July 7, 2018
It’s 7AM on a Saturday morning in July and I am walking into the White Harte Pub, a British style bar in Woodland Hills. We’re in the middle of a heat wave in Los Angeles. Yesterday it hit 117 degrees and today they are predicting a cool 107. At 7AM, it’s already a tick over 90, so I am surprised when I see the patio of White Harte already full. Then I open the door; it’s wall to wall bodies. The patio, the front room & bar and the back room are beyond capacity. In fact it’s already two deep at the bar. Instantly I start to rethink my plan. I wildly miscalculated. On the TV, the World Cup Quarter Finals are just getting underway. It’s England verses Sweden.
There’s that trademarked red British telephone booth out front. Inside, dark wood beams outline white plaster walls. An antler chandelier, a bust of a deer hanging by a fireplace, pictures of Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and John William Waterhouse’s famous The Lady of Shallot painting all decorate the interior. It’s a place to go for Fish & Chips, Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers & Mash and to cheer the British World Cup Soccer team. I am mostly surrounded by Brits. Absent this morning are the barriers of age and class. A gentleman in his sixties with large bifocals, yellow shirt and green tie sits at table with a reserve sign casually sipping his beer. In front of me a woman in her thirties with bleached hair has a Harry Kane picture and number clipped with a safety pin to the back of her wife beater. Groups young and old, cockney and RP, dignified and dirty all enthusiastically cheer for the home team. They also drink. A lot.
It’s too early to drink wine so I order a cider. It’s like fizzy juice, right? My mouth doesn’t know what to make of it at first. Not how I usually start the day. On the way down to my belly, I remember junior year of college in Stratford. It’s so loud I can barely think. I’m shoulder to shoulder with other patrons. Waitresses fight through the crowd looking bleary eyed. The TV is blasting and the bar reverberates with chatter. A drum keeps pounding from the speakers. I sip my cider, stare up at the game and try to slip into the experience. I’ve never enjoyed soccer. I don’t hate it, there’s just too much of that in the world, but politely this game has never been for me. However, craving travel and new experiences but stuck in my own backyard, this is today’s solution. I’m in England, drinking at 7AM, in a sea of bodies, having a deeply patriotic experience. God save the Queen.
The hurricane of noise and movement shifts focus in moment of perfect synchronicity. All conversations stop and heads swing to the television as a member of team England head butts in a goal. Broadway choreographers would be jealous of the precision. Then, the place explodes. I high five strangers. I pretend to know what they are saying to me as they make comments on the scoring. Some people break into song, “England” repeated over and over to a tune. More drinks are ordered. I lock in on the bartender. She’s cool as a cucumber as she bangs out Bloody Mary’s and Guinness. She free pours a shot of gin into a pint of cider and hands it over to a customer. Beside her is a gentleman I take to be the owner of the establishment. He attempts to help her by making server tickets. He pours deliberately using only one hand and keeps raising and lowering his glasses from their perch on his head to read the orders. The couple in front of me wants to buy me a drink, making good on her promise, “watch my seat and I’ll buy you a pint love”. This time I go for a Guinness. It’s not quite 8AM.
“Look at these cunts!” a man behind me screams. A Swedish player has gone to the ground clutching his ankle. The seal has been cracked; there’s a torrent of “cunts” yet to come. He really showcases the versatility of the word. It can be used for a friend or an enemy; a taunt or a rallying cry. “Come on you cunts, score!”. “You don’t stand a chance you cunts!”. All purpose pronoun. And he really hits it hard, every time. “You’re a bunch of cunts!!”. I am lost wondering who the last one was intended for when England scores again. Pandemonium. When the “yesssss fucking cunts!!!” dies down, the England song breaks out again. This time I join in singing. After all, I took the trouble to learn the words. I sway, sip Guinness and belt out “England, England England!”.
Shortly after the game comes to a conclusion. England has won by a score of 2-0. They advance to the semi-finals. A stranger hugs me and says “I guess we’re all gonna be sick from work on Wednesday”. The crowd has divided into those clearing out and those doubling down on their drinking. I’ve finally found a seat at the bar. Famished, I order the Normandy, two strips of Irish bacon, eggs and chips. I’m a little disappointed it’s a limited menu this morning so I will miss out on some of the authentic British fare I had my eyes on. But given the sheer volume of people, I understand the necessity. The sound of the TVs give way to a cheesy, 1970s sounding tune “and we are England and we’re gonna win” that now plays through the speakers on repeat. The Irish bacon is magically salty and packed with flavor. The chips soak up the beer in my stomach. Dangerous thing about getting a morning buzz, devil on your shoulder tells you, “why not power through and get drunk all day?”. Instead I ask for a water. I know. Clearly, I’m a cunt.