Copyright © 2016 Russ Williams
This collection of short stories chronicles a year in the lives of staff at The Chinaman Inn, set in the fictional town of Caer-y-Gont in North-West Wales, a town where the inhabitants are as rugged as the mountains which isolate them and where dreams are lost in drunken neglect...
Awesome read for a good laugh, especially when native to North Wales and familiar with the dialogue. I read straight through in one hit, couldn't put it down. Very enjoyable, I look forward to Russ's next release.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐-wrjwms, Amazon customer
Great book. Shame it wasn't longer as I thoroughly enjoyed it! Could not put it down until I had finished it.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐-anonymous Amazon customer
Read this in one evening, relatable, funny, well written, leaves you wanting more. Look forward to reading more from this author.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐-JessicaWin, Amazon customer
"Everything alright with your meal, Sir?"
Eddy’s castle leers over the old town walls, casting the heavy weight of the tourist and hospitality industries over our narrow cobbled streets. The punters are growing restless. There’s a horde of them at the front door, laughing at obscenities and bellowing out tales from the past week, raising their drinks approvingly at a clear blue sky. The social smokers puff out their chests, tears swelling in their eyes.
The Chinaman Inn on Stryd Chwech-Deg-Naw, or 'Westgate Street' in tourist tongue, is busy as usual. Soon after it opened in 1512 it became the biggest brothel in town, the jewel of the red light district. In fact, the Welsh name for the street pays homage to the kind of service one would expect with their bottle of gin Back in The Day.
Today The Chinaman makes its living as a four-star hotel, a restaurant and a bar renowned for its selection of real ales. Popular with tourists and locals alike, this desperately Dickensian establishment also pays my wage.
Me, Rhodri... Whom on Saturday nights works as hard as the poor sod from whom the inn got its name from once did, after his ship docked here in the town of Caer-Y-Gont in North-West Wales back in the 1700s.
Indeed. The name of the inn has caused a bit of a stir in the past, but mostly with tourists. The complaints and remarks come between the months of April and September, when Caer-Y-Gont is raped and plundered by armies of English Ramblers, History Geeks and Students, allied by Yank and Australian mercenaries who have come to 'discover their roots'.
I hate this time of year. Waiters get no extra pay for working harder than usual, how I long for winter when all I have to deal with are depressed locals. But at least I don’t have to listen to them bitch about tourists sitting in ‘their seats’…
The restaurant is already full. One of the girls stands guard at the door, explaining to bewildered couples and families that they shall have to go on the dreaded 'Waiting List' before getting a meal.
'Wait' is not something they want to hear. The very idea of it!
I'm left to keep the lucky ones happy.
"Everything alright with your meal, Sir?"
Not that I give a shit.
Couldn't give a toss...
"Excuse me, Sir?"
Americans; the only customers who call me ‘Sir’.
"Could I get another gin and tonic?"
Another drink for Table Eight...
"Everything alright with your meals?"
An awkward silence... ah, fuck.
"Well, I'm not really happy with my steak. I mean, I asked for medium-rare and this is clearly more medium than rare…"
"Very sorry about that, Sir.... I'll take that back for you, would you like another steak or something different?"
"It's alright, I waited long enough for a table, I'm starving! This'll just have to do..."
"Are you sure Sir? Can I get you a drink on the house at all?"
"No, I'm fine."
"I'll see how I am after this, but if I'm full then I won't be paying for it!"
"Of course, Sir..."
"Excuse me, can we order?"
"Certainly!" that solid smile returns to my face, my slender black tie nearly whipping the complaining Cont in his face as I race to Table Eleven.
"What can I get you?"
"Well, I have a question."
Of course you do.
"Are there any prawns in the crab cake starter?"
"No Sir, only crab."
"Ah alright, I'm allergic to shellfish you see, so I think I'll have them!"
"I'm pretty sure crabs have shells, Sir."
"Oh- oh crabs?! Oh dear, I..."
"Would you like more time, sir?"
