War Pint!


He drank the drink, Mr. Evans, as he wanted to try something different. I was surprised. Mr. Evans didn’t like different.

A conservative man in his seventies, he came into The Nosy Tapir daily, drinking four or five pints of ale by muscle memory, slow sips for the first half hour, one big gulp the final fifth so he could justify another drink.

He’d talk our ear off and we’d listen, reluctantly, frustrated at having to put up with the kind of man who asked us his views only so he could air his; ornery, contrarian. The ramblings of an arse.

Looking back, I think he just wanted someone to talk to.

Yet all the same, he rubbed us up the wrong way, and so we did giggle out a giggle or two when first he took the war pint. It didn’t last though, the schadenfreude giving way as we kenned the fright in his eyes.

So anyways, without further ado, here’s what happened with the war pint.

It was 13:15 and it had been a slow first hour, Mr. Evans the only customer, the sun unveiling dew on the windows, the biting October air outside evidenced by a gossamer spider web in the corner of the window.

I was standing in the kitchen, scraping pastry from Chef’s pans, the cook himself having cooked Thursday’s pies, Guinness and Leek, earlier that morning.


I turned. It was Laura, my colleague, who could not stomach Mr. Evans’s talk, much less his views, leaving me often to pick up the flack.

Behind her I could see the old man walking up to the bar. Mr. Evans’s pints were the only ones in The Nosy Tapir served by me.

I was Dish Pig, my lot to scrape, wash, polish, repeat. No customer interaction for me, save for pouring Mr. Evans’s Guinness pint.

I’d been working in the kitchen a few months. A year earlier, I’d had a public meltdown at work, crying without obvious cause in front of an office full of people.

My colleagues called me brave, a man, crying openly like that.

In truth, I’d forgotten to close the blinds in Meeting Room #4.

Now, I was making my way back into the world of work and intrapersonal relationships. As such, I relished pouring Mr. Evans’s Guinness pints. He trusted me due to an Irish heritage that, unbeknownst to him, included my being the Romanian-born adoptee of loving professionals who’d settled in London, via Cork.

As he walked up to the bar, I already had the pint glass in hand, ready to pour the plain, and so was surprised by what he said.

—What’s that? he asked, pointing to the fabled Fifth Pump, where our guest ale was served each week.

—That’s Cannon Fodder, I said, looking at the pump.

He looked at me oddly. —Strange name.

—It was a video game in the early 90s, Mr. Evans.

He continued to look at me oddly. I asked him if he’d like to try some. To my surprise he said no, he would have a whole pint, ‘Try something different,’ his way of putting it.

Unbeknownst to the pair of us, he was having his first sip of the war pint.

It came out in the wash, or, as time would have it, the papers.

A mixture of polyethylacetate B4 and Amyltamiltycate 7, the war pint was a drink concocted by a nearby brewery. A hallucinogen, it induced visions of war, at a measly 4.2% ABV. It was light, hoppy and crisp.

And it made Mr. Evans see things.

It was 13:45.

The bar was ten-deep, the pub packed with Swedish football fans, me and Chef in the kitchen, Laura whizzing around the bar, a Vishnu in Converse.

Harry, our manager, had forgotten to rota on more staff as cover for the Arsenal Sparta Malmo game at the Emirates up the road.

The Swedes were in fine song. Laura turned around to me.

—Donal, I need your help on the bar she said, as the fans raised their scarves in the air, belting out ‘The Winner Takes It All’.

—What about the dishes?

—Forget the dishes, she said.

I looked at Chef. He shrugged.

—Okay, I said. —I don’t have a fob.

—Go up to Harry and get one.

So I did.


—Harry? I said, knocking. —Harry.

The noise of an outlaw shooting deer whistled shrilly in my ears. There was no response. I knocked again, heard the inimitable sound of a paused Xbox One, as Harry rustled and rushed, trying to hide what he was up to.

—Dish Pig, he said, opening the door—What’s up?

—We’re rammed. Laura needs help. Can you come, or give me a fob?

Harry looked behind him, towards his TV.

—I have lots of spreadsheets to finish, he said. —Do you know how to pour a pint?

—Yes. You asked that when you hired me as a barman.

—I did?

—Yes. You said I’d be in the kitchen for a month, tops.

—I did?


—But you’re a good dish pig.

I was. I wished for more.

—I am, I said. —But the Swedes are drinking more than they’re eating and Laura needs a hand. Do you want to come help or do you want to finish hunting deers?

Harry looked at me suspiciously, as if a male omerta bonded me to silence.

—It’s a hell of a video game, Harry, I said. —But please, give me a fob. She’s run ragged down there.

He made a crass play on words and gave me a till key. —Don’t make any mistakes. That fob’s under my name.


—And Dish Pig?


—The plural of deer is deer.

—I know Harry. I know.

The Swedes were making a hell of a noise. They were friendly, tipped well, had Nordic beards and kindly eyes. They drank lager, a couple of them Guinness, just the one ale, Pride, which he swapped for a pint of Frontier upon discovering that it was – and remains – warm, tawny shite.

—Do you support The Arsenal? a young man asked me.

He was with his girlfriend. The pair of them were over for the week, he said, making the most of a trip with family before seeing the sights; Madame Tussaud’s, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, that kind of thing.

—I don’t, I said. —I’m a Spurs fan. You?

—Sparta Malmo.

—Of course.

—But I like Liverpool as well.


—My dad supported them when he was a boy.

He pointed to a man in his mid-fifties, with a big, bushy, clichéd beard.


He asked me my name. I told him.

—Donal. —Donal Webb.

He paid and walked off. There was a short lull at the bar; Laura sidled up to me.

—You’re fast.

—I am?

—Yes. You should tell Harry to put you on the bar more.

—I guess.

—You like football? she asked, nodding towards the young Swede. —Saw you talking to him about it.

—I do, I said.

I told her that I watched it in my free time, weighing up how much of my free time I ought to divulge I spent watching football, lest she think me uncool with her art, her Walkmen t-shirt, her demeanour that made me feel light and hopeless at the same time because it was a world beyond my own, that of being in on it all; life, love, sex, coolness, whatever.

—Cool, she said. —I think football’s stupid.

