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 Services Team Leader

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £50 per day: Randstad Education Group: Job opportunities for SEN Teachin...

Secondary teachers required in King's Lynn

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers re...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Room Leader PositionI am currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mark Reckless, a Tory MP, has announced he is defecting to Ukip  

Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless are heroes – and I’m lining up more of them

Nigel Farage
This Banksy mural in Clacton has been removed by the council  

Painting over the Clacton Banksy? Does nobody understand satire any more?

Rachael Jolley
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?