4 JANUARY 1992, Page 34

Low life

Thank God it's all over

Jeffrey Bernard

Soho was almost dead at Christmas. The most unlikely people went away to visit their parents. I say unlikely, because I don't believe that some of them were ever born or were ever children. I feel that they first materialised walking through the door of the saloon bar when I first met them years ago, or whenever. They all sounded like reluctant travellers, and the few who stayed at home to be visited by their parents were dreading the occasion. In the days leading up to Christmas everybody was talking about family reunions as though they were so many dreaded dental appointments. Last year my daughter came round to where I was living and I carped like Scrooge about the amount of my Remy Martin her young companion consumed.

This year an old friend and drinking companion from the Coach and Horses came around for lunch, and I'm afraid I snapped at him after he said, for the hun- dredth time, 'Is there anything I can do?' There was. Stay out of the kitchen and drink your bloody whisky. He had very kindly brought me a present of an antholo- gy of essays on cricket called Cricket Heroes and I was very surprised to see, when I first opened the book, that one of the all-time greats had committed suicide. That, some- how, seems so very unlike the action of a cricketer. You can expect almost anything of a boxer but cricket and suicide seem strange bedfellows. Fielding at silly mid-on for a lousy bowler is just about as near to it as they come, or so I had thought.

Anyway, we had 'the one' in the pub before lunch and, as usual, Norman's two daughters had been recruited to serve behind the bar. I am not sure whether or not that is a Christmas tradition in the pub or whether it is a device of Norman's to avoid paying a barman double time. One of them, Natasha, brought her fiance along for public inspection, and he had the good `I got my ideal Christmas gift, 200 Roth- mans and a beagle . . sense to lose a game of chess with his future father-in-law. All the time he was complaining about the cost of Natasha's wedding reception this coming August. He says it will set him back some £3,000, and that fact was broadcast every five minutes. But what intrigued me was why wait until August? Natasha told me that there were a lot of things to 'arrange'. What? Whenever I have wanted to get married I have done it straight away like a sprinter off the blocks.

So Christmas Day passed and the left- overs were consigned to soup. The crowd in the pub is a human left-over soup of a kind and I am getting weary of the re-heat- ing process every day. A cheque is cashed, a round is bought and Chorus enters stage right declaiming, 'You should have been in here last night.' I squirm uneasily on the imprints my pelvic bones have made on the bar-stool, and suppress a gigantic yawn for fear of dislocating my jaw. Somebody got drunk, somebody else got barred; Christ- mas turned out to be jolly good fun after all and thank God it's all over. The rings of vodka left by my glass on the counter drift out of focus and I can only be woken up now by a beautiful, brand-new person, but where the hell is she? Making soup with her left-overs presumably. But at least, now that all the office parties and secretaries in England are abed, normal service will be resumed. And now, next Thursday, the play opens in Perth. I shall be sitting with clipped wings at the bar, listening to Cho- rus droning on and praying that the show will not be just a left-over from the West End. And a happy New Year to you.