I sit with a pint of bitter and a Macbook in a Mid Levels pub in Hong Kong.
The pub is called The Phoenix. Externally it sells quintessential Englishness. But it lies. It was clearly set up by a Brit with aspirations to create a Mayfair-style Members’ Club, but he was too tight to spend enough money on the décor. So where there should be deep Chesterton armchairs, there are IKEA pleather stools. And where there should be waist-coated waiters called Archie with a comprehensive knowledge of the winelist, there are tired and harassed Nepalese women who almost definitely don’t get paid enough.
But the beer’s decent, and I’m about two down.
It’s Valentine’s Day and I am alone.
I had dinner with a friend, but he left early to nurse his wife who’s not well. Fair enough, really.
Just to my left, at 11 o’clock, a married couple, with a baby and two glasses of Champagne. She’s on her iPhone, he’s either on the toilet or outside for a fag. His Champagne is finished, hers is full. The Champagne is a deliberate statement: we can still do this, even though we have children. Even though we’re busy, and tired. We can still do this.
At 2 o’clock. A first date. At the most a second. A white American man. An American educated American woman. Red wine for him, white wine for her. Intent gazing. Though I wonder if his mind is set on what might be coming next, rather than what’s now.
To my right; middle age. A pint of lager and a glass of red wine. Cautious. I wonder if they’re post divorce. Trying again. Unsure of what might happen. Conversation is gentle, and kind, but stilted. How much do I give away? How much should I let him in?
To my left, middle aged, wealthy, white. No wedding rings. Gin and tonic for her, vodka and tonic for him. Slimline, I imagine. Bored. But drunk, so getting through it. Possibly married. Possibly an affair. Possibly a second marriage. Conversation revolves around Cathay’s latest deals and friends’ pictures on facebook. She’s doing the talking. He’s not. She’s trying. He’s not.
The stereo is dominated by music that people who don’t like music would describe as ‘romantic’. Leanne Rimes. That sort of thing.
The Soho air is hung with a heavy slur of anticipation. And resentment. Resentment of being forced to display affection; of having to buy a meal out when you’re skint.
Anticipation for possibility. Newness.
And me. A pint of bitter. A Macbook.
I’m half waiting for a text from someone.
I’m alright though. In fact, I’ve been in a pretty good mood all day. And it’s Happy Hour, so technically, they owe me another pint.