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Pub, Pictures . . .

The pub, the King William was tucked away at the bottom of a stubby mews, somewhere between Sloane Street and Belgrave Square. Over eighty years old and free of tie, it was invisible to passers-by save for the pansy-filled hanging baskets, out of keeping with the other houses with their dwarf topiary, and two wooden barrels flanking the door, which smokers used as table tops. Though there were a stream of regulars who drank there: local residents, alesmen, shop workers, and a number of suits who lunched with their mistresses, it was untroubled by the need to provide the full London welcome and obligatory Ploughman’s for tourists, being happily off the map and generally unwanted. What kept the place afloat was a freehold bought in the late 60s, and a target of thirty lunches and dinners a day. The mistresses brought here were not the catering types, so fulfilling the target was easy. The establishment was small but comfortable, and satisfied with its runnings: good ale, convivial atmosphere, and low overheads.

It was also filled with paparazzi because it lay across from Jaq’s house. For over a fortnight , a group of overweight men loaded with cameras and zoom lenses the height and weight of small children, bought halves from midday until closing, and watched hawkishly by the window. At the first sign of life, the twitching of blinds or the nervous scuttle of the housekeeper, they would down glasses, forks, crisp packets and crowd around her front door. Their heckles were as repetitive as the notes from a music box, switching between arse-licking and aggressiveness. And every question prefixed, suffixed with her name.

- Jaq! Where you going, Jaq?
- Jaq! You look lovely this morning, Jaq.
- Who’s that dress by, Jaq?
- Give us a smile, Jaq.
- Have you heard from Louis, Jaq? Has he gone back to his wife?

Jaq was not a post-teenage pop floozy, still on the pill and racking up overdoses and STDs, but an Anglo-French supermodel from the 70s who was financially independent and only worked when she felt like it. The paps were there because she was in the middle of extracting herself from an affair with the owner of a reviled High Street clothing chain, and she was not the type to disappear, crying her eyes out from the seclusion of the Caribbean. Knowing her only comment was to dress through the scandal, she fell back onto the simplicity of professional language: full coverage make-up, smiling for the cameras and getting into her cab each morning. Whether they chose to make anything of her leopard print, the four-inch heels, the scarlet lips, or the prolonged moment on the front step, which allowed them the most flattering angle, was their business. (At this stage, there was no work or appointments for her to attend. The cab simply took her to her agent’s office where they would pour over the print and online coverage and discuss outfits for the following day.)

Once Jaq had left, the boys contentedly settled themselves down for the afternoon and awaited her return. They weren’t of the body type, nor had they the inclination, to jump on a scooter and follow her around all day. That was best left to school leavers. They were in their forties and no longer had an appetite for the chase. The push and pull of breaking through a crowd to get the shot, having to hold the camera above their heads for extended periods of time, flashing indiscriminately, was unbecoming, and bad for their blocked arteries. Acting as the welcome crew suited their personalities and the state of their health: a single location, good morning and good night.

As with the previous days, they hoped she would be out for the duration, allowing them to take full advantage of the pub’s hospitality and their per diem expense allowance. It was hard to turn down three courses including cheese when it was staring you in the face. Bob, the landlord’s boy, cooked everything fresh and made a good job of it, probably better than most of their missus’ if they were to be honest. True, he was cooking to order and getting good coin from it, but there was never any stress on his face or acrimony as he put the plates before them. No banging crockery or accusatory, hate-filled looks that marked mealtimes in most of their homes. It made a nice change, from home, and from fast food crap, snatched on assignments where there were fewer eateries, and so they spent freely, knowing they would be reimbursed so long as they kept getting the pictures.

They were tucking into wood pigeon and potatoes Dauphinoise, when they heard the cab as it trotted across the cobbles. One of the motorcycle boys should have called ahead, but he’d either been distracted by a tip-off, or couldn’t be arsed. They were professionals, but to be interrupted in the middle of their dinner was a pain in the arse, same as it was at home. She’d been gone two hours, and even in a different outfit, had a face like thunder.

