The Last Seanachie

Its all about the optics

The sign on the meshed door said Lee’s Tailors: Repairs Here! And behind the grimy window a small Singer sewing machine stood proud among piles of unfurled asymmetric trouser legs and cloth, reels and needles.

‘I thought we were getting a drink, Ibrahim?’ I ventured. He pointed to the flashing orange light above the door in the early morning gloom. It was one of those magnetic lights you normally see on building site dump trucks. Stuck under the eaves of the old shop I could barely make out the handwritten sign briefly illuminated with each glowing revolution of the light: AAA Aardvark Minicab.

‘HQ,’ said Ibrahim, proudly.

I looked at the auld fella. He shrugged back. ‘Fine by me,’ he said.

We creaked up two flights of bare wooden stairs, the soft burble of a fruit machine drifting down the thin corridor punctuated regularly with a mobile phone ringing and a bored voice: ‘Aaardvark cabs…’

The office smelt of new cars and smoke. Dangling from the ceiling was a myriad of car fresheners, lemon and pine competing with the increasingly deceptive ‘new car smell’. Underneath, on a plain bench sat half a dozen bored looking men, Bangladeshi men in blouson elasticated leather jackets, a few Nigerians in slippers and gauche shirts. They’re mainly reading the papers and all are smoking, the blue-brown swirls climbing up to the ceiling to take on the combined might of the lemon-pine-car axis. It’s a stalemate but tobacco seems to be winning this war of attrition given the yellow stained ceiling.

‘Fer fuck’s sake, mate,’ I plead. ‘We want drinks, not another ride.’

Ibrahim points to a door beyond the Perspex screened dispatch office. It’s another corridor and we follow down yet another dimly-lit corridor, lino curling at the edges and this time, it’s not fruit machine burbles and ringtones drifting to meet us but pumping bass of dance music.

an sibin

‘An síbin!’ the auld man laughs. My puzzled look encourages him further. ‘A shabeen! A speakeasy…’

Ibrahim pushes open the thick heavily padded door at the end of the corridor and beckons. Damp warmth pumps out, pungent, and a wave of booming music follows.

A wrinkled hand is extended into my chest by a blue-rinsed woman who doesn’t even look up from her Reader’s Digest.

‘Tenner in, dahling,’ she barks.

A twenty later and we’re in. No bigger than a garage, the tailor’s attic is nonetheless heaving with punters. Always wondered how these little shops could make their London lease rent by just shortening trouser legs. And here it was, an underground, overground club. A small PA with a DJ, head pressed up against his cans, was the source of the throbbing music and in the corner three optics, tequila, vodka, whiskey, screwed to the wall in front of a table with a bunch of plastic glasses and a big American fridge, its chilly maw frequently opening and shutting, disgorging cans of Heineken and Red Bull.

‘Fuck,’ I’m genuinely gobsmacked by this drinking den. I booze-roll to the table-cum-bar. Another big Nigerian is grinning, nodding to the beat.

‘Three TVRs, then,’ and another damp 20 quid comes out of my pocket.

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