The Castle was as traditional a London pub as you could wish to find. Late Victorian, the exterior had a green and white facade, colourful blooms flowing over the edges of a half dozen hanging baskets and an interior boasting many original interior features. Including the characters that kept the pub in business. There’s Martin the Telly. He dealt in stolen televisions when he wasn’t not pulling pints. Everyone knows him as Martin the Telly. Including the local constabulary. Not a good thing. His annual vacations went on longer than most.
Irish Paul played Sax. His dad, Murphy the landlord, played accordion. Picking a fight with either of them was a bad decision that would ruin your Friday night. They weren’t to be messed with. They’d both play a good bit of marimba on your ribs with the leg of a bar stool if the occasion called for it. As a general rule of thumb, never antagonise anyone called Murphy in London. Mary would patrol the bar, fag in mouth, coaxing coins from punters in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Whether or not any of the guide dogs ever saw the cash remains unknown.
Then there was Dick the Brick. In a pub full of life’s bad decisions, Dick pulled rank when it came to making a poor choice. But he was an amiable sort. A raconteur. Every pub has a Dick. You’ll find him, all hours, propping up one end of the bar. Red cheeked, often the worse for wear by evenings end. But always good for a funny tale. Dick had served in the navy when he was younger and had plenty of fishy sounding tales to tell. His sole piece of action came against Icelandic fisherman in the infamous Cod War. So his tales are fishier than most. But the navy didn’t suit him. He bored easily. So off he went to the merchant navy. Which soon bored him too. He decided the life of a land lubber was for him and did a course in brick laying.
By all accounts, he did a decent job when he put his mind to it. Which wasn’t often. His mind was, he decided, better off pickled with the local draught in the Castle. He spent more time propping up the bar than he did supporting his wife. Bad decision. She left him. Still, Dick dreamed big. One day, upon hearing that an old best friend had passed on, Dick packed up and went to Glasgow. The only decent thing to do would be to step into his old friend’s shoes and take on his wife and child as his own. It would be a turning point in his life. A new beginning.
His grand plan did not, alas, go down well with the recently widowed lady. She sensibly declined his generous offer and sent him packing back to London. It was a nice gesture by Dick, but one made through an alcoholic delusion of grandeur. There was no new beginning for Dick. He went back to the Castle and drowned his sorrows. He made another life changing decision. The bell for last orders came and went, he drained the last drops from the bottom of his glass and Dick stumbled back home. He opened the door at the third attempt and stepped over the piles of clutter than lay about over his floor. He picked up his old tool bag, and slumped down in his saggy old armchair.
He unzipped the bag. The interior of his tool bag was undoubtedly the cleanest thing in the flat. But then, it hadn’t seen the light of day in a while. Inside the bag he found what he was looking for. He clicked it open, placed the blade to his throat, just under his left ear. With one swift, determined, forceful movement, he pulled the knife across his throat. He gasped as the shock of the incision registered. He gasped again for air as blood flowed down his windpipe. Did he gasp a third time, as he wondered to himself… had he made yet another bad decision? We’ll never know. Dick’s life no doubt flashed briefly through his mind as his life quickly spilled away onto the fabric of his well worn chair. Briefly, because his life was brief. Dick was but 50 years old.
Dick was quickly missed. Takings at the pub take a hit when someone like Dick goes awol. Two days later, the police and a few regulars bust into his flat and found his blood soaked corpse. There was no note. None needed. Everyone knew Dick’s story, and it’s the sort of story that has a predictably sad ending. His funeral was attended by his pals from the Castle. He was missed. Later, a group of them bought him a bench. To remember him by.
The story is fifty per cent true. Maybe sixty per cent. I never met Dick the Brick. But I sat on his bench for a while to rest at the weekend. I wondered how many Dick the Bricks could there be? I Googled him.With success. And let my imagination fill in the gaps. I like the little memorials on benches. There’s a story behind every one of them. Sadly, the plaque is just a tease and the story is hidden from view. Usually. Not so for Dick the Brick.
It gave me an idea. Why don’t these plaques contain a scannable Q code that leads to a memorial web page? After all, most people these days will park their backsides on a bench and spend a few minutes staring at their screen. Perhaps I should pitch this on the Dragons Den.