Thursday, April 20, 2006

Changing The Guard ...

Firstly, to mark HM The Queen's 80th Birthday, comes this, my 80th edition of the 'ere rant. Happy Birthday Brenda.

So, to business ...

There a major change a-foot when it comes to city bars and cafe's. The old-style smoky run-down, spit and sawdust establishments are making way for hi-tech rebuilds, coated in brushed aluminum, polished off with beads of imported soft woods.

Looks great, on the whole, and I agree that 'old school' must, at some time, surrender to change and modernisation. But tell me, why do all these new places feel the need to install the latest (and loudest) German engineered sound systems and the funkiest Japanese flat screen TVs?

You go to a bar or a cafe to mingle, meet your friends, catch up with folk and relax. We now enter the realm of the 'new bar'. Firstly, it's nigh impossible to get a seat as they have already been registered as an official squat by groups of scruffy individuals nursing a half pint of lager. Having lost out on the seating stakes, you're forced to stand at the bar which, more often than not, is overcrowded and there's always some artistic type in a black polo neck, with letter-box style glasses, speaking far too loudly and waving a Gauloise within an inch of your face. After an hour, your legs begin to buckle and you're in desperate need of somewhere to 'take a load off'. The umbrella stand by the door has been giving me the 'come hither' look for the past 20 minutes and I've even been known to slip into the toilets for a 5-minute respite.

Next, along with the other 57 couples jostling at the bar, you begin a round of the 'hovering over the people who look like they're leaving but who are really only rearranging the furniture just to piss you off' game. When you eventually do find a pair of seats, they're invariably situated in a dark corner somewhere, next to a 'Smooth' type and his face-sucker girlfriend. The music is so loud that it is nigh on impossible to talk without raising your voice to the sufficient level to burst an artery somewhere. There is no break in this 'music'. One track just rolls right into another with bass drum thumping monotony. Smoothy and his chick are kissing. A lot. No, really - a LOT. Such is this couple's ability to conserve their oxygen, the pearl divers of the Philippines would be forced to doff their caps - if they had any.

With a final ear-drenching squelch, 'Smoothy' and his bride release from each other's lippy embrace and surface for a lung-full of O2. Their attention now turns to the requisite flat screen TV which is tuned to a 'rap' cable channel. It is interesting to note that the music from the speakers bears no resemblance to the pulsating images of near naked white women and aggressive black men, posing and gesticulating on the wall-mounted flat screen. 'Smoothy' and limpet-girl have not spoken since we arrived. It's too bloody noisy to talk so people-watching is the only solution. It's not on the drinks menu and it's free but maybe their kiss-a-thon isn't such a bad idea after all.

TVs in bars should be outlawed. The sooner the better. Lower jaws hang open like executioners trapdoors - the expressionless faces of the viewers proving that corpses can actually watch TV. Conversation has been axed. The talker begins to speak and the hand goes up ... switch to 'shadda-fak-upp' mode while his or her companion falls trance-like towards whatever passes for entertainment on a screen the size of a car's windscreen.

"I wanted to tell you how gorgeous I think you look tonight darling ..."

"Ummm? Sorry? I'm just watching this guy on MTV have a staple gun pressed against his scrotum ... what was it you were saying?"

However, if you crave this sort of night out, then there are many different styles of bars for equally different tastes: for betting on the gee-gees, pop into a PMU. They've got screens for betting on hourly lotteries and 'Equida', the horse racing channel - watch as knackered equines are put out of their misery by qualified vets, live, from every racecourse across the land! There are bars which show travel channels ... get away from it all whilst sipping on an overpriced cocktail! There are fashion bars where you can sit in the dark with your sunglasses on and watch habitual 'up-chuckers' strut their stuff on catwalks from around the globe! Magic stuff! Just pick a theme* and you'll be assured a seat - spotty youths permitting - a whisker away from the latest hi-tech moving picture show (*conversation not included).

Think I'll stay at home tonight, open a can of Leffe, turn up the stereo, mute the TV and shout myself towards a box of Strepsils.



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