The Temp: Shorthand for lager

GLENDA, THE barmaid at the Seedy's, has got a septic hand, and won't be back to work for a couple of weeks. After my fine cry of, "Let me through, I'm a barmaid!", during the emergency period when 20 south London builders found themselves without lager on a Monday night, John the landlord offered me a temporary job filling in for her.

So now I'm a double temp: in the morning, I put on my suit and haul ass into the City to answer phones and pretend to be doing real shorthand when I'm actually writing like the wind and hoping I can remember what my boss was on about for long enough to annotate the scrawl on my pad.

At 5.30pm, I run to the loo, change into big earrings and eyeliner - not so classy that I frighten the clientele, not so sexy that I cause trouble - and race to the pub. John pays me pounds 25 a night, cash-in-hand, plus the statutory meal. To be honest, I'd rather take the cash and live on bar snacks, but since I read the statistic about the 13 different samples of men's urine found in a bowl of pub peanuts, I've been less keen. And as it is, I'm pretty grateful: I don't need to eat more than one meal a day, and I can live off that pounds 175 while my respectable earnings go straight into my bottomless bank account.

I've recently turned into one of those people who picks up penny pieces in the street, from the bottom of my purse, under my bed or at the bottom of my bag, and piles them into pounds 1 heaps. I caught myself doing it on the bus the other day; I wouldn't have thought about it if I hadn't caught the eye of a teenage boy and seen the light of unadulterated contempt that shone from his eyes as he watched me trickle tuppences through my fingers.

What with washing up and wiping down surfaces, emptying ashtrays and refilling the optics for the next day, I rarely get out of work before midnight, and I am rarely in bed before 1.30am. Averaging six hours sleep a night has made my vision blurry, with occasional flashes of iridescence like that on the flanks of a slightly rotting trout. I haven't had a chance to do any washing, and will be knickerless (long skirts only) by Thursday.

And yet strangely, I'm enjoying myself. There's a grim humour in pub life, and my assorted clientele of brickies and hardware salesmen are a grimly humorous lot. They are all male. Apart from Glenda, I think I am the first woman to set foot through these doors since last Christmas.

No, that's not true: there's one. It's just that no one, as far as I can see, has ever spoken to her. She comes in with her husband and has one drink. Every night, they walk in at 7.30pm sharp, by which time Mike is on his fourth pint. He has a big beard, she has a curly perm. She sits in the far corner by the door, and he lumbers over to the bar. Mike goes "Evening guv'," every evening, and every evening he ignores him. Then he says to me in the slowest West Country drawl: "A point of lager and loime and a zzzlimloine bidder lemon please."

Same order, every night, and no sign that he recognises anybody. It's hell waiting for him to put in his order. I know what it's going to be, but I can't start pouring until he's said it, and it takes him five minutes to say the single sentence. Then Mike says, "Nice talking to you, mate", he ignores him, and lumbers back to the corner seat. They sit, sipping in silence, staring vaguely at points six inches above each other's heads, finish their drinks and disappear off to their mysterious existence.

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