous brew and sat at the bar. Something was different that day. Malcolm was talkative and started to tell me about his wife, Paula, who had just given birth to a baby boy. By the end of the morning, I had consumed three or four beers on the house and had invited Malcolm and his new family out to dinner later that week.
The day of the dinner arrived and as a result of wishing to escape our places of work and the turmoil of inner-city pubs, we went to a quiet French bistro in the city center. The evening went well and by the end we were the best of friends. Paula was a happy-go-lucky sort who chatted non-stop and not just about changing nappies and getting up in the middle of the night to feed young Nigel. We talked about fishing, photography, and the pub game, and the people who frequented our establishments – the crooks, criminals, those with political agendas, and those who perhaps needed locking up as lunatics. We had both seen enough guns, knives, fists, and broken bottles and glasses.
So, Malcolm agreed to be my best man, and the stag, the wedding, and the after party all went off without a hitch - were boring, even. The food was good. Billy, the young chef who in a previous column grabbed the hand of the guy holding me at gunpoint, produced a splendid feast, complete with a Turducken. Life returned to normal, or as normal as it would be until the day Paula showed up in tears at my pub, holding Nigel.
Apparently, Malcolm had decided to rob a bank. He had picked a London high street bank and called from the phone box across the street, telling them he had planted a bomb (a bag of bricks and a ticking clock with wires sticking out that he had placed in the foyer before making the call) and that they needed to pay him an exorbitant amount of cash to diffuse it. After protracted negotiations, he had turned up at the bank and, unsurprisingly, was promptly arrested. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I never saw Malcolm again, but I know he was out of jail after a couple of years. The term in England for time in jail is “doing porridge”, since at one time that was all inmates got to eat.