I nodded. —It is. Passes the time though.

Laura shrugged. —I suppose.

—Hallo? said a voice to my left. I turned around to see a football fan shouting above the din, pointing towards a figure in the corner. It was Mr. Evans. —Is he okay?

I looked over at the corner table where Mr. Evans was sitting, utterly silent, his newspaper scattered on the floor in front of him, his eyes widened with terror, his pint glass empty, his lips quivering as he watched the Swedish football fans jumping up and down, their scarves aloft.

—He’s fine, I said, looking at the Swede, making a curling motion by my head. —He has dementia.

The Swede nodded. I said we’d put Mr. Evans in a cab and walked over.


—Mr. Evans, are you alright? I said, walking up to the old man.

He didn’t respond. The whites of his eyes were wide like globes, the sclera crimson red. He stared straight ahead as if he hadn’t heard me.

I looked at his pint glass.

—Do you want us to get you a cab home?

He didn’t respond, so I called Laura over and asked her to help me. Together, we took him outside, the noise of the pub drifting outwards but, given our No Glass Outside rule, relatively calm.

We sat Mr. Evans outside on a chair. Laura asked him if he wanted some water, I if he was feeling okay, one of the Swedes if he was drunk. Mr. Evans did not respond.

—How many pints has he had? said Laura.

—That was only his second, I said. —He tried the new ale.

—It’s gone to his head.

—Mr. Evans, should we call you a taxi home?

Finally, as if snapping back to attention, Mr. Evans looked up at us.

—There were so many of them, he said.


—Hordes, he said.

I looked inside.

—The football fans?

He raised one of his curly eyebrows as he looked inward, towards the pub, then pressed his fingers to his lips in horror.


Laura began to laugh.

—No, Mr. Evans. They’re just football fans from Malmo. Going to an Arsenal game tonight. Here, drink this.

She held a cup of water to his lips and put a hand on Mr. Evans’s elbow with concern.

—I’ll call you a cab, I said, and I did, and we put him inside after getting him to tell us his address, through trembling and quivering lips.

When we got back to the bar, it was once again ten-deep. A huge cheer erupted upon our arrival.

—Sorry about that. We had to help the old man get home.

—It is okay. It is good, said the woman in front of me. She asked me to recommend an ale and pointed to the Fifth Pump. I turned the label around.

—I’m so sorry. That ale is off tonight. We finished it earlier.

She smiled.

—Okay. What about this one? Pride.

—Don’t drink Pride, I said.


—It’s shite.


—Try this instead, I said, pouring her a thimble’s worth of Luker’s Golden ale.

She said it was a bit like cider. It wasn’t. But I smiled all the same as I served her pint, noticing Laura smiling in my peripheral vision, which made me smile inside for the first time in a long while.

Eventually, the Swedes left for the game. Laura took her break, Chef too, the pair smoking out back. While they were gone, I took my Chilly bottle from my bag and filled it with whatever was in the Fifth Pump.

What I saw in Mr. Evans’s eyes spooked me. I had heard him speak all manner of bollocks and never could articulate why I thought it was bollocks, or, why it was bollocks. And so, I would end our conversations frustrated, my responses pithy at best, tongue-bitten at worst, a man forever caught between respect-your-elders and fuck-you-boomer vibes.

I didn’t hate him, I just hated everything that came out of his mouth. For a few seconds, to be honest, it had been a pleasure to witness his terror. Where once we’d seen him boastful, arrogant and pig-headed, he was now a scared little boy curled up in fear. A shadow of himself.

But the novelty soon wore off and I was of a mind to believe that there’s only so much glee to be had in another’s misery, ‘til at which point it becomes clear that not a one of us is winning. Unless it’s Arsenal. I could witness their misery ‘til war becomes a past-tense concept.

Mr. Evans didn’t come to the pub the following day, though I didn’t know that at the time. With a day off, I took the warm Chilly bottle to Finsbury Park. The park was more or less empty. There were a couple of homeless lads on the benches smoking deftly rolled joints with cheap baccy and carefully rationed skunk, pigeons pecking at a plastic container filled with Chinese takeaway food unfinished and discarded on the grass, and the odd jogger running up and down in Nike and Under Armour synthetics. But otherwise, it was just a big park with yellowy-green grass and trees that were losing their leaves.

It was a cold day to be drinking outside. The ale was warm. I’d to hand it to Chilly.

Nothing happened at first. The lads on the benches continued to smoke their joint, the pigeons pecked away, the runners went to and fro, the air remained still, crisp and cold.

But after a short while, I began to feel that first-pint rush which forebodes disaster or forestalls it if you’ve nous enough to take it easy.

And then I began to see things.

Standing up, I walked forward a few steps, my senses overwhelmed by sight and smell; a curious mixture of rotting flesh and peaty earth filling my nostrils, lingering in my throat, such that I coughed. The two lads with joints looked over, only they weren’t joints any longer, but cigarettes, and they weren’t homeless lads but lads in dirty, bloody khaki fatigues. The bench was now an upturned cart, at the head of which was a dead horse, laying on its side, its long, dead tongue hanging out like a blue WKD bottle.

They looked at me with cool menace, as if to say keep your distance, which I did, walking on the blackened earth, above which my feet crackled as I stepped upon soil and bone, half-buried limbs and then a homeless rifle, which brought with it a strange sense of relief. Unlike the dead and decaying bodies, it was firm and tangible, though in my confusion I left it where it was. The birds remained, though they were crows now, pecking away at carrion; horse, man, who knows.

In the distance I saw a man fleeing, north I believe, then another running in my direction, at which point I hid behind a large crate, peeking over as he ran towards me with fearsome intent only to swerve at the last moment, due south, to what I would later realise was simply Finsbury Park station.

The other soldiers laughed.


I ought to have stayed there, hidden behind my cart (or bench), ought to have waited the ale’s induced hallucinations out. Only I didn’t.

As I stumbled out of the park, a boy of no more than twenty reached up to me in desperation, his jaw half-missing.

I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say, not that it mattered. I left him to his wounds, and abandonment, and death.

The Lidl truck I often saw outside the supermarket was still a truck. But it was no goods truck, unless you saw men and grenades and bullets as goods to be traded, which I suppose some did.

