Joe Dunthorne: 'In an instant, the adult world became accessible and charmless'

Turning 18...

Share
Related Topics

Before my 18th birthday, pubs always seemed exotic, dangerous places where grown men stood hypnotised by the swirl of the gambling machine.

The landlady of a crusty boozer near my house had a soft spot for my friend Joel and me and although she knew we were under age she let us sit quietly in a booth, drink one pint of Beamish, feel like outlaws, then go home. We’d run back up the hill to our street and lie in the road, laughing.

When I turned 18, in an instant the adult world became accessible and charmless. My first real job was working in an old-fashioned pub, the St George. I became aware of how little I knew of the culture, the terminology: “lager top”, “cider and black”, “’alf a mild”. The drip trays sloshed with my overspills.

At 7.30pm every weekday, I had to leave a pint of ale at the end of the bar to get warm. At 8pm, a middle-aged guy, Nathan, would come in and start drinking it – which was my cue to pour his next one. He would drink one warm Brains every half an hour until 10.30pm, then he’d go home. He spoke to no one, watched no television, read no newspapers. I asked the landlady his story and she told me that he’d been this way since his wife died. She warned me not to try to speak to him. Nothing could reach him, she said.

I came to admire the matter-of-fact way she treated Nathan, always saving his seat, pouring his beer, but never trying to cheer him up. Whatever grim processes occurred inside him, she let happen, just making sure to maintain the structure of his evenings, and to welcome him by name. To him, the pub was not exciting, or social, or exotic, or pleasurable – it was just necessary. Nathan knew that, at 7.30pm, when he was at home, eating his dinner after work, a clueless 18-year-old was in his local, struggling to pour him a drink.

I didn’t last long in the job. I wanted to go travelling. My six months abroad taught me that it is possible to have a bland, textureless inner life while outwardly having adventures. My body travelled but my mind did not. When I came back to Swansea, the pub was under new management. Nathan had either moved on, or died. I never found out which.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month