Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

Shane McGowan at Filthy McNasty’s Pub, 1994 ©Paul Spencer. All rights reserved. Reproduction of images in any format subject to copyright law and strictly prohibited.


“Well, I guess I stopped turning up. After stevedoring I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, and I tried not to think about it. That’s where the booze came in.

“One of the guys I worked with, his brother or his cousin, owned a pub where we used to drink. It wasn’t really a job, as such. I passed out in the bar one morning and when I woke up, I was lying on a cot in a perfectly dark room.”

“Did that frighten you?”

“It was a huge relief, actually. When I shuffled out, I found myself in the basement. I went upstairs and took the bins out to say thank you. And it just kind of went on from there.”

“How long were you living… under the pub for?”

“I would say about three months. I had a strange relationship with the guy who ran it,” said Pat, crossing his legs and feeling like someone was pulling the ropes of his intestines in tight against the post of his spinal column.

“It was pretty weird.” Pat stopped, and Helen regarded him levelly.“Is this something you don’t want to talk about, Patrick?” she asked, laying her pen down on the arm of the chair.

“How did you guess?” Pat took a deep breath and let it out, allowing it to carry as much of his tension as it might. With what was left, he began to talk.

“I was living under the pub, and I was probably drunk for most of that time. The guy who owned the pub, Liam, he lived upstairs.

“Anyway. After I’d been there for a few weeks, sometimes, he’d come down into the basement and sleep on the cot with me.”


“Yeah, sleep. I woke up one morning and there were these arms around me.”

“Must have given you a scare?”

“Actually, no. I must have been having a good dream and thought it was part of the dream, probably. I think I was pretty sad, too…”

Pat’s voice began to fail him and, to his complete surprise, he felt emotion spear up through the crust of ice that covered the memory. “And… this went on for a while.”

“Did you get a sense of it being sexual?”

“Probably, yeah. I think I was too out-of-it most of the time, and I didn’t really want to know. That wasn’t the weird part. The weird thing was that the more involved it became, the more nasty Liam got during work hours. It started off with humiliating jokes.

“I was cleaning up a drink someone had spilled and I bent over to sweep up the broken glass and I felt this wet thing hit me in the arse. Liam had thrown this wet towel at me, in front of the people drinking in the bar. Most of them just laughed into their beer or turned away.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“It made me think of what I must have looked like. Wearing the same dirty clothes: fat; long hair hanging down. How they must have seen me. The more he humiliated me during work hours, the more intense things became afterwards.”

Helen sat perfectly still, regarding him with an expression so blank it must have been something she had trained herself to do.

“It didn’t become sexual until the end. He started off touching me; touching himself at the same time. It’s not like I was participating, as such, which is part of what seems so odd about it now. I didn’t do much other than lie there and gurgle.”

“That’s awful.”

“Better that than him taking it out on some little kid, or something.”

“It doesn’t make it any less damaging, to you,” said Helen. There was genuine sympathy in her eyes. As soon as Pat recognised it, he felt the lozenge of ice that he had fixed over his heart begin to slip.

“It’s not so bad,” he said, averting his eyes.

“I think it’s terrible,” said Helen. Pat felt a tear hanging from the end of his nose. It itched; he had to wipe it away with a finger.

“And this is why I drink,” said Pat, lifting his head. “Or would drink. To let off steam. To cope with these awful feelings.” Helen stood and passed him a box of tissues. Pat took a couple and blew his nose.

“I was wondering how long it would be before the tissues came out,” he said.

“Everyone gets there eventually,” said Dr Helen, sitting down again.

“Fuck. How embarrassing.” Pat chased the last few tears from his cheeks with the back of a hand. “So, Liam sort of built his way up to… whatever you want to call it.”


“Yeah.” Attaching that word to what had transpired seemed ludicrous. Abstractly, Pat realised this was the first time he had put them together. “By the time that was happening, we didn’t talk to each other at all. It became like an unspoken agreement.

“I’d sleep under the pub in the boiler room after close, he’d come down at some stage and… do his thing; then I’d get up and do maintenance chores and whatever until open.”

“What did you eat?”

“Fish and chips, whatever was going. Usually some greasy take-away. Liam would leave it behind the bar and I’d eat before we opened.”

“What did you drink?”

“A lot of lager. I used to just pour myself drinks from the tap, but towards the end, Liam wouldn’t let me drink anymore behind the bar. Another little cruelty. So I would go around the room with a pint glass, and pour off all the dregs from the warm, stagnant beer and drink that.”

“Ugh,” Helen said, visibly revolted. “Who knows what had been in them?”

“I didn’t care. As long as it did the job.”

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