I don’t know if they were budget-price tinned goods or crated tomatoes but in front of my eyes they were vast stacks of ammunition being unloaded.

A roaring noise had me look up, the staccato murmuration of a Spitfire frightening the shite out of me. I hunkered down beside a tree as if it might spare my mortal soul from man, bullet and bomb.

The buildings in front of me, a half-mile or so up the road, dissolved in a spectacular display of dust and fire and smoke that was addictive.

Humans fled hither and tither in a chaotic, disorganised manner, some just fleeing, others after them with fist and gun and bayonet and menace.

The screaming was loud. It usually is.

A piercing cry; I turned to find a man standing over me, teeth bared with threat. I wriggled from under him as he bore down his fists, and ran through the street, pushing through the zig-zagging civilians going in the opposite direction, their eyes like Mr. Evans’s.

I had lost all concept of time, place and existence, save that I knew I was a living thing and wanted to keep it that way. I knew not my name, age or nation, though I’d never quite known the last of those in all honesty.

The civilians ran from smoke, bomb, gun. The bomb-fall ground was a Jackson-Pollack of arm, foot, blood, tooth, hair, breast and manmade material; a little girl’s ribbon, a man’s work overalls, a woman’s neckerchief, and other clichés; the upturned, smoking helmet, the military fatigue pockmarked with shrapnel; a set of dog tags.

Later, I would think that the imagery was inconsistent; a world war here, a regional insurgency there, an insurrection to one man’s mind, terrorism to another. The only thing that would make sense in any of it was the fact it did not make any sense at all.

I ran into what I thought was a quiet side street, only for bullets to whistle by my ears, ping, ping, ping, or carve themselves into nearby walls. I hid behind a bank of sandbags.

Later, when the video emerged on YouTube, Mad White English Dude On LSD, it would transpire that the bank of sandbags was an Islington council dustbin, the bullets only the crackling sound of jerk chicken smoking on a BBQ outside a nearby Jamaican takeaway.

I had run amok, scaring the public in my frenzy, confusing pedestrians’ anger for terror.

It would turn out that I was not alone. In the coming days, reports of strange, likewise behaviours streamed in from all over London; people cowering in fear, men and women sat wide-eyed in shock, in one instance a man trying to stanch the flow from a young man’s chest, confusing a spilled sachet of ketchup in The Meltzer’s Keg for blood.

I had hidden from conflict my entire life.

No more.

—What’s it like? said Chef?

His TFL Baby on Board badge – worn ironically – gleamed under the gantry light, while an ever-present Lidl pepperoni poked out of – and was sweating inside – his front pocket.

—Not fun, I said. —You’d best avoid it if you’ve any sense at all, Chef, of which I’ve doubts.


—I mean it.

—I know you do.

—You’re going to try it aren’t you?

I saw the curiosity on his twenty-four-year-old face, that asked if war could be so much worse than the dull mundanity of life at The Nosy Tapir, where he grilled burgers, rolled pies, scooped ice cream onto brownies, repeat.

I saw a glint of adventure in Chef’s eyes, the same glint I’d had in a past life as a younger man; when I had dreamed of being adored, loved and recognised simply because I felt unseen, despite the fact I’d my parents in Kingsbury, who forever asked if they could see me. He reminded me of a time when I’d dreamt of being something.

—I would say it’s quite likely said Chef, to which I said, ‘Fair enough,’ adding ‘Let’s hope you get a dose of the old sentry duty and nothing stronger’.

He shrugged, plating up a smashed avocado and salmon dish, served on a hip and modern and crusty type of rye.

He pulled the next food ticket from my side of the gantry, looked at the dish and took two chilled Chicken and Aubergine pies from the fridge.

—Out of interest, where did you find it, anyway? he said, dialling the oven up to two-hundred degrees.

I looked out towards the bar. The ale sign was still turned around.

—Has Harry not been working this week?

Chef shook his head.

—No. He’s been upstairs. Off sick, he said.

I nodded.

—It really is one hell of a video game, I said.


—Never mind, Chef. Never mind. You good to hold the fort here while I go up and check my hours next week with Harry?

He saluted.


Laura was sketching Mr. Evans. He was back in the pub, in his usual corner, silent, though a little calmer.

—How long’s he been like this?

—Ever since the night those Swedish fans were here. It’s great.

—It’s eerie no?

Turning her pencil rubber-side up, she erased a bit of clothing, a too-shaded in bit of coat.

—Too much shadow with the drink in front of him, she said, with regards to his bit of coat, beside his Guinness pint.

—I see.

As she sketched, Mr. Evans worked away at his drink with even, mechanical, reflective sips.

She paused and turned to face me. —So, what happened to you the other day? Didn’t have you down as the LSD type.

—It wasn’t LSD.



—What was it then?

I looked at the Fifth Pump. —Someone spiked my drink in The Hare and The Horse and The Hound.

—The dive bar near Finsbury Park station?

—The very one, I said, said too – when she asked – that I’d been in there watching football with a friend, which seemed to pass muster with Laura.


—I know.

She smiled.

—I’m only kidding. You do you.

—Why thank you, I said and, spinning a reel, pointed to the Fifth Pump. —I’d a pint of that not long before I went on the rampage.

—The new ale?

—Yes, I said, nodding. —You’ve not served that to anyone bar Mr. Evans, have you?

Gauging he’d being spoken of, the old man raised his head but, with neither the power nor will to enquire, looked back down again.

Laura shook her head.

—It’s off, isn’t it?

—It is, I said, thinking back to the pigeons, carrion, all that carry-on.

—There’s something in that drink, Laura, I said, walking over to the pump, inspecting the label again, the label of a video-game war.

Harry’s horse had been led to water, and through its own volition was taking a drink. The outlaw sat on the floor chipping away at tree bark, the horse’s testicles dangled pendulously as he lapped away at the gleaming waters, a testament to the advancement of video-game aesthetics.

On the CCTV, Laura appeared bored, sipping on soda water and lime while Mr. Evans sat quietly in his usual corner. The benches out front were empty, what with the cold weather.

Harry’s flat was small. It had a work desk by the window, its computer facing the wall and his chair the doorway, with the CCTV telly and noticeboard behind it.

