by and ©2011 Jack Kendle. All rights reserved
(SUNDAY LATE AFTERNOON - EVENING)
I awoke with a start and a severe crick in my neck. It was dark. I looked at my watch; six o'clock. I had slept for almost two hours – an unusually long time. I occasionally snatched a 'power-nap' in the afternoon, usually no more than about twenty minutes, which was enough to revitalise me if I was particularly busy.
I eased myself off the sofa, rubbing my sore neck. My sleep had been deep and dreamless, but I wondered why I had awoken with such a start. It was as if I had heard a loud noise and that had woken me. But as I listened to the deep silence around me, I could not recall whether I had in reality heard the sound or just dreamt it.
The traffic outside was light, the shoppers and tourists mostly left the area, a few dropping into the Crown for a drink before going to their homes. Seven Dials was very quiet in the evenings and there were very few people out and about at night around here. I was one of very few residents; most of the houses on my part of the street had long been converted into offices. Ground floors had been turned into either swish specialist shops or businesses, of which Sebastian's was an example.
On summer nights, one could hear the crowds at Covent Garden, but as winter drew in and the tourists stopped coming in such large numbers, even that faded away. I looked out of my window. I noticed the black van drawing up in front of the house. It was unable to use its usual parking-slot down the side of the house because of the imminent roadworks, so it had to park in front of the building. Without knowing why, I drew back slightly into the darkened room, keeping my eyes on the van. I was curious, yet did not want to be seen to be spying.
Two men got out, a driver and another from the passenger side. They wore duffle-coats and black woollen caps, so it was very hard to see any details or what they might look like. One, I noticed, however, had a very pronounced limp. Both men went round to the back of the van and after a short conversation, the driver disappeared down towards the basement entrance at the side. The other waited by the van. After a short time his partner returned and they opened the double doors at the back of the van and they removed a long bundle, a carpet by the look of it. It seemed very heavy. I watched as they struggled the few steps to the side of the house, before disappearing from view. A few moments later, the driver (the one without a limp) came back and closed and locked the van before disappearing again into the basement of this house, I presumed. I wondered idly if they were smuggling Persian carpets into the country, then admonished myself. "Why on earth do you immediately associate them with criminal activity?" I asked myself out loud. Leaving my own question unanswered, I turned back into the room to turn on some lights.
Even today, months after the event, I am convinced that what I saw was real; although my rational side says it was a trick of the light, the reflection of the streetlights coming into the darkened room. As I said, my rational mind tells me that, but I am convinced that I saw what I saw. I still get a frisson when I recall what happened.
As I turned from looking out of the window, I saw the figure of an extraordinarily beautiful young person standing in the room.
In that short fraction of a second in which I observed the figure, I took in long brown hair, wide brown eyes, pale features, a white lace collar and dark clothes disappearing into the darkness of the room. Whether the figure was a boy or girl, I could not be certain, but I had the distinct impression it was a boy. A boy with exquisitely fine-boned features and such a look of sadness on his face, I felt such a pang of grief that I almost cried out loud. As I said, the image was so clear, so detailed, I was – and still am – convinced that I witnessed an apparition.
Before I could do anything, the vision disappeared. It must have lasted a second or less, but it was so vivid, so real . I will swear to my dying day that it was not a trick of the light and that what I saw was the figure of a young adolescent standing in my room, with a look of such sadness, it tugs at my heart even today.
Without even thinking, I quickly went to my workdesk, where I keep a sketchpad and watercolours ready and did a hasty impression of what I had just seen. As I feverishly worked, my mind recalled more details of the vision I had just seen, such as a gold anchor, or perhaps a cross at the boy's neck (I am now convinced, in the light of subsequent events that the visitor as I shall call it, was a boy – it could not have been otherwise).
He seemed to have a gentle kindness about him, yet at the same time, there was a certain haughtiness in his manner. But the overbearing feeling I got was that of sadness.
This is what I sketched in haste that dim November evening, immediately after having witnessed him:
I looked at what I had created and am satisfied that the likeness is as accurate as I witnessed it.
As I worked, it seemed as if a name kept repeating itself in my head. James … James… James.
I finished the hasty sketch and all at once, the shock set in and my legs felt very weak. I plomped down on to the nearest chair, wondering how I had managed to have the presence of mind to sketch the boy seconds after having had such an experience – or thinking I had had such an experience.
What a day this was turning out to be! First the strange episode in the imaginary bookshop, then the strange texts in the book I had mysteriously acquired, now a supernatural apparition in my own flat!
