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SOMEONE MUST HAVE STOOD ON A CHAIR BEHIND THE BAR to take the photograph. My mother thinks it is 1963 and that all the police are staying in the hotel because of the Royal visit. It is certainly file public bar of the Crown Hotel, though none of the public is there, only twenty-four policemen, not quite in uniform but not quite out of it either. They all wear sport coats over shirts and ties. Most of them have a glass in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and are looking up at the camera. The two figures not holding drinks are my father, Jack, and the most senior-looking policeman. Jack has that well-oiled, late-in-the-day expression--glazed eyes and a silly smile. His right arm is linked through the policeman's left arm. They are like a bridal couple, except that the groom already resembles a long-suffering middle-aged husband, and the bride seems to be drunk at her own wedding.

The prohibitionists were right: throughout New Zealand there was a kind of de facto marriage between the hotel trade and the police. Six o'clock closing had been brought in as a temporary measure during the first World War, and had somehow never been got rid of. It was simply the most bizarre of many strange compromises between the liquor industry and the forces of temperance. TEe effect was that the consumption of alcohol became divorced from other social and community activities. Even legal drinking took place out of sight, behind frosted windows. You could hear the dangerous noises, the shameful hubbub, from the street, and sometimes the human evidence would lurch out through the door. New Zealand must be the only country in the world that has a dictionary entry for "six o'clock swill."

Yet there was something sad when in 1967 six o'clock closing was abolished. With it went a kind of wonderful uproar, a thundering, male exuberance (not to mention counter lunch), while at the same time the easy understanding between police and publicans began to dissolve. For, really, things were once so civilised. At the St. Kilda, which Jack and Maisie ran after the Crown, the local South Dunedin police would usually pay a visit at 6:30 P.M. to make sure the bars were cleared, and sometimes they would call again at l0:30 P.M. For the hours in between, however, it was business as usual. Once or twice a year, just for the books, they called at nine o'clock, but there was always a preliminary phone message--"Might be down your way in ten minutes, Jack" and the drinkers would nick quickly out the back door or, if they were still keen to make an evening of it, would stand out in the yard till, twenty minutes later, the premises had been inspected and pronounced empty.

Hotels made much of their money after-hours, and at the Crown the after-hours trade was serious business. A bar had to be open, anyway, for registered guests, and anyone could legally drink there as long as they were being entertained by a guest. Customers gave three short rings, taxis four; but a police visit was signalled by a single long ring. In the infinitely stretched interval between that sustained ring on the bell and the answering of the door, drinkers were hastily assigned to hotel guests; and sometimes, if things were very busy, it might be necessary to call down to the bar the hotel's three or four permanent boarders. The perms were solitary men whose cut-price accommodation was guaranteed by their willingness to "cover" drinkers after hours. Once every three or four weeks a perm boarder might find himself trying to remember the names of a half dozen inebriated strangers, or assuring an officer of the law that, yes, he certainly was paying for all the drinks.

A FEW YEARS LATER, when we were in the St. Kilda Hotel, I was woken at about two in the morning by the sound of car doors slamming down in the street. Then the doorbell rang and men were yelling at one another, and I heard a clanging as someone started to clamber up the fire escape. Then my window was being hoisted open, and a policeman was standing over my bed.

"Where's the boss? Tell him to open up!"

He was a sergeant, in his early thirties, very drunk, with the build and colouring of a Springbok loose forward. Jack got out of bed, not quite sober yet himself, and opened up the back bar for the sergeant and his two off-siders. We listened at the top of the stairs while for several hours they drank on the house. Eventually, they all passed out, and Jack phoned the Dunedin central police station. Just before daylight, men from the morning watch came and took the whole of that night's duty-watch away.

"No-hopers," said one of the barmen next day. "Wouldn't have happened with six o'clock closing."

"YOUR DAD CLEANED THIS PLACE UP," customers at the Crown liked to tell me. Even old Tip, who drank in the front bar in the mornings and had once ridden on a horse-drawn temperance cart beneath a sign that said Strike out the top line!, reckoned it was so. "Yes, this place was a dump, mainly rat-bags till your father came along." And he would tip his hat expressively in the direction of McLaggan Street, up which there were three pubs somehow still letting the side down. In fact, Jack made the Crown safe for commercial travellers and racehorse owners, and the monthly meetings of the Brevet Club. He always wore a suit. After a while, he stopped going behind the bar. Instead, he played "mine host," drinking with his customers, moving from group to group, shouting his round. The customers were mostly middle-class men who played cards and bet on horses, and grumbled about the way the world was going. Maisie tells me that Gerry Merito came into the Crown one night after-hours. Presumably, the Howard Morrison Quartet had just finished a show in town. He looked around at the bar Kill of euchre-playing, inebriated men in suits, uttered the one word, "Squaresville!", and went somewhere more interesting.

Jack's loyal customers were entirely loyal to him. Ralph Hotere told me recently that he had been to the funeral of one of our old customers, Allen Percival. "Your dad was mentioned." One of the speakers had made a point of saying how Allen "had followed Jack Manhire from the Crown to the St. Kilda." Some people follow their spiritual advisors in much the same way. And like any preacher or entertainer, Jack had his signature phrases---especially a few ritual calls designed to clear the bar. I don't think I ever heard him say, "Time gentlemen, please," or "Last orders." But I still have in my head as resonant noises the Irish farewell (courtesy of First Corinthians), "Have you no homes?", the Churchillian "Our finest hour!", and---obscure of origin yet best of all--"Home, little bastards, home!"