In front of the desk was another chair, where he very rarely hired and fired staff, and on the desk were stacks of disorganised files and papers.

The noticeboard itself was sparse; a Liverpool FC poster, the weekly rota, and to the right of it all was the living room with a widescreen telly where Harry had Red Dead Redemption 2 on the go.

He’d forgotten to pause it.

He was clearly middle class but quite how middle class I did not know. He elided his t’s behind the bar but not in his flat and the way he said mate sounded learned, false.

He smiled as I sat down.

—Well, Dish Pig, at least you didn’t end up like that Joseph Kony guy.

—The Ugandan warlord?

—Yes. No. Well, the chap who was after him. American guy no?

I nodded.

—Yes, I said. —He ended up running stark bollock naked in the street, playing with his thing.

Harry clicked his fingers and winked at me.


There was a pause. He asked what had happened to me, at pains to add there was ‘no judgement here. Acid? Shrooms?’

—Neither, I said. —Cannon Fodder.

—Like the video game, he said.

—Like the video game, I replied.

He paused.

—Same chaps who did Sensible Soccer?

I nodded.


—A great game.

—A great game for sure, I said, as the horse onscreen shat voluminously, still lapping away, his baubly nutsack rocking back and forth like it was a hammock.

Harry sat up.

—Dish pig, what are yo-

—Donal, I said. —It’s Donal.

He smiled.

—No need to get defensive.

—I’m not, I said. —Rupert.

His mouth twisted into a grimace and, though I’m sure it didn’t happen, I could swear to Christ the video-game outlaw turned around to have a butcher’s at the pair of us.

—How do you know my name? he asked, quizzically, looking at me like I was Sherlock Holmes.

It was on the payslip in front of me, just as it was on the letters piled up outside the front door, addressed to Rupert Harry Borthwick.

I picked up the payslip, wedged between orders for spigots.

—Maybe don’t leave these lying around.

He nodded, resigned. —Keep that to yourself, yeah, Donal?

I nodded.

—Wouldn’t dream of telling a soul, Harry, I said. —This ale we have on is what had me taking shelter behind an Islington council wheelie bin.

I pointed to the CCTV, and Mr. Evans.

—Look at the state of him.

Harry looked at the screen and shrugged.

—He seems fine. He’s just drinking his drink.

—Exactly. Barely said a word that’s not ‘Guinness’ ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ in days. That’s not like him.

Laura, onscreen and in mackle candour, sketched away.

—He’s not been right since he had that Cannon Fodder. He was a shell-shocked mess the other night. Saw things.


—Vikings, I’m led to believe.


—The Swedes we had in the other night. Whatever’s in that drink had the old man hallucinating something fierce. Same jobbie I went through.

—You drank Cannon Fodder?

—Yes. I paid for it.

—Wasn’t that video shot in the morning?

—It was coming up on Noon.

Harry nodded.

—Did you actually pay for it, Donal?

I shook my head. —I didn’t, no. I can, however. You might want to pause your game, by the way.

Turning around, where the horse had shat its last, for now, me and Harry looked a moment into a close-up of the outlaw’s opal-blue eyes. Harry paused the game.

—I saw terrible things on that dose, Harry, I said, telling him all; the pigeons tucking into lemon chicken that came to be carrion; the Seven Sisters Road that came to be rubble; the ping ping ping of gunfire in the streets and around my ears and from up above besides.

—Whatever you do, don’t serve any more of that drink. It makes people see hell.

Harry sat up. He was a good-looking man, not unlike the rugged outlaw onscreen. He was, however, a craven fool. Clasping his hands like he was Michael Corleone, Harry swung his heft around to look me dead on.

—Donal, do you know the average profit margin of a pint at The Nosy Tapir?

I looked at the outlaw. What would he say?

—Seventeen pence.

Harry asked me how I knew. Rather than admitting I’d made the figure up, I said I’d worked in pubs before. With his own fictitious number in mind, he chose to accept my own lest it become clear neither of us had a clue what we were on about.

—Money’s tight, he said. —I’ve got four barrels of that stuff to shift.

—Six. You have six barrels. Nearly, at least.

—Right, he said. —Anyway, the company will want to know why I’ve not shifted it.

Momentarily, I was aghast. Profit before humanity? Drawing a narrative arc in my mind from birth through to the present day, with a mixture of Channel 4, BBC One, A-Level History, CNN and just plain life experience, I opted instead for disappointment.

—Harry, it’ll be no fun at all if the customers start throwing tulip glasses like they’re grenades. It’ll be no publicity you’d want, either.

Harry looked at the screen, Mr. Evans’s form the same as it was moments earlier, his arm rising and falling as he took mechanical sips of his Guinness pint.

—How many pints does Mr. Evans have each day?

—Four or five, I said.

For reasons that later eluded me, honesty took over. —Well, in recent days, more like seven or eight.

Harry smiled.

—Thank you for helping out on the bar the other night, Donal. But we’ve got more staff coming in, you’ll be able to help Chef in the kitchen again now.

—Harry, I really-

—That’s enough. Be a good dish pig. Oh, you can tell them I’m called Rupert for all I care. I’ll just say I have daddy issues, and don’t want his name.

—Rupert’s your dad’s name?

—It is. To be honest, love him. Put me through school. Debt reconfiguration too.

He shrugged. —Oh well.

He looked at the files on his desk, pretending to put them into some kind of order. —Is that everything? he said.

I got up from the seat.

—Don’t forget to feed your outlaw, Harry, I said. —He looks a little underfed, and that’s murder on the old Dead Eye and Stamina cores.

Hyrule Brewery was the antithesis of the 64-bit, mythic land after which it was named; a lush expanse of green fields, snow-capped mountains and vast desert within an area equitable in size to Slough.

It was in a nondescript lot under the arches near Holloway Station. It looked like any other small, independent craft brewery; dozens of silver beer and cask-ale barrels, behind a small desk two white men in their thirties, both in flannel shirts. The one in red and black had sleek, designer glasses and his hair was combed. The other man’s sandy blonde hair shone beneath the strip lights above.

—Hello, I said, walking in.

—Hi there, are you from Fuller’s?

—No, I said. —The ale people?