I had to call Jeremy, if only to be able to talk to someone else, another human-being, but I knew he would be boarding his flight to the States about now. We had arranged to talk tomorrow. Suddenly, I felt very alone and now, for the first time, more than a little scared. I needed to get out, find other people, if only for the indirect companionship that would offer. I decided to go over the road to the Crown for a drink. Grabbing my paper, I hurried out of the flat, making sure to leave all the lights on. Somehow I didn't relish the idea of coming home to a darkened home.
Seven Dials is a junction of seven roads, which during daytime are snarled up with traffic. However, at weekends and after the offices and shops close, the area quietens down. Now, on this cold and damp Sunday evening in November, the roads were practically deserted, save for the ubiquitous black cabs shunting around the small monument in the centre of the junction, going off in all directions. The theatre crowd, going into the West End for an evening at the theatre, or the opera at the Coliseum or perhaps a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Tourists returning to their hotels after a long day sightseeing and unable or unwilling to risk using public transport in a strange city. Taxis going to and from nearby Charing Cross station, ferrying travellers far and wide. All of them driving around the old monument at the middle of Seven Dials, hardly giving it a glance, knowing nothing of the history of this strange, unique little confluence of roads.
In years gone by, there had been a public house on every apex of the junction, but the 'Crown' was the only one left. It did good business at lunchtimes and immediately after the offices and shops closed, but round about seven, the place was very quiet, just a few silent locals, some of whom I had seen often around the area, but never spoken to. The lunchtime menu was good, but the pub did not serve food in the evenings, so only the local hardened drinkers were to be found scattered throughout the cavernous bar.
In the Victorian and Edwardian times, the public house, as with just about every such establishment in Britain, had been divided into two separate areas; a 'saloon-bar' with carpets, comfortable chairs and even a good fire for the more well-to-do customers in the times when there was a sharper divide between the classes. On the other hand, the 'public' bar usually had bare floorboards covered in sawdust and minimal comforts, maybe a coal-fired stove and the odd bench and table. Working men usually stood at the bar in the times when it was unheard of for a woman to be seen in a public house, accompained or no, it was just 'not done.'
Now, the pub had been opened up, the two bars now just one general drinking area, with tables and chairs dotted around. The emphasis had shifted towards a lunchtime restaurant and the evening clientele was thin on the ground. The established 'regulars' had their own favourite places where they would sit and hold court or just mull over their drinks in silence and God help any unsuspecting stranger who came into the bar and sat in a 'regular's' chair. The unfortunate would be literally stared down by the aggrieved regular until he slunk away, vowing never to return. The landlord, who was happy with the takings from the lunchtime and tourist crowds did not admonish his regulars, preferring to work there in the evenings himself and have a good chinwag with his cronies from roundabout.
The landlord, a large, loud man and, according to the small painted wooden sign above one of the entrances, George Edward Smith was ' licensed for the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption ON or OFF the premises .' In fact, the Crown served a dual purpose as far as I was concerned. If it happened that I needed a bottle of something after the delicatessen had closed, then I could always nip over to the Crown and take away whatever it was I needed. There wasn't an off-licence close by, this being more of a working-area than a residential one, so the Crown was very handy indeed in case of emergencies. Of course, if I ran out of whisky or wine after closing-time, then that was my own silly fault, but that has, so far at any rate, not happened.
Not only did George Edward Smith purvey the above-mentioned wines, spirits and tobacco, he also allowed smoking in one part of the bar, but in the evenings only. Being a smoker himself and one who enjoyed a large Havana cigar of an evening, I suppose he felt he was entitled to break the law just 'a wee bit' as he put it. Also, and probably more importantly, a couple of the older cronies also smoked, so I assumed Smith didn't want to lose his oldest and probably most valuable customers in cash terms, so he was prepared to flout the law prohibiting smoking in pubs. Being a quiet establishment, the pub was obviously not on any police list as one which needed watching or raiding, so the smokers enjoyed their vice in peace.
Although a non-smoker myself, I have to admit that an old-established pub such as the Crown (an inn has stood on the site since the 17 th Century, according to a large, rather crudely-done painting hanging on one of the walls) lost much of its character after the smoking-ban was introduced. The point about pubs was that it was a place where one went to relax, talk to one's friends, enjoy a drink – or several … and smoke, if that's what you did. What fun was it to be in the middle of an interesting conversation – or even argument – if one had to break off in order to go out for a fag? If smoking bothered me, then I could always go to another, more law-abiding establishment, but as it didn't and the smokers at the Crown were anyway usually congregated in one place up at the bar, then I really didn't mind. After all, George Smith ran the gaffe, not me.