- Jaq! What you upset about, Jaq!
- Did he dump you, Jaq!
- Have you any comment on his wife’s statement to the BBC, Jaq? Was it fair to call you a tired old slapper?
- Nice pillbox hat, Jaq. Just like that Sarkozy bird.

Her eyes, shielded by shades their fashion editors told them were vintage Linda Farrow, continued to give nothing away. The only sign that she wanted to tear their heads off was the rictus that had set in her jaw. Still, the acknowledgement of the pillbox hat was better than a kick in the nuts, and the front door closed with a click rather than a slam. Even in anger she was a class act. They made it back to the table whilst the pigeon was still warm.

After the fuss died down, the errant husband pledging fidelity, and an increased footfall in his high street stores on the back of the publicity, they continued to stake out her place. It was partly because, as they justified to her editors, she had a colourful history of rebound relationships, worth pre-empting, but also down to the pull of the William being the best office they’d ever had. The headquarters of their newspapers and photo agencies, where there was no desk, and possibly shared use of a direct line if they were lucky, had nothing on the William’s amenities: two payphones, wi-fi, table-service, ale, and a gander at Sky Sports if they asked very nicely. When the pub closed at midnight, quiet and civilised, without a chorus of meandering drunks to mark the occasion, they were at a loss; not because they were worried about losing her, more to do with leaving the cosiness of the William for the long drive to the suburbs and the chilliness of their martial beds. If Bob had let rooms in the place they’d have moved their stuff in like a shot.

Soon they began to leave their camera gear in the car rather than have it clutter up the tables, which were best left for food, halves, and the sporting pages. One of the boys brought some dice in and they played craps for matchsticks. Bob turned a blind eye so long as the regulars were either not disturbed, or invited to play, whichever was their inclination. Somebody tuned the radio to one of the golden oldie stations instead of Radio 4, so they had some proper music in the background rather than a load of newsroom clatter they could pick-up back at head office. Furniture was shifted, with the padded banquet dragged from its place under the main window to a more comfortable position facing the fireplace. Cushions and blankets were pilfered from airing cupboards and conservatories to make themselves cosier still. And allowances were given for them to use the ladies – far closer than the gents, and not involving a flight of stairs – in the absence of any females on the premises. They stunk it out by the end of the first day.

In spite of their different paymasters, they started checking in less frequently with the tip-off lads for any other juiciness in the area. Jaq was only part of the tombola. Also included in the mix were actresses and heiresses out cycling for their dope or botox fixes, children of celebrities caught shoplifting, and honoured government servants taking time from the House to screw other men’s wives. But none of these were of interest. The call rate deteriorated from twice hourly, to twice daily, and then to a more sporadic remembrance. Stomachs stretched to bursting with game and cheese, bladders shot to pieces with beer, they fell headlong into the noble vocation of bar room raconteurs, with a strong belief that nothing existed outside the saloon. So long as they got the picture. Bob cheerfully racked up their bills.

Seldom these days did they look outside the window and wonder of Jacq’s goings on, relying on frames of closed curtains and previously unseen frames of her leaving the house in different outfits to satisfy editors. Neither did they notice when she sat at one of the back tables alone, nursing a glass of red, nor the following night when she was joined for dinner by the owner of the clothing chain and they shared a two pound steak and a raspberry souffle. England ’s tour of India was going to pot and they were all hooked.

- Boys! I’m here, boys! Look who I’m with, boys! Anyone want to take my picture?
- Out the way, love. We can’t see the telly!

Niven Govinden.

Niven Govinden is the author of the novels We Are The New Romantics and Graffiti My Soul (Canongate). His short stories have appeared in Time Out, Stimulus Respond, 3:AM Magazine, Bad Idea, Transmission, and on Radio 3’s The Verb. You can say hello to him at:


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