—Yes, said the blonde man. —They told us they’d be coming today.

—To a craft brewery in Holloway?

The man shrugged.

—Maybe they want to buy us out.


He shook his head.

—No way. This is our baby.

I nodded. I told him I was from The Nosy Tapir up the road.

—That’s close. An independent isn’t it?

I pointed to the far corner of the brewery. Past the large still, wall and kegs, was North, Upper Holloway, then the rest of Britain. —About half a mile that way. No, I said. —It looks like one. But it’s part of a chain.

He asked which. I said the name. Both men snorted in derision.

To break up the dialogue and create an air of foreboding, one of the strip lights flickered slightly.

—What can I do for you?

—We have one of your ales on tap at the moment.

The two men smiled at one another, so I’d the feeling I’d no need to tell them it was Cannon Fodder but did all the same, adding, ‘I tried it myself.’


—I saw a lot of weird shit. People dying. Bullets flying. A pigeon pecking at lemon chicken that became a crow doing the same to a young private named Dawson.

The man with sandy blonde hair smiled.

—It’s only five per cent. How many did you have?

—Around two-thirds of a pint, I said. —One of our customers had the same himself. He was crying his eyes out.

—How do you know that was our drink? Maybe he was just having a bad day.

I looked at the matching Fjallraven bags on the pegs behind the two men and wondered which of them owned red, which blue.

—Mr. Evans has a lot of bad days, I said. —He hides behind chatter; a railbird extraordinaire.

—A regular?

—A dye-in-the-wool gobshite, I said. —The man I saw wasn’t the tiresome bore I know. He was speechless.

The two men tried not to look at each other with satisfaction.

—Would you say he was less cantankerous?


—A bit milder in tone?


—And since?

—Since what?

—Since he had Cannon Fodder, has he been at The Nosy Tapir?

I nodded. I described Mr. Evans since his experience; subdued, nigh-on silent, prone to doing his crossword without a word here or there other than ‘Another Guinness, please’ and ‘Laura’, whose unwillingness to serve him had abated now that he directed not a word of mockery, critique or offense her way.

—Nice, isn’t it? said the one with the black hair.

He’d had his feet on the table ‘til now; Nike trainers. He took them down and sat up. I could see the logo on his t-shirt; vintage.

The two men had brewed Cannon Fodder, they said, to ‘turn the tide’ that was sweeping the country. They had tired of a flag-waving, dog-whistle nationalism which had ‘taken root’ and were doing all that they could to quell it. Cannon Fodder, said the blonde-haired man, was a process that had taken the best part of three years, with much trial and error, and experiences for both men that could be described as traumatising. But it had all been worth it after they finally landed upon their ‘perfect brew’.

—How did you know it was perfect? I asked, to which the blonde-haired lad said, ‘We knew we’d never unsee what we saw’.

—And had no desire to see it again, said the one with black hair.

—Makes sense, I said.

You could hear the yeast fermenting in the large still behind me, the heat emanating off it even though the room at large was cold; the wort (though unseen to my eyes) frothy, hard to look at, glorious in what it gave the world, like childbirth perhaps. I asked the men why they’d want to go do something like that, to make people see wars they’d never really seen, to feel and hear them too for all intents and purposes.

Blondie took on a sententious mien; a gobshite’s rictus, is what I’m trying to say.

—If they knew what it was like, we thought they’d stop glorifying it. Dunkirk, The Blitz, Two World Wars, One World Cup. All that jazz.

The blonde-haired fella smiled. —Though we have no problem with the World Cup.

They laughed excessively, like men raised to think themselves swell, funny, top chaps.

—Right, I said. —So, what happens when people figure out it was you who did it? You’ll get into heaps of trouble, no?

The man in designer glasses shrugged.

—We’ll blame it on the hops.

—Or the yeast.

—Or the heat of the trains running above the brewery.

I nodded.

—Won’t questions be asked as to your quality control?

Blondie smiled again. ‘Half the country’, he said, ‘at the very least, won’t give a damn so long as it achieves this.’

He took a piece of paper from the drawer; laminated.

Dear Hugo and Sam,


If you’re reading this, you’ve finally nailed it. Well done! You’re one step closer to saving Britain from itself Have yourself a holiday, or a week of Red Dead 2, and you’ll be right as rain.


Sam and Hugo.

Cannon Fodder was just a brand name, Sam (Blondie) told me.

—Indulging our inner nerd.

—It was a hell of a game, I said.

—A hell of a game.

—War Pint’s it’s real name. That’s what we had as we brewed. There was a lot of trial and error. Batch #4 was pretty bad.

—What did you see?

—Porcelain, said Hugo.


—It gave us the shits.


—No, he said. —Just the shits.

—I see.

He wandered out from behind his counter, a Hank Scorpio to my Homer Simpson, another 90s reference that’ll go over your head or get under your skin, another nostalgia trip a man can’t help but indulge in, what with nostalgia being the most powerful drug of all.

—It’s a free market, he said. —Alcohol is just legal drug dealing. If people want it, they buy it. If they don’t, they won’t. And if the government ban it, well, we’ve five other beers to offer.

—And sell, I said.


—You’ve five other beers to sell. Big place like this must have hefty overheads.

—Certainly, said Sam.

—Would be terrible if you were landed with a hefty fine. I suppose you’d have to hope the marketing larks from this one would make up for whatever fine you got.

—I don’t catch the cut of your drift? said Hugo.

—You’ve five other beers on the go, right?

He nodded. —We’re not in it for the money, he said, and began to say my name, only to realise he didn’t know it. —Sorry, your name is?

—Dish Pig, I said. —Call me Dish Pig.

Turning to leave, I picked up a beer mat they’d had printed, with a pun-based name, from a 90s-era cultural figure.

—Nice branding lads, I said. —Nice branding.

Whatever it was the brewery lads wanted to stop, or start, I’d to stop, or start, myself. I was unsure of their motivations.

Did they want those who saw war, by dint of the war pint, to stop basking in wars in which they’d not fought?

Or was it infamy they wanted which, when all was said and done, would only last a news cycle or two, leaving them free to brew away under the patina of counter-culture chic?