Another thing which acted in the Crown's favour as a place to spend time, was the fact that Smith did not have any so-called 'entertainment' in his pub. No one-armed bandits pinging away, with flashing lights and annoying beeps and buzzes to advertise when some lucky punter hit a jackpot. Nor was there any canned muzak - the aural wallpaper which in so many establishments was turned up so high as to make any form of communication impossible except for shouting. No dartboard, no bar-billiards, nothing.
For me, this was the pub's greatest redeeming feature. Here one could relax one one's own if one chose, with one's own thoughts for company, or else be able to hold a conversation with the next man in normal tones, without going hoarse. I would sometimes go into the pub with my sketchpad with me and be able to work on the illustrations of my current project with the knowledge that I would not be distracted by any 'atmosphere' nor interrupted by unwanted conversation from anyone there. If I wanted to join a conversation, then it was I who initiated it. The great British tradition of not putting oneself forward, not mixing oneself in another's business held true here. I knew that if I chose, I would be left entirely alone for the whole evening, even though there were people there with whom I had spoken before. It was is if all the regulars were there at the pub on their own terms, deciding for themselves if they felt sociable or not. This might be intimidating to someone who did not understand the English character, but seemed quite normal to me and those others who drank in the evenings at the Crown.
I was still a 'newbie' even after three years, but I knew that I was tolerated. I was always careful to observe the etiquette of 'buying one's round' if I got involved in a conversation with a couple of the locals and I felt that, if not totally 'one of them' at least I was a good regular customer and (to my knowledge at any rate) had never made the dire mistake of occupying a seat belonging to a regular.
By now, I even knew one or two of the cronies by name and if I felt so inclined (or they) then it was now not so much of a problem to get into conversation with them. As I said, the usual form was that one or other of the older regulars would 'hold court' and offer their opinions on what was going on in the world and the pub seemed to subtly divide into two camps, the men – for it was exclusively a male company – choosing which 'leader' they would support. Very tribal and as ancient as mankind itself, really.
This evening, I was more than glad of the fuggy atmosphere and restrained ambience of the Crown. Just to be among people was enough for me, at the moment anyway. I needed a bit of time to try and get my head around the day so far. I went to the bar, nodding to the few regulars who had already arrived, receiving the usual grunts in return.
Behind the bar, the lofty landlord, cigar clamped between his teeth asked me what I wanted. Since my first appearance at the pub, I had always had the same drink, a large Chivas Regal , no ice. I had never varied my order, never broken the mould. Yet, as if to imply, in a not so subtle way, that I was still a 'stranger', George Smith always asked what I wanted to drink. I let him do it, it didn't matter to me. 'Mine host' was just letting me know that I was on his territory, I suppose. I let him have his fun. I knew the 'real regulars' would have ther drinks placed before them without having to utter a word.
As Smith got my drink, I idly wondered how many years it would take for me not to have say anything in order to get my drink. Not that he was impolite or rude, but it was simply the way these things worked in England. It took time to become a member, one of the gang. The Old Boy mentality, I suppose. Neither Smith nor the regulars had any real idea about who I was, where I came from, what I did. Or rather, they knew as much as I chose to reveal.
It's not as if we were all from the same neighbourhood, grew up together, went to the same schools, worked in the same places. I was an outsider and in subtle ways such as having to re-order the same drink every time, I was not allowed to forget it.
As I waited for my change, I wondered what the assembled drinkers and Smith would think if they knew I was gay. I didn't think it would go down well. I had been into the pub on a couple of occasions with Jeremy, who does not act in an effeminate manner, and is just about always dressed soberly in suit and tie on weekdays at any rate and at weekends his clothes are sober, earth colours. Nobody appeared to notice or if they did have any suspicions as to my sexual preferences, they did not voice them.
That was what this little society was; a collection of individuals who kept themselves to themselves and only spoke in the most general of terms. Once or twice, the more dominant regulars, the 'ringleaders' as I called them, those who seemed to lead the conversations, would become more personal, especially towards the end of the evening when it was the drink speaking rather than the man, but on the whole, everyone kept out of each other's business.
Smith placed my drink on the bar before me.
"Chilly out," he said, as I paid him.
"Yes, and more rain on the way, they say," I replied as I took my change.