I REMEMBER HEARING James K. Baxter deliver a lecture on his poem "Henley Pub" at Otago University. The poem is spoken by an alcoholic commercial traveller.

The barman's heel Crushes a hot butt, and I Burn. The vacillations of the sky Shine through the brandy glass....

"The barman," explained Baxter, "is a symbol of the natural order which is now rejecting him [the speaker]. His life still contains the heat of pain and desire; it is burnt down, though, like the cigarette butt. To an alcoholic a barman may seem at times almost almighty, the dispenser of life and death; and the crushing of the butt could even be an image of his possible extinction trader the heel of God."

This is splendid waffle. True, the barman stands higher than his customers, reflected in the mirrors which also multiply the glasses and bottles behind him. But his job is to sell alcohol. In all the jokes, the barman serves and suffers fools gladly. A duck walked into a bar. "What'll it be?" said the barman. In some essential way he is a piece of amiable falseness. He adjusts his point of view to his customer's--listening, grunting, agreeing, prompting with a question--or he disagrees within a safe territory, like tomorrow's weather. No politics, no religion, is the old adage. At the end of the Baxter poem, after the commercial traveller's pronouncement that a real barman would probably have grunted and said, "Yes, you can put a ring rotund that."

that is all; All; Jehovah's sky And earth like millstones grind us small.

Of course, the barman does have power. At the St. Kilda Hotel there was a pensioner called Henry who used to come into the bar in the mornings. He lived in a shed in someone's small backyard, and a rich smell always kept him company. The bar staff liked Henry, and wanted to let him have a drink, but they had to keep the comfort of other customers in mind. So before he was served, Henry would wait patiently until he had been sprayed with air freshener. He would raise his arms like a child waiting to be lifted. Sometimes he smelt of lemons, sometimes of roses.

I started serving behind the bar occasionally after-hours at the Crown, and by the time we were at the St. Kilda, I found myself working quite hard. The aim was to pour beer as fast as possible. The hose-gun was a piece of apparatus inspired by six o'clock closing---essentially a trigger attached to a long, trailing line which enabled you to rove at will, filling glasses wherever they were placed for service. Sometimes customers reached across the first rank of drinkers, so that you could even fill a jug in midair. I still have the remains of a callus on the second joint of my right forefinger where I held the hose-gun and squeezed. Pubs at the time were giant plumbing systems. Beer tankers--another late-1950s New Zealand innovation---discharged their contents by hose into cellar tanks; the barman used another hose to fill the glasses. A.R.D. Fairbum once suggested that drinkers could simply be dispensed with, and the bar hoses connected straight through to the men's urinal.

In the mid 1960s the Licensing Control Commission moved through New Zealand's hotels on a mission to improve accommodation standards ahead of the frequently predicted tourist boom. In the process, many of New Zealand's small country pubs were destroyed by the requirement that they offer almost the same accommodation standards as city hotels. The LCC also reallocated a restricted number of licences where it thought demand existed: hence the Once-Were-Warriors booze-barns of the 1970s and 1980s. We can probably also blame them for the ways in which New Zealand hotels refurbished themselves in chrome and formica, bizarre leaner bars, and roaring technicolor carpets.

In Dunedin, the commission managed to offend the whole drinking population by attacking the design and decor of the city's small pubs. They spoke sarcastically of the city's "old harridans," and sprinkled adjectives like pitiful and dreary through their report. The Crown got the standard chrome-and-formica treatment, while among specifically required alterations were such things as "Old panelled ceiling to front entrance and vestibule to be replaced and concealed by a false ceiling." The Crown was a three-storey brick-and-plaster building erected in 1861. Its panelled ceiling might have been worth hanging on to.

ONCE A FRIEND OF JACK'S FROM WELLINGTON came to stay at the Crown. He was ex-air force and was on a trip to take scenic photographs for the Government Tourist Bureau: Milford Sound, Lake Mathieson. He was also an amateur magician. He could pluck a smoking cigarette out of thin air. When I declared that I, too, aspired to be a magician, he took me round the corner to the big Whitcombe and Tombs in Princes Street.

"What you need is a decent book about sleight of hand."

He found one quickly, Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue's Expert Card Technique. It was one of the classics of card conjuring, and explained in detail the dark arts of palming, bottom dealing, false cuts.

"But this is ridiculously expensive!" he said, and went over to the counter. "I wonder if I might borrow a pencil and a rubber?" There was no rubber, but he decided the pencil would do. We went back over to the shelving on the far wall, where in broad daylight he crossed out 51/6 and wrote beneath it 41/6. We then walked back over to the counter.

"Thank you so very much," he said to the girl, and passed across the pencil. "And while I'm here, I'll have this."

What nonchalance! I was beside myself with happiness as the tale went round the bar. Jack was aghast. Some great rule of human decency had been betrayed. Later that night, after the shops closed, he put a ten-shilling note in a manila envelope and slid it under the bookshop door.

Wellington, New Zealand

BILL MANHIRE is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington, where he directs the International Institute of Modern Letters. His Collected Poems were published in 2001 by Carcanet, which also published his 1994 volume of short fiction, South Pacific. "After-Hours" is excerpted from a recent short memoir, Under the Influence (Four Winds Press), about growing up in pubs in the far south of New Zealand's South Island. In 2004 Manhire will serve as the Katherirte Mansfield Fellow in Menton, France.
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Title Annotation:Memoir
Author:Manhire, Bill
Publication:World Literature Today
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:May 1, 2004
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