After all, if you were the lads who did the war pint and could convince people to convince themselves it had all been a mistake of experimentation, you were bound to retain the interest of the craft-ale enthusiast forever on the lookout for a new experience, taste, pint.

I hadn’t a clue as to whether they were out to save the country or push it over the edge. I knew only that Cannon Fodder had yet to take root in the public consciousness as scourge or saviour. I tried my best. I contacted the papers, was thanked for my suggestions and taken to be a crank, particularly at The Nosy Tapir.

Birmingham were playing the Arsenal in a League Cup match. We’d the numbers you’d associate with being ten-deep, but the pub was deathly quiet.

The customers sat at their tables in stoic silence, or lined up at the bar in soldierly, single file. It was like a pall had been cast over the entire pub.

—A Foster’s please.

—A Guinness, please.

—A Heineken, please.

And so on.

—Laura, are any of these lads drinking Cannon Fodder?

She shook her head.

—I’ve not sold a pint of it since yesterday.

—What happened then?

—Two men in their fifties sat sobbing at Table Six, she said.

I looked over at the table, where I could now see two men in their thirties staring into space, taking even sips of what looked like lager pints.

—So why are all these lot so down?

She shrugged.

—As long as they’re not bothering me, I don’t care.

I smiled, disbelieving. —Don’t like the attention?

She looked at me like I was a fool. —I’d prefer to be left in peace than asked if I have a boyfriend every two minutes, Donal.

A brummie fan punctured the air with a mewling cry. I looked up to Table Four where the man, mid-fifties, paunched and pint-shaped himself, was sobbing. The others looked up as if to say, not here, lad, at home now, that’s it, both scornful and understanding of his misery. He dutifully stopped and supped on his pint.

—Right, I said. —Sorry Laura.

I turned on my heel, to go back to the kitchen. We had a great deal of orders, but the pace was manageable, ordered, plates coming out two by two, returning the very same way.


I turned around.


She pointed to the lager taps. For the past few months, the middle of the five of them had been abeyant, no pints poured out of it, no logo lit up at the front. Laura told me that maybe ‘the new beer’ was making the brummie boys a mostly silent sight for sore eyes.

She thumbed her nose towards Pump Three, whereupon I noticed that in place of the steel tap that’d been there throughout my tenure, there was now an ornate pump handle shaped like a bird.

—What’s that? I said.

—Black Dove. Harry told me to give every fan with a ticket a free pint. They were pretty happy about it, though you wouldn’t know now.

Black Dove? It wasn’t even a video game. The bastards.

I nodded. —Laura, don’t serve that drink again for now. Free or otherwise. I’m off to see Harry.

I went to see Harry.

—God dammit, Harry.

—God damn what?

—You’ve been dealing with those Hyrule boys again, haven’t you?

—Who? he said, unconvincingly.

—Does the chain know you’re buying in rogue beers?

Harry nodded. —Who do you think thought it up?


—You think a small two-bit brewery under the Holloway Arches could run an operation like this?

—So, you know all about it?

—There’s rumour Tim Martin’s thinking of rolling out the war pint soon.

—Wouldn’t have thought Wetherspoon’s would want to dial down the flag-waving.

—Veterans drink more.

—Put that on a tablecloth.

Harry smiled. —Very funny, Dish Pig.

I’d say I smiled as well.

Harry stood up from his desk. The man still hadn’t learned to turn off his TV, and the outlaw was smoking a rolled-up cigarette the size of a Gitane.

—There’s a lot of people out there sick of all that’s happening in the papers. And there’s a lot of publicans sick of hearing about what these people think they’re hearing about because they read it in the papers. And there’s a school of thought that if you know how the sausages are made, you’re not too keen on eating them.

—So, you want to drug football fans and old men with dodgy views so they’re not rowdy in the pub?

Harry nodded.

—But why?

Though I heard the outlaw’s horse whinnying through the surround-sound speaker system, Harry didn’t seem to notice.

—I want an easy life, Dish Pig, he said. —I don’t want to spend my days arguing with idiots about this referendum or that war, which team is better or who scored the most EPL goals in the 1999.

—It was Kevin Phillips. And back then it was called the Premier League.

—Right, he said, eyes bored, New Balance trainers unsuitably clean for a man whose job was to run a pub, with all the sticky ciders and frothy ales spilled here, there, everywhere.

—Harry, you can’t go around drugging people. It’s not right.

—Is it right for them to go about waving flags or spouting nonsense?

—No, but it is their right.

—How very earnest.

He was not wrong there. I felt the arse but, as one who feels the arse often will do, batted the feeling away, pointing to his telly, telling him the outlaw had just stubbed out his rolled-up fag with his leather boot and said ‘Harry, you’re not doing this to help people. You’re doing it to make money.’

I shook my head and turned to leave.

—Dish Pig?


—What about you? Have you not felt the need for a drink since you took the war pint?

I shook my head again. I was dumbfounded at the situation, keen to break up the dialogue, and vastly limited as to the physical gestures I noticed in humans.

—No more than usual, I said. —I like a pint, Harry.

He smiled.

—You don’t feel the need the drown your sorrows away? All that death and destruction?

Guess what I did with my head.

—No, I said. —I’ll be honest with you. What I saw made me feel alive. That’s what scared me.

I walked downstairs, to clean dishes and, if I could, stop Laura serving any more pints of Black Dove or Cannon Fodder.

—Thanks, love, said the man in the blue football kit, with the white crest, to which Laura said, ‘Don’t Love me.’

He smiled.

—I didn’t mean nothing by it, Dar-

Laura stared him down; the blue-shirted man picked up his paid-for pint and went on his way.

—We’re near capacity she said. —Why is Harry putting newbies on shift on such a busy night?

—I don’t think he is.

Another man in a blue football kit stood patiently a foot or so behind the air where the now-cowed football fan had been.

—I think he’s either forgotten, or he never wanted to hire new staff in the first place, because he doesn’t want me on the bar.


—War pint.


I pointed to the Fifth Tap. Its label was facing the right direction, though I’d still not seen anyone have a pint of it during the shift. I pointed to Tap Three, and Black Dove.

—He wants you to serve as many pints of that as you can.


—Because it makes men drink away their sorrows.

I ducked. A glass smashed behind me.