A good, safe topic for noncommittal conversation, the weather. Time-honoured way of saying something without really saying anything.
Pleasantries over, Smith moved back to his usual place at the end of the bar, the large Havana clamped between his teeth. I sat on the high stool and opened the paper, but couldn't focus on what was written there. I kept seeing the face of the boy who appeared to me in my flat – the boy I had, for some reason given the name of James.
I don't know why I had fixated on that particular name, it just popped into my head as I sketched and seemed to repeat itself insistently all the time I worked. Who was this boy? Was a ghost or just a trick of the light? Maybe I had still been half asleep and was dreaming after reading those stories in the book. I had lived at that flat for three years and never seen or heard anything remotely strange, so why today? I must have been under the influence of the odd occurrences in the bookshop, the book with its sad stories. That had to be the explanation.
Yet the vision had been so vivid, so detailed. I was certain the sketch I had made was a very good likeness of the boy. So who was he and how did he relate to me? Was he trying to get a message across? Was I being warned? I have never had any reason to believe in the supernatural, spirits and ghosts and all that, I'm a down-to-earth person and would be the first to say I was a sceptic. Yet I had definitely been confronted by something and that 'something' made me feel very uneasy.
The whole day had been unnerving and I was grateful for the albeit, silent company of the other regulars and to a slightly lesser extent, the glass of whisky, although I knew I didn't really need it, but one couldn't go into a pub without ordering a drink, now could one?
I thought again of the unfortunates I had already read about; Tom and Philip. Was James's story going to appear in its pages? Had something similar (or worse) happened to him? In my flat even? What other horrors would the book reveal to me? What was its purpose?
Use it wisely, do no harm. What did that mean? My mind was going round and round in circles, trying to make sense of the day's events, the purpose of the book, its origins – what my place was in this whole puzzle. One thing was certain; someone or something was crying out to me, either across the centuries or as a result of an elaborate setup.
Which was it? And what was I meant to do about it?
"Penny for them?"
The quiet voice startled me out of my reverie. The owner of the light baritone, slightly raspy voice belonged was Albert Pennyweather, a tall, thin man, one of the regulars with whom I had perhaps spoken most often and, if it can be said, the one I was best acquainted with. I knew more about him than anyone else in the pub. He had a slightly lugubrious air, almost a parody of an undertaker. I knew he wasn't an undertaker, though. He was a retired accountant, who had spent his entire working life employed by the same company in the City. "Fifty years, man and boy, to the day!" he would say with an almost triumphant glee accompanied by a broad, nicotine-stained smile as if it were a huge joke. Albert was one of the few smokers in the Crown and I had often observed his dexterity as he deftly and quickly rolled his almost match-thin cigarettes between long, yellowed fingers.
He still dressed as if he were at work; a suit (admittedly somewhat well-worn) a well-ironed shirt, well-polished, though obviously old, shoes. His only concession to being retired was his lack of a tie.
His thinning grey hair was at odds with his bushy black eyebrows and was carefully combed and held in place by Brylcreem. He was clean-shaven and had a typical smoker's face; wrinkled, pale and slightly cadaverous, adding to the undertaker-quality of his appearance. Yet his eyes seemed to be youthful still, a light, bright blue. He wore a dark grey overcoat and a wide-brimmed fedora, which to me seemed, for some reason, a little incongruous on him. I would have expected a bowler hat, or even a top-hat with mourning bands.
From our previous conversations, I had learned that Albert was a widower, had been exempted from military service due to his flat feet, had been involved in some 'hush-hush' operations during the war and that he was a keen crossword enthusiast. In fact, that's how we first met; over a particularly annoying clue in The Times .
I also garnered the facts that he had travelled widely and had a broad and extensive general-knowledge. He once admitted to me, in a most modest, almost apologetic way, that he had reached the semi-finals in the TV programme Mastermind. It was interesting to talk to the old man and he, in his turn, seemed grateful for our occasional chats.
We didn't often coincide at the Crown – it couldn't be said of me that I went there on a regular basis – but we enjoyed each other's company and would often talk for at least a couple of hours about all kinds of things when we did meet.
I was genuinely glad to see him.
"Good evening, Albert! Oh, nothing really," I lied in answer to his query. He gave a quick look at the barstool next to mine and then raised one of his bushy eyebrows at me in a quizzical way.
The unspoken language of the bar: is this seat taken. Do you mind if I sit next to you? I won't be disturbing you, will I? All this with one raised eyebrow! My reply was just as succinct. I gave a small smile and nodded my head in the general direction of the empty seat. By all means! Do sit! No problem!
