The pattern was rarely broken: three pints in the Albert after school – four on a Friday when I did my shopping and bought all manner of interesting things. The Albert served the finest Bass in Newport, the quality only diminishing when they changed the vats in the brewery sometime in the late seventies. We sat in the back room, surrounded by oak-paneled walls and small, round tables that looked like islands depending on how much you'd had to drink. And we talked some very important stuff, none of which I can remember now.
Two others sat with us, Merv, sharp eyes peering through spectacles, an opinion on everything, and now almost certainly dead, Mike, a shy hairdresser who looked like a boxer, and - holding court - Peter Morgan. Then, he had a sleek porcine appearance, jet black hair and neat mustache; ruddy faced, with blue hard-boiled eyes that stared at you from gold rimmed glasses. His lips were usually pursed, waiting for the cigarette held some distance from his face. He held a cigarette like Lauren Bacall.
Things changed. The Albert closed down and we moved to Conti’s (now also closed down) in Skinner Street. Damn it. I can’t remember the beer, I think it was Bass. I can remember Peter sitting between my brother and a very drunk Glaswegian, and trying to understand the conversation going on over his head. With the catarrhal consonants of Scouse, and the rapid guttural of the Glaswegian bouncing across him, Peter sat bemused and wreathed in blue smoke.
And then disaster struck. Peter fell in love. Now he and Aileen held court together, sitting on high bar stools, surveying the world. It should have been good – especially the birth of a daughter. Only two things conspired against him.
Drink is a dangerous friend. Even more dangerous are those anal Catholics who confuse rectitude with intelligence and compassion, the kind that make Pharisees look good.
Peter was a ‘divorcee’ – acceptable just so long as he didn’t marry again – not at least if he wished to retain his job in a Catholic School. This ironically did not apply to non-catholic staff. Peter was more than willing to give up his pastoral role as Head of Year but the millstones were grinding…Peter had to go.
The process was brutal and he began drinking more heavily than ever – especially when he was given a ‘non-job’ in Hartridge, a neighboring comprehensive. Soon after that his marriage broke up.
A fortnight after I’d bumped into him, holding my sweet-jar, he was dead.
Pete Morgan had loved St Josephs but it was one divorce too many.
The one lesson I learnt was to deal with institutions rather like you would dine with the devil thought perhaps with a longer spoon.