—Jesus! said Laura, to which I said ‘No, a brummie with delirium tremens over on Table Four’.

Looking over, I saw a table of three men ages eighteen to forty, terrified, concentrated, piling tulip glass upon tulip glass to create a bulwark against what I guessed they perceived as further attack.

The men on other tables, less resourceful, gutsy, or simply more benumbed, looked over. Shaken briefly, they returned to mournful gazes and their pints.

—How did they get all those glasses? said Laura.

—From those boxes, I said, pointing to the floor beside them, where three cardboard boxes were ripped open, Sellotape and brown thick boxing material strewn on the floor like intestines. —Harry had the door propped open with those for weeks. The daft prick.

The young men were piling them one upon the other into a tessellated fortress of sorts.

—Get them out of here, Donal, said Laura.

I watched the young men; resourceful, scared.

—No, I’ve a better idea, I said.

I walked into the kitchen.

—You alright there, Chef?

—Absolutely fine, he said, his Baby on Board badge gleaming ‘neath the gantry light.

He had more orders now than I’d ever seen before. But he seemed at ease, plating them with extreme precision, ringing the bell between each burger or pie or fish and chips at exactly the same time. It’s never the ones you think of who’ll come good in a time of crisis.

—Chef, I’m going to do something strange, and I don’t want you to judge me.

—What’s that? he said, flipping a burger, walking over to the deep-fat fryer, shuffling the chips as they sizzled away.

—I’m going to take my clothes off.

He smiled.


He did not ask why, nor did he enquire as to why I took one of his wooden spoons. I removed my jeans, then my jocks, which were white, more or less.

My pecker, rent shrivelled ‘neath the heat of the gantry light, and what I can only assume were unforgiving, bastard Romanian genes, was a sad sight.

I put the jeans back on and put the jocks on the wooden spoon.

—You good, Chef? I said.

—All good.

I walked outside.

—What in the name of-

—Just trust me, Laura, I said, walking from the kitchen, around the bar, towards the four men who were still making a tessellated bulwark of defensive pint glasses. The lot of them started up as they saw me approach.

—No! Wait, I said, lowering myself to the floor. I was on my knees, the underwear raised aloft, a white flag on the wooden spoon.

Noticing a contemporary-art-like coagulate on the inner seat of my pants, I twisted the wooden spoon around, lest Laura see. The four men stood stock still, their eyes filled with terror, their hands clasped around the pint glasses, ready to throw them my way. One of them even held what he thought was a pin on the glass’s base.

—You’ve been drugged, lads, I said. —You’ve been given a dose of the war pint.

—What’s he saying? said a lad with a thick Black Country accent.

—He’s enemy, said one of the others, and another said, ‘Let’s just shoot him.’

I repeated myself again. —You’ve been dosed.

I pointed to Black Dove. —You remember getting a pint of that free?

The four men looked up. What in God’s name they saw, I’ve no clue; a hawk of war, an angel of death, a Messerschmitt Bf 109, I don’t know. But they did listen.

—There’s something nasty in that beer, I said. —Like acid or LSD. It’s sending people nuts. Making them hallucinate. See war, chaos, hell.

—What’s he on about?

—Trust me, I’ve taken the war pint myself, I said, and pointed to Laura. —That attractive woman (I said it loud) over there, what does she look like?

I looked over at Laura. She had overcome her bewilderment and fear and was sketching the five of us there.

—Her? said the youngest of the four men. —Why, she looks like a nurse with a clipboard.

—And those fellas? I said, pointing to Table Two.

—Around the fire? That’s just Charlie and Geoff warming their hands. It’s cold out. Think I’ll join ‘em once I’ve had some tuck.

I looked back at the four men.

—It’s just a hallucination, lads. You need water, rest, time and sleep.

—Bollocks! said the oldest man. —How do we know you’re not a spy?

—You lads from Brum, yeah?

They nodded.

—It’s five to eight, I said, looking at the clock behind their heads. —The match kicked off at a quarter to. You came down to London for football, boyos, not a fight. Check your pockets. I bet you twenty metric pounds there’s a football ticket in there. Not a chit. Not a ration card or draft notice, but an overpriced ticket to watch the Arsenal play Birmingham in a mid-week League Cup match.

They looked, so as they saw.

—What are you doing, Donal?

—What does it look like?

—Like you’re about to stab me with a screwdriver.

—Ah, I said, turning the screwdriver around so it was no longer pointed at Laura. —No, I’m going to take this to the kegs downstairs.

—What? Why?

—It’s that beer that’s making everyone act funny. It’s laced with something that makes people think they’re at war.


—Because some hipster eejits thought they’d the right to take matters into their own hands.

God if she hadn’t the loveliest, smallest hands, with which she sketched those beautiful pictures.

—Harry will kill you if you pour away his beer, she said, said too that ‘We can’t be the only pub in London to have those drinks.’

I smiled. I was in no mind to try and change the world.

The basement was cold. In previous years, before crying in a glass office full of staring people, before working my way into The Nosy Tapir, I had worked in pubs before, running up and down the stairs to change kegs, retrieve spirits, take deliveries. It was calm, there, always, in the cellar, a cold place that offered cool respite in the hot summer days and mental calm amidst the maddening din of a busy winter’s pub night. Now, it was no different, only there was Laura there, looking at me quizzically.

—It’ll be one pub less, I said. One punter less. One war less. It’s something.

I went downstairs. Breathing in the cold cellar air, I paused a moment, wondering if it was a vain effort, an arrogant act of pointless martyrdom. I figured it best to find out either way.

Taking the screwdriver to a keg, I listened as air gasped out of the corrupted pressure valve. Eventually, I opened an aperture, and was able to turn the keg upside down, towards the drain.

—Harry is going to kill you.

—Harry isn’t going to find out ‘til tomorrow.

—How do you know?

—He’s at a pivotal moment on Red Dead Redemption 2.

Laura nodded. —What a loser.

I looked up at her. —It really is a good game, Laura.

She nodded. —A pair of losers.

—Right so, I said, opening another keg.

Picking up another screwdriver, which was kept next to the ale-cask chalks, she walked towards the barrels. I stopped her.

—No, don’t get yourself involved. I’ll do it.