If only all communication was that simple and unambiguous! However, my not minding him sitting next to me was not an open invitation for him to start speaking to me. The unspoken etiquette had to be observed and followed through. As the invitor as opposed to the invitee, it was my job to let it be known whether conversation was or was not welcome. I had to be the one to start speaking. Unwritten rule, but a very important one. It had everything to do with personal space, privacy. If I didn't speak, Albert would know I wasn't feeling sociable and he would read his evening paper or continue his wrestling with the crossword. He wouldn't take offence; indeed he might even quietly move to another stool – and neither of us would be offended. The old nursery rule about speaking and being spoken to still held good in these circumstances.
"It's been a while, Albert!"
The invitiation to social intercourse had been made and we would now sit and chat contentedly, buying each other a drink each and then one of us, (it was usually Albert) would make his excuses, thank the other for an interesting 'natter' and leave.
I was grateful for the company, our conversation would help put the other, more disturbing matters out of mind, at least for an hour or two.
Albert put his copy of that day's Sunday Times down on the bar. "Can't seem to figure out 19-across," he said as he reached into his pocket to pay for his Guinness which George had placed before him; Albert didn't have to order his drink, I wryly noticed. But then, he had probably drunk here for as long as he had worked at his accounting firm. He had certainly outlived several landlords of the Crown !
I had completed today's puzzle with Jeremy this morning, so I teased Albert a bit as we usually did, if one had got a clue which eluded the other.
"Remind me of the clue," I said, as Albert removed his hat and coat and settled down on the stool next to mine.
" For whom spring rapidly follows fall, 6,6 " replied Albert, his brow furrowed.
Have you got most of the letters? " I asked, peering over Albert's shoulder at the crossword. I noticed he had got one of the adjoining clues wrong, putting an erroneous letter into what was to be the answer to 19 across, so he would never be able to guess the one he was stuck on. I pointed at the offending answer. "You sure about that one?"
He looked doubtful, then his brow cleared. "Of course! What an idiot I am! It's suck it and see, not lick it…so that makes 19 across… he paused for a moment…"Bungee jumper!" He almost crowed.
"Thanks Peter. It was really beginning to annoy me!"
Crossword completed, he folded the newspaper and took a long swig of his Guinness. "Cheers!"
As we settled into our chat, I wondered whether I should tell Albert about the strange incident in the bookshop this morning and the subsequent happenings, but decided against it. Part of me thought I would sound like a raving lunatic if I did, so I reckoned that discretion was the wisest course. There was no harm, however, in maybe mentioning the subject of ghosts and hauntings, sound Albert out on his point of view on the subject.
"What's the average age of houses here in Seven Dials?" I asked Albert after we had exhausted the topic of the weather and the latest political scandals.
Dextrously rolling one of his thin cigarettes, Albert replied, "well, as you know, Peter, the area was started to be built up at the end of the seventeenth century, but there are very few original buldings left. It's a bit of a mish-mash now; some of the houses are Georgian, say early to middle of the 18 th Century, a lot of Victorian buildings and then, after the Blitz some of that hideous stuff they put up, all that functionalism!" He visibly shuddered. "Mercifully, there's not too much of that, so I suppose the average age of the area is two to three hundred years."
"Old enough to collect their own ghosts, then," I replied with a slight laugh.
"Oh most certainly! Take the Crown as an example. There's been some sort of inn or hostelry on this site since the earliest days, just look at that hideous painting over there!" He grimaced theatrically.
The story went that the painting was done about seventy years ago by a then regular at the pub, a minor artist, who offered to pay for his tab with a painting of the pub. The landlord, like an idiot, agreed and was stuck with the garish job which he had the further poor taste to hang on the wall. Luckily for him, the painter died shortly thereafter (probably from psirrhosis) and it was thought to be disrespectful to the dead painter's memory to take it down.
And there it has hung ever since. It portrayed a thatched building in front of which a horse-drawn dray, loaded with barrels had stopped. There were figures in ragged clothing dotted here and there and a sign proclaimed the establishment to be "Ye Crowne". It really was a bad painting. However, years of it hanging in the bar had muted its colours to a great extent and it sort of blended into the wood panelling of the wall. Now, it was as much a part of the pub as the bottles behind the bar or the handpumps for the beer.
Albert continued, "so there's been a pub here for over three hundred years and they say that the Crown is haunted." He paused to hold out his empty glass for George to refill it. "And whatever Peter is drinking," he added. "I've heard so many different stories, I don't know what to believe any more!"
