I had an odd experience yesterday evening. At about 6:30 pm, while on my way home, I stopped off briefly at a local pub, bought a half of lager (Moretti, if you really want to know), and sat out in its garden, alone on a trestle table, lost in thought, smoking in the watery sunlight.
And then, after 20 minutes, I continued my journey home, and took up my newly self-appointed role as the 7 pm bartender in the Smoky Drinky Bar. I didn’t know how long I’d spend in the Smoky Drinky Bar. In the event, I spent nearly 5 hours there.
So I had the experience of sitting at a table at a real pub side-by-side, or in close conjunction, with the experience of sitting at a table in a virtual pub. Which one was better?
Well, there wasn’t much sparkling conversation at the real pub. In fact there wasn’t any conversation at all – at least at my table. I doubt if I would have stayed on at the real pub for another 5 hours of being lost in thought. If nothing else, it would have become dark, and cold.
But it was wall-to-wall sparkling conversation in the Smoky Drinky Bar. And that’s what it always seems to be like there. And as a participant in very many conversations over the years, some of them absolutely scintillatingly sparkling, I’m a bit puzzled as to why there’s such a buzz to the Smoky Drinky Bar. I am myself certainly not the magic ingredient. Nor, so far as I can see, is anyone else.
I think it may be the sheer novelty of engaging in conversation with people who are scattered all over the world. And maybe also with people you don’t really know. Weren’t all the best parties the ones in which surprising new guests arrived? Aren’t the best things that happen always a bit unexpected? I really don’t know. Perhaps it’s simply that everyone is smoking.
Maybe one day at the Smoky Drinky Bar, nobody will have anything to say. And all present will fall silent and pull on their cigarettes, and take another long slow sip of whatever they happen to be drinking, as the seconds tick by. I was talking to Emily about this a few weeks ago, remarking that on the Smoking Section she was always quick to ensure that her interviews proceeded briskly, and no fatal silences were allowed to intrude. I was suggesting that, in our conversation, we should allow silences to develop. And I think we managed a few quite long silences.
Are there ever any such silences on talk shows? Are there ever occasions where all present fall silent? As for example, when asked some question, a guest is lost for words, and says, “I don’t know what to say,” and the host or compere replies, “Me too.” But I suppose the Michael Parkinsons and David Lettermans of the world are never lost for words. That’s how they got to the top. Even with sullen, silent guests, they could fill the airwaves. Some people are in their natural element while talking, it seems. They spread their wings and fly. I don’t know how they do it.
Anyway, I think it’s a good idea that there be a bartender present on the Smoky Drinky Bar. His job is not to serve drinks or take food orders, but to dispel silence. His job is to be someone to talk to. In this respect, Petej had an excellent suggestion in reply to something I wrote:
“It isn’t possible for me, as the landlord or patron, to spend my entire time in the bar”.
It seems to me that you should do what any landlord would do, have assistants.
You have said that people all over the world are visiting, from different time zones. Maybe a few volunteers who are around their computers could cover other shifts?
Why not? I have appointed myself to the 7 pm UK slot, largely because in the past that was the sort of time I used to meet up with friends on nights out. And if the same applies everywhere else in the world, then why not have a few people appoint themselves to the 7 pm slot in whatever time zone in which they happen to live?
Yesterday, more or less within seconds of my arrival for the 7 o’clock shift, there were three people present. I suspect that in Australia and New Zealand and the USA, the same thing would happen, once enough people knew about the Smoky Drinky Bar. When people know that somebody will be there, they will start coming.
And pretty soon the Smoky Drinky Bar may well be chock full. And then? Brigitte suggested:
I understand that Frank’s place can only harbour a set amount of guests and therefore once that number is reached, the doors will be closed to non-members.
We’ve yet to reach this point. The maximum number the Smoky Drinky Bar can hold is 12 people, and the most I’ve seen so far is 8 people. I don’t know what happens when the magic 12 is reached. Maybe the doors close themselves, banging shut, a bit like the ones in H.M. Slade prison? I think I’ll take things as they come.
The Smoky Drinky Bar is rather like the central bar in Cheers, only smaller. And it hasn’t got side tables like Cheers. It is, as it were, a square table or bartop with three stools on each side. A sort of largish dinner party. And only one person can speak at any one time. So with 12 people present, everyone needs to be on average 92% silent. In such circumstances, the ideal guests will be those who are naturally silent. Like Grandad, who was telling me a few days back that in pubs he was accustomed to sit in silence with his friends and acquaintances. For we will need not just ready talkers, but ready listeners as well. In fact, we will need rather more listeners than talkers.