When I reached the Hogshead pub, it was surprisingly quiet. Just a few customers milling about, most of them in suits and dresses, Aintree 2008 tags hanging from their clothing like a badge of honour. I had removed mine on the way from the train station, it was annoying me, swinging from my top button for some reason.
Sky Sports News was playing on all the plasma screens dotted about, and there was no discernible kind of music in the venue to be heard, which I found depressingly symptomatic of these franchise bars.
Most saw-dust boozers in the city had a beat-up old jukebox stuck unevenly in a corner somewhere.
That's not to say that the selection of tracks on offer were any good, like.
Usually they just featured populist shite like The Greatest Christmas Album in the World - Ever, Now! 65, Westlife's Greatest Hits, Top Gear - The Album.
But there were diamonds in the rough. The Jacaranda Bar on Slater Street was my personal favorite.
Ahhh. The Jac.
The original home of what Mick Jagger once allegedly referred to as the "Four-headed-monster". The Fabs. The "Four lads who shook the world".
A diverse, chilled-out place to meet your mates in.
No knob-heads with bad attitudes ripped on cocaine, no uptight women with chips on their shoulders the size of the Rock of Gibraltar. Which was mystifying really, when you considered that bars like Dom Juan's just across the street was full of them. It was like a clash of two schools of thought - People who were thinkers, with social skills, genuine smiles, alert, intelligent, cultured, possessive of positive attitudes.....and those who were not.
Just a friendly venue to sit in and chat to the stranger next to you about society, music and popular culture. None of that senseless fighting over how some flake had spilt your pint - a simple "Sorry mate" and you were sorted. 99% of the time you would end up sharing a few scoops with them. It was just that kind of venue.
Plus, the jukebox they had in there was the business - full albums, only a few greatest hits compilations. The Queen Is Dead, Never Mind the Bollocks, Wish You Were Here, Are You Experienced? Kasabian, Abbey Road, Sticky Fingers, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders From Mars..... It was a selection of familiar music that crossed decades and genres that any punter truly into their tunes appreciated to the max.
But here I was in the present, sipping on a watery, loose bevvy, the latest test cricket scores droning from the TV set above my head. Nothing to keep me in this gaffe.
A light yet insistently repetitive tap on my left shoulder.
No-one here knew me - did they?
I spun around to face this intrusion.
A bright-eyed statuesque looking blondie, smile fixed on her face, posture firm and fixed, addressed me:
"Is your first name FRED...?????"
Of course it was. But why are you...YOU...of all people ............asking me questions such as this?
In this bar, at this time...?
"Yeah, it is.....How'd you know that??" I mumbled apprehensively.
"It's just that me mate says she used to go out with you, oh, aaaaages ago..." She said coyly, smile widening.
I couldn't think of who it would be. Several names and faces flashed through my mind. But I didn't want to hazard a guess.
"Yeah?... really?..... small world isn't it?" I said, completely scoobied.
She turned away, giggling to herself, striding away to an unseen corner of the bar, leaving me standing there mute and shocked, like a flicker of lightening had struck my forehead.
I stood there silently for a few moments, trying to examine what had just been said.
It didn't make sense. It was all backwards.
She had seemingly vanished, and I was strangely inwardly suspicious, too wary to follow her. I turned back to the bar, sipping on the last of my pint.
I listened to the TV and the muted conversations around me twitchily, wanting to exit that place in the coolest possible, I'm-expected-elsewhere fashion.
Another tap on my shoulder, making me almost spit the last remnants of my pint from my wobbling lips. I spun 180 degrees on the spot, looking pertubed, quizzical.
A quick glance, then........Cover -uuuuuupppp.....
"Hello there Mister....saw you just walk in this place....Been a while hasn't it?" said Linda, her confident manner and forward nature unsettling me just for a moment. I stood there mutely, feeling awkward and nervous. I could only look at her up and down, with a fascinated sense of disbelief.
She looked so different, it was strange. Her skin was pleasingly tanned, her sleepy blue eyes gleamed and shone supernaturally. She had a floral yellow dress on that made her glow. And she had subtle slashes of blonde in her shoulder-length dark hair, not too extreme but pleasing. Her smile didn't waver, it seemed real to me, not forced.
Yeah, she looked fantastic.
"Hey....Yeah, it's...been a while...... How are you these days then?" I said, laughing to myself in my shyness.
"I'm good...just got back from the races, had a ball.....You looking well............ very smart in that suit, I gotta say....." she breathily replied as she flicked her hair away from her face, delicately stroking it behind her ears with deft fingertips. She tilted her head to one side slightly, and bit her bottom lip. It was a slick and beautifully orchestrated piece of body language, inviting yet guarded at the same time. She knew she had me.
"You on your own?"
Deceptively hard to answer that. Did she mean literally on my own or in the male-female aspect? Play it safe.
You've got this down.
"Yeah.....well at the moment, I'm Han Solo like....was thinking up catching a few mates in town later, we've been to the races as well...." I rummaged in my suit jacket and clumsily flashed her my Aintree tag.
"Oh....it's a wonder we never bumped into each other earlier today then....." she said, her fingers stroking her own tag slowly.
"Listen, Linda....About the past..." I was about to say, but she thankfully stopped me by softly reaching up and placing her right index and forefingers over my lips.
"Shhhh. That can wait. I'd very much like you to sit with us for a bit......It would be nice to talk properly, wouldn't it, Mister?
I imagine at that moment my face lit up like traffic lights.
"Yeah....I'd like that, Linda....."