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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London