Stumbling through the doors of The Empire Club with the dishevelled instability of a newborn giraffe, and finding myself in a foyer with two possible exists, I ploughed through the obvious one. Expecting the familiar smell of beer and the comforting sound of the Spurs thrashing Burnley, I was met instead by the foul stench and soul-destroying sound of the unfit, grunting and panting to trashy pop songs. It was probably an aerobics class, but I left too quickly too know for sure, it could have been anything, a Britney Spears mick-take group for example.
The other door took me to the bar.
The Empire Club is one of those random places for which there is no word to describe. A bit like a working man's club, but not quite, certainly nothing close to a pub, but can't be called a bar either. An anomaly.
It took me a few moments to spot Paul and Steve, sitting in the far corner looking uncomfortable, looking like two lads sitting in an anomaly.
I can't remember why we chose to watch the game at The Empire Club, there was some sort of connection between the club and Steve's work. I had to be signed in by a bloke called Ray, and had to pay a quid for the night. How funny is that - a quid?! I asked Steve who Ray was. Dunno, maybe he owns the place, he said.
As we sat there we were closely watched by the regulars, a motley crew of grizzly old men who stared at us with small badger-like eyes, as if we were unruly ferrets invading their hole. Old men are terrible starers, and if there is one thing they hate more than anything else it is change. Who were these young whippersnappers, destroying their same-old-same-old by simply being there?
I always enjoy seeing these two. We reminisced about old times, like when they sneaked out of the Evening Star with one of the ale festival awards, only to return it a few weeks later (in equally sneaky fashion). And the time when they got their car stuck in the stones on Brighton beach after a night DJing.
Paul is leading a colourful life, one which I'm fascinated by, though not envious of. He is spending his time flitting between here and the USA where he does youth work for a charity. Now here's the interesting bit. His charity work is self-funded, so he spends a several months back home saving up for the next trip. He does a menial job two days a week, proving a small but stable income, but the majority of his earnings come from online poker tournaments. To maintain his prolific poker activities he subjects himself to a rigorous fitness regime and healthy diet - to keep his mind sharp and prepared, never gambling if he is tired or has had a few drinks.
I sipped my precious pint slowly - precious because I was driving and it could be my only one. Arundal Gold, a fine local beer. When I left the old men glared with intent, their badger-like eyes watching from behind their Fosters. Old men always drink Fosters, which I can't respect, and can find no explanation for.
I decided to give the aerobics class a miss on the way out.
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