George delivered our drinks. "Few stories about ghosts in this place," he said as he dealt with Albert's change. "Some people have sworn they've seen the ghost of a potboy in the corridor on the way to the Ladies' and there's meant to be a woman in grey who haunts the upstairs function room. Can't say as I've ever seen or heard anything odd here…although…" he leaned forward over the bar in a conspiratorial manner, lowering his voice. "Some people have said that when they go downstairs to the Gents' they find themselves in a completely different place, the old cellars. They say it's very creepy! However, they always seem to find the toilets and relieve themselves, so I reckon it's a case of a pint too many!" He gave a great guffaw and went back to the end of the bar, where Sidney was holding forth on whether or not a famous actress was indeed a lesbianist . I caught Albert's eye as Sid was spouting his nonsense and he just rolled his eyes to heaven.
"So why the sudden interest in ghosts, Peter? Witnessed a haunting?" If Albert was having a joke at my expense, he had a perfectly straight face as he asked. He seemed genuinely interested. I took a deep breath and plunged in, telling Albert the story of the apparition I had seen earlier that evening. I deliberately did not tell him about the book; that was altogether too weird and were I Albert, I would most certainly think I had a screw or two loose.
So I told him about the fleeting appearance of the boy I called James and how I had managed to make a quick sketch of him after the event. Albert listened to my story and when I had finished he remained silent for a while.
"And you say you've had no previous hauntings or strange feelings in your flat?"
"You say there were no lights on in your room, but that there was enough reflected light from the streetlamps outside. Did the figure seem substantial, or did you get the impression you could see through him?"
"He looked pretty solid to me," I replied. "He was pale, but I got the feeling he was real – (the image of another boy flashed before me, the one I thought I saw in the bookshop).
"Could you tell, roughly what era this ghost was from? Clothes, hair, that type of thing?"
"I don't really know," I paused to think. "It certainly wasn't a boy in modern clothes, you know, shirt and jeans, and stuff…he had a large white collar and long hair – not hippie-like. He looked about thirteen or so, hard to tell the age. I suppose his clothes were old-fashioned, but nothing really definite. He had some sort of brooch or pendant on the collar, either a cross or an anchor, I can't be quite sure."
"And he didn't say anything, or look as if he were about to speak?"
"No, but I got the feeling of sadness, a kind of proudness, but deep sadness as well. I'm still not really sure it was a boy, but my instinct tells me it was."
I didn't say my 'instinct' was born of years of studying boys that I saw around me, in the park, on the train, walking along the street. I always had my eyes open for a good-looking specimen of male adolescent beauty.
Albert nodded slowly as he took another sip from his glass.
"Well, it's not impossible that it was some sort of visitation from the other side," he said, turning thoughtful eyes on me, "have you been under any strain recently, stress or feeling under the weather?" I felt his gaze intensify.
"No, not really… no not at all," I replied, wondering if Albert thought I had gone crazy.
"Remind me, Peter, how long ago is it since you lost your parents?" Albert's voice was quiet, almost gentle. He had a concerned look on his face.
"That's over three years ago now," I replied. "It's not that…"
"No, I didn't mean to offend, but sometimes grief has a way of lying hidden and then re-surfacing when one least expect it to…"
"No, Albert, I'm sure it's not that. You're probably right…maybe I'm just tired."
Suddenly I didn't feel like continuing the conversation and now regretted bringing the subject up in the first place.
Albert, tactful as ever, was quick to change the subject.
"I see that Sydney is back on his favourite subject yet again!"
We looked over to the end of the bar. Sydney, obviously a little bit drunk, was hectoring George.
"Dammit old man! Don't you see? Of course it's a plot to bring down the institution we all feel so strongly about! Of course he should be King when Her Majesty pops her clogs. You damn republicans!"
Albert and I smiled as we prepared ourselves for the next round in the George vs. Sydney endless argument as to whether the UK should become a republic.
Shortly after, feeling strangely tired despite my long sleep earlier on, I made my excuses and made to leave.
"Get a good night's sleep, you'll feel better in the morning!" Said Albert, touching my arm lightly and solicitously.
"Thanks, Albert. See you soon! Goodnight."
I left the pub and found everything as I had left it at home, all lights blazing. Still feeling very tired, I switched off the lights and went straight to bed.
[For those who use webmail: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, etc). Each browser is subtly different or we'd give fuller instructions here. If it pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]