Drinking hours on Hartlepool's
Headland are not the same as licensing hours.
The local pubs have to lock their doors at 11 on
a Saturday night -- but it you're lucky, you'll find one where you can
stay on inside till four in the morning.
Sunday opening isn't till 12. 80 you drop in to the
corner shop at ten and get a couple of two-litre plastic bottles of cider
(at this time in the morning you have to ask for some "green milk",
and take them round to Tony's house.
Today begins with a fight, and it'll end in one.
At Tony's everyone is eager for the video of Tyson versus Douglas, taped
from the small hours. Sensationally, the invincible champion has been nailed
in the tenth
round. The bad news is, Geordie who'd set the timer to record it hadn't
expected the challenger to last more than two. We sit around the TV working
our way through all the cider and watch the tape run out at the end of
Even if you hadn't been planning to hit the
Middlesborough Tavern at lunch time you've got to now, because they'll
have the fight on too. Sunday's pre-liquid-lunch drinks at Tony's
are an embattled tradition. Since the licensing laws were relaxed there's
less reason not to do most of your drinking in the pub. No chance
of an afternoon lock-in these days -- once you're in the bar at 11 on a
weekday morning you can stay there. Formerly you'd order four pints of
ale just last orders rang, stow them on the shelf underneath your table,
and if you manipulated them subtly there'd always be just the one in front
of you for hours ahead if ever the police came by. When you eventually
got thrown out, you'd take a bunch of people back home and set about the
crate of Newcastle Brown. Liberalized opening hours, everyone has ruefully
agreed, have taken the challenge out of drinking: when it was harder to
drink, you tried harder, and drank harder.
Hard: in this part of Hartlepool the word is on everyone's
lips. The etymology is complex; usage is measured and equal to its subject.
It is spoken neither in braggadocio nor in irony. Here it has nothing to
do with taking a Stanley knife to Millwall matches. "Hard men" are
strong men -- because their work in oil rig construction or North Sea fishing
is exhausting physical labour - who in their free time play hard, which
mostly means mighty drinking. "Hard woman" means her man has knocked
her about: she's had a tough time, and is now necessarily hardened to it.
(Among the endless round of bar propping stories, I heard one about a local
woman who'd put a man in intensive care by burying her stiletto heel in
his skull). Hard means difficult, intense, determined, proud, emboldened,
and often pitiless.
The Headland is the hardest part of Hartlepool. Out
at the end of a single arterial road, enclosed by a steep concrete battlement
and, beyond that, by a sea of crashing waves, it has been insulated from
success and change. It has not begun to become multi-ethnic.
Headland has lost all but one of its banks, and gained some old people's
flats and nursing homes. Apart from the fishing and the rigging, work for
the men is likely to be contract construction labour down in London for
a fortnight at a time; there is nothing much else. People don't move in,
or move away. Everyone in the small community knows everyone else's business.
Several people told me that the Headland was nicknamed "Little Chicago."
Because there is nowhere else to go but the pub, that is where everything
that happens is registered and has its temperature taken. A weekend is
restless itinerary: leaving one pub for another to meet someone there,
then on after a few drinks to a third to avoid someone else, before returning
to the first.
For those without work, caged lions after,
another week's idleness, spent mostly in the pub, the weekend will be exactly
the same as any other time, but can be harder, more intense. For others
it is a complex chess game of rendezvous with friends or reconnaissance
of enemies. You can't get away from anyone. And if you're going to spend
that long in the pub you'll end up having a skinful. But never mind the
Alexandria Quartet; here is classical concision. At the end of Saturday
night and a great number of rum toddles in the Fleece, Geordie defined
life on the Headland for me: "Get drunk, get fucked, don't give
a shit, and get locked up.' That was an evening that had ended in mellow,
dreamy sozzlement -- people comically, absurdly drunk, prancing and moueing
to Engelbert Humperdinck on the juke-box, spilling their beer so it leaked
off tables into women's handbags.
The drink itself brings chance, literalises
all the clichés: a surrender to emotion, taking you out of yourself,
the feeling that anything can happen -- letting the glass think for you.
This night turned out a good one.
Back to the Middlesborough on Sunday morning for
the Tyson fight: professionalised aggression -- two men who had trained
and planned and anticipated doing just that now. We all sat round and marvelled
as, from the first bell, Douglas took the fight to Tyson as no-one had
ever done, and used his reach, and thumped in a punch every round that
slowed the champion down, and both of them knew, soberly and seriously,
exactly what they were doing, even Tyson as he was inexorably losing.
Eleven hours on, and late again in the Fleece,
a thin, wary man all of a sudden slammed his glass down with a heavy slop,
and harangued two women who hadn't said a word to him all evening, saying
being "fucked off with you" and "had it up here to here."
Then one of the women was screaming abuse at him, and straining to fly
at him, and the thin man was demanding that the other woman's husband sup
his beer up and come outside right now. Back home we all waited, and soon
the husband came back in tears, his hands covered in blood.
The next morning in the paper shop a dignified
elderly man in front of me was jabbing at his Daily Star and leading off
about Nelson Mandela. "I was watching them on TV," the man was saying,
"down on Trafalgar Square, drinking bottles of champagne to him"
-- he was sadly indignant -- "and there's us up here without even the
pride of a pint.'
Copyright The Independent.