I can’t write about the pub in the east end without mentioning its most infamous character: Aussie.
If you drink at this pub, you have signed up for the company of Aussie. He comes in at 11 AM and stays on until at least 6 PM every day. He is a staple, a part of the furniture. He is also the embodiment of all that challenged me about working in that place. Two and a half years ago, our relationship began. On my first day, I was scolded that there was too much foam on his beer and it wasn’t in his proper glass. Miserable and unwelcoming, I disliked him immediately.
Aussie belongs to a group of elderly migrants from the UK who have brought their daily pub drinking culture with them. Here they have found a network of like minded folks who, widowed/divorced and retired, are all staved for company in their twilight years. They play darts, pool and playfully ‘take the piss’ out of each others’ opposing premier league football teams. Mostly, they sit at the window, sipping their pints and judging the people that walk by. They are also willfully ignorant and distasteful of so-called ‘bleeding heart liberals’ and often make disparaging comments about immigrants. The irony that they belong to that category is apparently lost on them.
Aussie is the worst offender. When told that his views are outdated and offensive, he defensively asserts variations of, “i’m too old to change my mind about these things, don’t waste your time”. Or, “if you don’t like it, take a hike”. This job immediately followed my volunteer work with marginalized communities- often the targets of their attacks- so I found it difficult to justify my place in that environment. I attempted to debate with them and eventually found it fruitless. Relating with them seemed impossible.
Eventually, Aussie and the others got used to my company and decided they liked my “spunkyness”. They taught me how to play darts (I eventually joined a league). They somehow taught me, someone who has never cared about sports, to appreciate British football. I have spent more hours with Aussie than I have with many of my friends. A consistent presence for every one of my weekend shifts, he jokes, complains, but mostly gives me a hard time. I at once adore and detest him. “I only know what I was taught’, he told me once, ‘you think i’m prejudiced, you should have met my father’. I have resigned myself to the fact that I am in their world, that I am just temporarily taking up space. I began realizing that these men really care about each other and depend on each other for companionship and support, they are not just drinking buddies in solidarity against “all of the weirdos in the world”. On a Sunday afternoon, the pub resembles life back home, they have found a refuge that makes sense to them.
Despite my pesky liberal leanings and sharp comebacks, Aussie is quite fond of me. “Hey, when are we getting married? Just for the weekend though, that is as much of you I can take”.