When I was younger I went through a spell of bunking off school and going to sit in old mens’ pubs. I would hang out there for hours, nursing half-a-lager (that I bought with my dinner money) and reading a book. Escaping from stuff. I chose these run down, smoky old pubs because my school was in a town centre, and I reasoned that these were the least likely haunts where I would run into any of my teachers.
Watching Stephen Fry’s programme about his manic depression years later, I found out that he used to do the same thing, except instead of smoky old dives he went to the Ritz and ran up huge bills on his father’s credit card.
As often as not, one of the other people in the pub would strike up a conversation. It was usually a man, middle-aged, lonely, sometimes alcoholic. I must have looked young, despite appearing somewhat older than the age I actually was. Predictably, some of these men were just trying to chat me up. But a surprising number of them just wanted to tell someone their story. I heard some extraordinary stories. A man who had spent 17 years in prison for murdering his wife. Another man who said he slept with his mother every Christmas, denying this was abuse, convinced that it was a perfectly normal thing that nobody talked about. It’s always amazed me, how some people are prepared to confide their darkest secrets to a complete stranger. (Or, more worryingly; perhaps these things weren’t their darkest secrets.)
Getting approached by strange men who just want to talk isn’t that unusual, if you’re a woman on her own in a pub or cafe or some other public place, of course. One thing about Japan is that it just doesn’t really happen so much to me here. This is probably due to a) my foreigness and the language barrier b) different social norms and c) the fact that those functions are somewhat outsourced, to the ubiquitous hostess/snack bars. The other thing (getting approached for obviously sexual reasons) happens, but also much less often, and is surely mitigated by the same reasons as above.
There is one thing I’ve always wondered though. Have you ever been speaking to some guy in a pub who, apropos of nothing, decides to start telling you about the ways people can be killed with TWO FINGERS? And then proceedes to go on about it for at least twenty minutes? I must have had this same conversation with various wierdos at least ten times. Once even in a gay pub. Sometimes even with people who seemed fairly normal until they started on about it. It’s been a fairly consistent pub topic for years. I promise, I have never brought up the subject with anyone…nor have I encouraged it. And it’s not that I don’t have ANY interest in methods of murder, it’s just this whole “bare hands, TWO FINGERS!!” thing that gets a bit tiring after a while.
But what is it? Are they just trying to be menacing, albeit in an indirect (and rather ineffective) way? I never got the ‘vibe’ of underlying menace, I must say – it was always more of a “listening to someone on a hobby horse” pub bore/boy scout effect. Are these just men who were rejected from the TA? Or – as I have occasionally wondered – is there, in fact, a secret network of recruiters for a real-life James Bond spy agency, working undercover in seedy watering holes? Perhaps I have always, without realising it, failed the recruitment at the last hurdle – a lack of interest in fatal death grips. Or perhaps there’s just something about my face that says I want to know about such things, at great and excruciatingly boring length. WELL I DON’T.