bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Goodbye, American Jeff

Dear Rachel

When Camden is as unfashionable as it is at the moment, the Good Mixer – a well known Camdenite pub at the end of Inverness Street, midway between the market and the tube station – is an enjoyable place in which to take refreshment. I myself often do this of a Saturday evening, having first attended to commercial interests in the Lock market, and usually find myself in the company of the Goat Bag Man, American Jeff, Wolverhampton Mike, Bibbsy and sundry other traders. The evening is usually punctuated by a wandering Camden victim called Blue, who simply isn’t funny enough to be as intrusive as he is although, to his credit – and I have a soft spot for the relentless – this does little or nothing to stop him.

However, it is to American Jeff that our attention must turn on this occasion. Jeff has the ultimate showbiz marriage of abrasive voice and ill-advised subject matter, the overall social effect of which is quite remarkable. A conversation with him is strangely like being repeatedly slapped round the face, and you find yourself unwilling to disengage in case he jumps on you and continues to shout words into your ear as you walk off towards the tube station, go down the escalator, and make your way home.

You would have to be a member of a generation as yet unborn not to realise that American Jeff likes a bit of a drink. Or rather, he likes frequent and generous bits of a particular drink, which is known as a Jeff Special. I can’t remember exactly when Jeff Specials first appeared, but I can remember the first time I was asked to get one, because I refused to go to the bar and ask for it. It was explained to me that the ‘Special’ part of the equation pertained to the price; it was cheaper than buying the constituent parts in the normal manner. I counter-explained that, while I rarely find myself in the company of someone who has had a beverage named after them, I would still rather buy every single combination of drinks in the whole pub than ask for something called a Jeff Special, because I understand what style is. The bar staff at the Mixer are consistently excellent and, bearing this in mind, I decided to experiment by getting the rest of the round in, and then saying ‘Oh, and one for our shouty friend’, which brought the pleasingly immediate response of ‘Oh – a Jeff Special?’ which it turns out is a double gin and tonic with fifty pence off.

It isn’t often that you get the chance to wet yourself in public as an adult, but later that same evening I was presented with a golden opportunity to do so. It’s seventeen stops down the Northern Line from Camden Town to Tooting Bec, or sixteen if you go via Charing Cross but then you have to wait about at Kennington, so the advantage is lost. Fortunately, American Jeff now lives in Tooting Broadway and has invented a dietary supplement called Tube Booze, which is a couple of cheeky cans outside Booty Wines in Kentish Town Road, and then another couple to keep them company as the train winds through the City, under the Thames, and on to Surrey, which is where south London is. Jeff is a welcome source of conversational diversion on such an epic journey, however, by the time we reached London Bridge I was in a state where – to use a charming phrase – my back teeth were floating and, as we rolled into Clapham Common, I was unable to hear what he was saying over the roaring sound in my ears produced by the sheer effort of keeping disgrace at bay. As I mentioned earlier, I am a man who understands style and I concluded that if this horror story really was going to unfold, then my best bet was to get off at Balham and walk home via the High Road. This is quite dimly lit and if I decided to just let go, I would have a far better chance of nonchalantly strolling along while doing so, hoping that no one would notice that I was somehow leaving a trail of footprints. I seem to remember that my plan was to explain this away by claiming to be a god. In any case, there would at least be a few seconds of bliss, and I would aim to concentrate upon those to take my mind off the cold legs, clinging jeans and squealching that would be my steadfast companions for the rest of the journey.

I had mentioned none of this to American Jeff, as he was keen on explaining something quite important that, although I couldn’t hear, I didn’t want to interrupt. I bade him farewell, bounced up the escalator at Balham hoping I wouldn’t have to laugh or sneeze, and marched along the High Road not letting myself be tempted by the many alleys leading off of that noble Roman thoroughfare, because I considered that in my state popping into one would be akin to showing the dog the rabbit and that, if I subsequently found myself confronted by a restaurateur or assailant, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. Unexpectedly, walking seemed to relieve matters somewhat, although I was wary of the classic error whereby you put your key into the front door, and the anticipation of blessed deliverance is so great that you don’t make it over the threshold. This phenomenon has a name, which escapes me. Splashy Doorstep or something. Anyway, all was well in the end, and I the next time I saw Jeff I explained the reason for the pained but distant expression that I had worn throughout our journey, and all was well. Incidentally – and in significant news for all those who like myself enjoy boisterous and engaging conversation – American Jeff is no more. This is because he now has British citizenship, which means that a) we should henceforth more properly refer to him as British Jeff and b) by choosing Britain over America as his home, he’s managed to lower the average IQ of both countries.

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