Even I, in the moment, felt the need to act the man of valour. It was a hell of a drug.

I worked on kegs six and three, five and two and four.

By the time one was empty, the rest were ready to pour.

—Do you have any idea how much that booze was worth?


Harry looked at me curiously. Neither outlaw nor horse were gleaming on the screen behind him, and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s face did not beam on the Liverpool FC poster which had been pinned to the corkboard, beside the rota, where my name was written in bold letters: Dish Pig (K), the K for kitchen, the Dish Pig for want of being seen, respected, heard.

He marched me back down to the cellar, to look once more at the damage done.

—There’s 288 pints to a barrel, I said. —There were six barrels. You caught me before I’d a chance to see off Black Dove.

—You’re good at maths.

—I have a calculator on my phone. If we go on the premise that each pint is really only worth seventeen pence, then it was worth a measly £293.76. Slim pickings. Then we’ve to take into consideration the fact that you were giving most of Black Dove away for free. Why was that?

—So people would drink it.

—And why?

—So they would sit in silence drinking more after they saw what they saw.


His face fell.

—Alright, Dish Pig, you got me. I couldn’t give a damn as long as I have bums on seats. The people from the company came in and offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. Six barrels on the cheap, six Black Dove to sell, give away, whatever I wanted, as long as it was stocked.

—Wait, I said, the air chill on my arms, the screwdriver no longer in my hands, the fatal mistake having been made when I picked it up in the kitchen, on the shelf above Chef’s carving knives. —They gave it to you for free?

Harry nodded. His anger, which had followed his perplexity, had now given way to a calmness, as he told me about the day three weeks earlier, when he had been invited to Hyrule Brewery.

—I didn’t touch the stuff, of course. —But they assured me it would do the trick. A few teething issues. A glass thrown here. A staff member running havoc on the Seven Sisters Road there. But in good time we’d have a steady stream of sad, lonely, shell-shocked punters. They’d be sad and lonely the way they were sad and lonely before, only now they would have reason to sit and drink for seven hours solid without too much judgement. After all, you can’t blame a war hero for drinking away his sorrows, can you?

The six barrels were upturned behind Harry. The ballcock in the Heineken began to jump up and down, so I asked him if he’d mind me adjusting the pressure, lest Laura come and interrupt us.

—Be my guest.

—What did they say, when they asked you to stock their drinks? I said, fixing the pressure.

—Oh, some guff about saving Britain from itself, said Harry. —Nationalism. Turning the tide. The blonde one talked rot about sticking two fingers to Brexiteers. Wittered on about thumbing his nose at the Leave crowd. It was the chain that got me on board. Not some snob ranting about jangoism, whatever the hell that is.

—Jingoism, I said. —It means nationalism.

—What’s the difference?

—Nothing. It’s just a more pretentious way of saying it.


I looked at the barrels, now empty of their contents.

—It’s not the way, you know.


—Drugging people towards your point of view. It’s pyrrhic. It’s… cunty.

Harry splayed his hands out, a look of benevolent indifference as he stood there in stonewashed jeans, his Penguin polo top, and grey New Balance trainers.

—Like I said, Dish Pig. For me it’s all about bums on seats. You know you’re going to have to pay for all that beer. That’s nearly half your annual salary, isn’t it, oinky?

He prodded me, as if to suggest that I had acted in haste, that I had not foreseen my punishment.

—Did Laura look impressed? he asked, needling glint in his eye. —Did it send her wild?

I smiled, which irked him, the poker face not his strong suit. His smirk was forced, desperate, and thin.

—No way you’re getting into those pants, Dish Pig. You know she’s banging Marcus, up at The Jester’s Elation? Not that you’d be in with a shot if she wasn’t. Laura’s into…


He nodded.

—Yes. Men.

I looked at my apron and the bit of jeans I could see. I saw that there was narry a ketchup fleck, nor mayonnaise stain, nor mustard splatter. I realised I’d barely done my job all night, such that Chef, despite his good cheer and dutiful cooking, plating and, unless Laura was helping him, serving, must have been quietly run ragged upstairs.

—I guess I’d best head to work then, I said. —If I’ve a lengthy debt to pay.

It would all come out in the wash. Or it would all prove pointless, a futile act of defiance that cost me most of a year’s wages and resulted only in a lot of wasted beer, a crime, even if it did make men see the wars they dreamed of as boys; men, ageing figures with too few glories and too many regrets. Either way, I had a job to be getting on with and it was already a quarter to ten, so I would finish in forty-five minutes if I headed up now and cleaned the pots and pans and plates and dishes left over by the football fans who had drunk in silence and eaten the same way.

—Off you fuck then, said Harry.

I motioned to leave, only to turn on my heel.

—I might have a swiftie after my shift, if that’s alright with you, Rupert? I said.

Harry winced. I told him Mr. Evans was still sat upstairs and I wanted to see how the old man was before I went on my way.

—Be my guest. Donal.

—Good good, I said, heading back to work.

He was sipping on his Guinness pint, Mr. Evans, as I was sipping on mine, the apron now in the big black bin where we piled them upon high after each shift, ready for the next day’s toil. He was looking down. He was a shell of the man he’d been before. The Hyrule Brewery boys could certainly put a claim on that.

—Before I was in Bastogne, he began. —I thought I knew the cold. But I never knew a cold like that. Gets into your bones.

I sipped my pint. I thought of Calais, or what I thought was Calais, the terraced houses standing, half-standing, barely standing at all ‘neath the rubble of bomb, smoke and gun. I thought of the vast expanse of Flanders, and the pigeon or crow and whatever that food was, sweet, sour, human.

I took another sip of my pint and looked over at Laura, who was staring at the pair of us, not sketching, just watching, while around us the Brummie lads who were still here sipped, not saying anything, sipped on, cowed and silent. I looked up at the old man.

—Tell me about it, Mr. Evans, I said. —Tell me what it was like for you.


Photography Credit: Jason Rice

Ronan O’Shea’s writing has appeared on Bandit (forthcoming), New Critique, Literary Yard, Headstuff and Animal. He is a graduate of Warwick’s MA in Writing, where he was tutored by China Mieville, Maureen Freely, AL Kennedy, and Tim Parks.