May 9, 2010

I had a dream last night and it wasn’t one like Dr Kings.

I was back in 1985 at the time of the miners’ strike. I was waiting tables in an Oxfordshire restaurant and had drawn the short straw of looking after the private dining room. A dozen smart, well-bred young lads had booked it for the evening and cook laid on 5 courses, including fish. The game had been brought by the customers themselves and I helped clean shot from some of the duck carcasses.

When I took out the oyster platters, the guests, well-oiled and a little rowdy by now were trying to outdo each other with stories of fame and fortune they had mapped out for their future selves. It hardly needs saying that none involved going down the pit. There were though, some colourful suggestions on what summary forms of justice they might dispense from the bench to striking miners and a unanimous regret that transportation to the colonies was no longer available.

As I brought in glasses of Monbazillac to go with the foie gras, the young man next to the head of the table engaged me. He was keen to share, somewhat slurredly and at length, the provenance of his shotgun that stood in the corner of the room. It was a Purdy over and under, based on a 1913 patent, handed down by grandpa at 16 or some such. From my periodic nods he was convinced I was riveted and understood his tale, but truly I was only half-listening.

What had caught my ear was an animated exchange across the table lower down.

Here, a slim fresh-faced youth with dirty blond hair and plenty of it was holding court to a spotty and dark, mop-headed fellow who the others referred to as “Oik”. It was deliberately pronounced and followed each time by a smug but short, almost snorting, laugh.

I half-knew in my dream that the term was familiar from somewhere, and recently, but it was impossible to place without breaking concentration and I was keen to follow the discussion.

They were arguing about the contingency reserve necessary to fund police deployments from the metropolitan force to South Yorkshire, Nottingham and Scotland. Dirty-blond was convinced it was crass and mistaken to cut government rate support grant from local councils in those areas to provide the money. Dark-haired Oik kept repeating, “rough justice”. His refrain was soon taken up by the others. Banging the table, some with spoons, some with glasses and one with a silver-plated champagne cooler they rhythmically chanted Oik’s phrase ever more loudly and quickly.

I withdrew to the kitchen and related this to cook. She crossed the tiled floor purposefully. From the range she picked up the bain marie with both hands then spat in the custard. She insisted on serving pudding herself.

I was allowed to take in the port which cook had decanted earlier and thankfully left alone. Purdy Boy was now slouched over his place mat. They were all in their cups. As I came away Oik and dirty blond were still at it. Oik stood, hit the table loudly with the flat of his hands, but before the others, startled, had chance to say a word, he lowered his voice, leaned across the table, looked dirty blond in the eye and said, calmly and unblinking –

“3 years, 4 at most, then I take over – take it or leave it Dave.”

If there was a response, I woke up before I heard it.

Sweating, I laid awake for an hour. I couldn’t get fixed in my mind, with any certainty, whether it was as farce or tragedy that history first repeats itself.


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