The College Bar

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

11th September 2015
"Can you drink up now please?"
She shouted it every night. The barmaid.
Every night Cameron and friends pushed the boundaries.
They sat with their backs to the bar, still with almost full pints of Guinness in front of them hurriedly demanded at the bar just before last orders.
"I won't tell you again, drink up now please."
They gulped. They glugged. "Down in one", "C'mon" the plea from those who had already finished.
They banged their glasses down on the table. Just the Guinness' creamy heads clinging to the sides of the glass, and sliding down to the bottom. The rest empty. Done.
They stood up. All six of them. And headed outside, squeezing past the barmaid who was already collecting their glasses off the table. "See you tomorrow," she sighed.
She would. They were always back tomorrow. They were always back every day.
University for them revolved around The College Bar.
It's where they'd formed their friendships, where they'd met their girlfriends, for some where they'd dumped (or more often been dumped - don't believe the way the lads told it around the bar table) by their girlfriends. It's where they toasted success, drowned their sorrows after failures, where they talked about their hopes, fears, life and death.
They'd usually meet around 9pm. The limits of their student grants just about lasting until last orders. As long as they all paid their way. Ridicule and public shame for those who even suggested they might miss a round always did the trick. It was their leveller. Their way of keeping their club in order.
On high days, and holidays, and especially on anyone's birthday, the hours were different. On those days their law was all had to be at the bar ready for opening time at 11am. They didn't leave until 11pm. You should have seen the state of them. They'd play pool. That wasn't so bad. It was when the drinking games started. That was when it got ugly. "Ducky Fuzz", "Bunnies", yards of ale, all involving ever more ridiculous pranks and language, each game with the sole intention of getting someone in the group to start losing, drinking more, therefore losing more, getting drunk more, leaving the others in the clear, and so it went on until that poor unfortunate soul would collapse in the corner. Spark out. Until someone shoved him into a taxi home.
George was usually the victim, pretty much always George, the tradition itself increasing the humour for everyone except for George himself who always went from laughing to vomiting. Before the barmaid chucked him out, helping him into the cab.
Tonight, however, was just a normal night
They'd only had their usual three pints. But still it hit them. The cold February air. The wild winds of the Northern Irish coast.
Richard, the skinniest among them, was swaying more than normal. He didn't eat. Spent all his food money on beer. "Guiness is good for you" - he'd repeat the advertising slogan to anyone who would listen. And a student scientist, he'd go on about the positive iron properties in stout, until someone told him in no uncertain terms to "shut the .... up".
Every night outside they were met by the revving engine of an old coach, chara, or charabanc Dave used to call it - his parents ran a seaside hotel over in northern England and he'd picked up the regular coach travellers' lingo.
That sound of the coach, the diesel fumes from the exhaust as it chugged away motionless, the lights in the window, the faces of fellow students in the seats, especially those of the girls they'd spent more than two years vainly aspiring to go home with, always prompted drunken decision time.
To be or not to be? To get on the coach, which was heading to the other seaside resort along the coast to take the students to the nearest nightclub?
Or, give it a miss, and have that bracing walk home, down to the rocks by sea, then along the strand (beach to you and me), and finally the dramatic cliff top path to reach their shared house right by the Atlantic?
That night they split. Three up for dancing, Cameron, Richard, and Jerry, the smooth-talking Londoner, headed for the coach
Dave, George and Tony, the latter a Dubliner who had fairly recently joined the group, headed for home - but not before the takeway.
"Come on," said Tony. "If we're not spending the money at Kelly's we can afford a few chips, so we can."
Curried chip, burger, tomato relish, it never tasted as good as that seaside chipper, with the salt on your lips and the wind in your hair, and the Atlantic crashing in on the rocks in front of them as they sat on the promenade bench.
The boats clinked in the harbour, the waves whistled up the spout in the cliffs by the harbour wall, and out across the bay they could see the lights of Donegal across the sound.
Even in their early 20s they knew this was as good as it gets. Few cares, and all the hopes in the world.
"Remember that night you tried to steal that boat Dave. And the RUC burst into our flat, guns and all, flashlights in our faces, us lying in bed not having a clue what was going on?"
They burst out laughing. So many memories. So many shared nights. Now they were in their final year, some of their friends had already left, and they knew their time too would soon be coming to an end. They would soon be going their separate ways, many never to return to these shores.
Back in the bar, still clearing up, Jen the barmaid was bemoaning another night of petty aggravation:
"Idiots. Men, actually just Boys, all of them. All pranks, and drink and no thought about any of the consequences of their actions. So bloody immature. Not a single brain between them."
Twenty years on, Dave went back to the beautiful Antrim coast while on a business trip to Belfast.
He drove past beautiful Ballycastle, called in at the breathtaking sites of Carrick-A-Rede, Giants Causeway, and Dunluce Castle, and then arrived at his student haunts the seaside resorts of Portrush and Portstewart and on to the College Bar.
He didn't know if we wanted to go there again. So many happy memories. So many adventures. So many friends he no longer knew. But he thought if he sat, and at least had one pint of Guinness, sat at the table near the bar, that there'd be some pleasure as well as pain from the memories coming flooding back. Just one more pint. Sure, it couldn't hurt.
But from where he parked his car across the road it didn't look as he'd remembered it, looked far more faded, and unloved.
He started to worry it might not be as he'd imagined it all these years.
He walked across the road, and up to the door.
That's when he saw the handwritten note in the window.
"Closed. Thanks to all our customers over the years, but due to cost cuts, from September 11, 2015, we can lo longer operate the college bar. For a choice of bars and entertainment in the local area download our app from the student website."
Dave was stunned. Where would today's students meet? Where would they talk about love and loss, about hopes and fears, argue about politics and sport.
Dave remembered the day he'd clattered a man with a stick to the ground when knee-sliding to the TV when Keith Houchen scored his FA Cup final goal.
Or when Jerry had been delirious and Cameron had been inconsolable the night Arsenal scored their last-gasp title winner at Anfield.
The College bar had defined three years of Dave's life. But far more than that it's where he'd shared the first 20 years of his experience, and where, with the help of friends, he'd planned the whole of his future.
He saw there was a bench vacant down by the sea, walked into the chipper next door to the closed bar, and said: "Curried chip and burger please."
"Would you like tomato relish with that sir?" said the assistant.
Dave just broke out into a huge smile.