On the Bath Road between Reading and the aptly-named Maidenhead (it's full of twats) lies the village of Knowle Hill. It is the home of a drinking establishment known as the Old Devil Inn, purveyors of strong ales, stronger spirits and artery-clogging pub food. We went there so often, that several of us seriously considered having our salaries paid directly to them to cut out the middle-man.
Friday and Saturday nights - not to mention the odd Sunday and midweek binge - were spent in our favoured window seats knocking back the Royal Oak (original gravity 1054 - that’s damn strong) and polishing off the pub speciality quadruple chocolate gateau and cream. At any one time there could be as few as four of us, or as many as ten, depending on money and alcohol poisoning status. I’m lucky to be alive.
You know how it is with drink. You do stupid stuff, usually involving even more alcohol. All it takes is one loose comment, and your evening takes a turn for the worse. And Pat made it:
“How many shorts do you reckon you can you fit in a pint glass?”
“Why don’t we find out?” his brother John suggested.
“You know,” said Pat, the connosieur of the alcoholic art, “a pint of spirits is known as a ’Top Shelf’.”
“Becausssse,” he slurred,”You go along the top shelf of the bar taking one shot from each optic. Top Shelf. Shimple.”
One thing led to another, and a brief inspection of funds indicated that we could quite easily afford such a drink, and one or two of us might even be pursuaded to take a sip or two. Myself, already three sheets to the wind was minded to decline, however.
“Why, you chicken?”
“Because I’ll fucking die, that’s why.”
“That’s fair enough then.”
We sidled up to the bar. Mike the Aussie barman gave us his usual “What are you mad Poms up to now?” look and we made the order with a feeble attempt to curry his favour.
“Top Shelf, please Mike. And whatever you’re having.”
“Top Shelf,” Pat repeated, pointing to the top shelf of the bar behind our able server.
Mike tried his best, but he was unable to pull the shelf away from the wall. So instead, following our directions, he took a pint glass and worked his way along, pouring one shot from each optic. It took eighteen, and cost somewhere in the region of twenty quid. These days, it would be the wrong side of thirty.
“There you go chaps,” he said, carrying the thing to the bar as if it was filled with nuclear waste, “Don’t drink it all at once.”
All of a sudden, it had lost its appeal. It looked dangerous, and smelled sickly. The whole idea would have died a death had a) we not already paid for the bloody thing and b) some German visitor to the pub not overheard the whole episode and announced that she wanted to take part in this (and I quote) “quaint old English custom.” That would be the quaint English old custom of bowking large quantities of vomit into the gutter of a Friday night, then. We used to try and get our leg over anything back in those days, but we were all too far gone to take much notice of the Fraulein's ample charms. Drink! Such a cruel mistress!
In the end, only two of the drunkards were up for it. Pat and Balders. Like troopers they gave it a go, both proclaiming that it was “bloody disgusting” and “which idiot put Pernod in it?”, all the while staring at Mike, coolly sipping his glass of Diet Coke.
I will allow Balders to continue the story from here:
“I Seem to remember I gave up somewhere around the 3/4 pint mark, or maybe a
bit more. Anyway, I was slurred, sloshed, and barely capable of projectile
vomiting into the pan in the bogs. Scary and John carried (dragged) me to the
car park, as Pat said something like "Oi, not going to waste a good drink!"
and downed the remainder. He then walked out the front door, and as the cold
night air hit him, barfed all over one of the flower beds out the front. Oh such fun, at least neither of us were sick in the car on the way back.”
Nope - they waited until they got back to Balders’ house, where we witnessed a drunken sprint for the bathroom, followed by prolonged retching and the sound of heavy-duty redecorating. Balders’ mum, used to these episodes on a near weekly basis, rolled her eyes in the now customary “He’s done it again“ manner.
Balders survived, but not without cruel, unexplained injuries - the price the casual drunk pays for his crimes against sobriety. Spotted in Budgens, he was, buying a bottle of Bushmills and some Preparation H. Hair of the dog, as it were. If the dog had a sore arse.
It wasn’t over yet. Following the puking came an attack of the munchies. It was at that opportune moment that my brother turned up to give me a lift home. He had wheels. His pride and joy was a clapped out Austin Allegro he had got cheaply from an elderly great aunt, and we would use it to go to the Chinese Takeaway in Twyford. We piled in, and amused him greatly with our repertoire of Rugby songs on the way. Who can failed to be amused by a rousing chorus of "I'm a stupid dicky-di-dildo!" from a bunch of drunks?
This island of drunken tranquility couldn’t last.
“I’m gonna puke!” said Pat.
“GET OUT OF MY CAR!”
He did, staggering into the street and hurling all over the front wing of Nigel’s Aggro.
“I’m gonna puke!” groaned John, who had not even touched the Top Shelf.
“GET OUT OF MY...”
Fair play to John, he tried to wind down the window, only to find it would only go halfway. Isn’t it amazing how vomit splatters, dear reader? There was puke everywhere, all over the inside AND outside of the car, and I’m sorry to say, most of the occupants. We stunk like a stairwell in a multistory car park, and being my mates, it was all my fault. Naturally.
So, guess who, with a stinking hangover, had to clear the mess up the next day? As I hosed it down, I knew it was bad when I saw Dad's car floating into next door's garden on a tide of diluted vomit.
Most of it ended up in the windscreen washer bottle. It was the least I could do.