"Oh, yes please."
Idiot! How has he survived all these years?
Llew, a fellow waiter, a young man like myself but taller with olive skin. He moves quickly but calmly, taking it all in his stride. Having served his country twice in Afghanistan, it astonishes me how upbeat he is having to spend his Saturday nights working at The Chinaman. Then again, at least in here he doesn't have to worry about hidden landmines or suicide-bombing customers.
Relatively tall yet considerably shorter than him, my pale skin flushes easily. My dark mullet curls up in the back during busy shifts such as this one. My shoulders are broad but bare no muscle, my white shirt hanging loose around my chest cavern, the lower half straining against a bloated beer belly. My rear is practically non-existent, skinny legs stretching down to a pair of pointy leather shoes.
We’re good friends at work, but never see each other outside the confines of The Chinaman. Which is just as well- he may be a good drinking buddy but he would not be a very good wingman, for I'd stand no chance next to this tall, dark, sparkly-eyed, six-packed, olive-skinned, hairy-chested, gift-of-the-gapped, motorbike-riding War Hero.
“Alright, Hot Shots?”
Confident that we are the only Welsh speakers in the room, he asks me; “Bwrdd Pump?”
I look over at Table Five, smirk and nod at him. "Definitely would!"
He nods affirmatively and walks away.
"Sir? Have you forgotten my gin and tonic?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon madam- I shall get that for you right away!"
Roll on last orders, after which I shall have my own pint then retire upstairs to smoke a joint through the window while the rest of town stumbles into bed. I live upstairs you see, in Room 101, tucked away in a maze of narrow hallways. I wouldn't do it for free or out of convenience, they pay me ten quid a night to do it. Not a lot I know, but I really don't have to do much. As long as I'm never too stoned to get up if there's a fire and I'm up there when the last member of staff clocks off at the end of the night then I'm free to do whatever I want. I have had lads chucking stones at my window in the middle of the night however, asking for the previous occupier, Dewi. But it doesn’t happen often, and I won't be waking up tomorrow with a hangover and an empty wallet!
Which is all very well and good, for now. But I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing out on something. Going out? Doubt it. I only recently graduated from uni down in Cardiff. That’s already a blur. And the drinking scene gets fairly boring around here after a while in any case, always end up doing the same circuit of pubs before deciding for or against going to the only nightclub in town. Pulling’s hard here, most girls live at home with their parents so unless you’re lucky enough to shag her against the castle walls on the way home then you’re sending yourself off to sleep tonight, mate! Nah, we have much more fun here. Yes, we miss most of Saturday night, clocking off at around midnight, but there’s usually a sesh at someone’s house. In fact, I find pulling to be easier under these conditions- think about it, all the young girls around you are missing out on a social life as well, and you have a short space of time to get drunk in, usually in someone’s house as mentioned. And I’m lucky enough to have a room upstairs!
Nah, it’s not that. It’s just that… I have this emptiness inside me, you know? Like I forgot to do something. Feels like a midlife crisis at twenty-two! Is this what life’s all about now? Is this what I went to uni for?
Nah. Must be more to it than this!
Late nights lying in bed thinking of old times. Thinking great times are behind you, that good times after work will suffice. Thinking you can’t live like this forever, not you.
In school I said I wanted to stay on in sixth form. I did. In sixth form I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, that all I knew was that I wanted to go to uni. I did. In uni I didn’t stop to think about the future. All I knew was that I had truly found Myself. I had come out of my shell, found my confidence, my look, my political ideology, my philosophical ideology, my sexuality, my… sorry, lost in memories then.
Then uni stopped. Uni life vanished. All my friends, gone. I was back home in Caer-y-Gont, wandering the Northern landscape in search of old friends and good times. And old friends and good times I found! Which was great, for a while. Then old friends and good times became part of the landscape. I was sucked inside a vortex of routine and sweet contempt, became a Local again.
Now I wonder.
"Everything alright with your meals, by the way?"
Russ Williams, 2016