Well, you can see why they did it. I mean, Monday night in a town like Haslingden, business is bound to be slack. Pam went nuts when Derek first mentioned it though. I were there behind’ bar. It were a Tuesday and there were nobody in; just a couple of old fellas drinking halves of mild. Pam liked to get her money’s worth, but some days there were nowt to do, so my life hack were holding a cloth. Then if she looked my way, I could just start wiping’ nearest surface. So there I were, cleaning up imaginary spills and earwigging.
‘You are not turning my pub into a titty bar!’ Pam folded her arms across her barrel chest, making her earrings rattle.
‘It’s our pub! And it’s not turning into owt. Just one barmaid, one night o’ week. Think o’ takings!’
‘Takings my arse! You and yer filthy pals just want to goggle at some young girl with her knockers out. Over my dead body!’
She stormed out. Must’ve gone o’er road to’ White Lion because she come back three hours later, rat-arsed and reeking o’ cigs. I just stayed out of her way. Don’t get me wrong, Pam’s alright, but she can be a proper cow when she’s had a few.
I felt a bit weird on’ Monday turning up for work. I walked it. I didn’t want Mum dropping me off and seeing’ sign that said ‘Topless Mondays’. It wa’n’t even meant to be my shift, but Lauren refused to do it. Said her dad wouldn’t let her stand behind’ bar with some page three slut. I thought that were a bit much really, especially because Mum got her MOT done in his garage and he had this massive titty calendar on’ wall. Anyway, I needed’ money so I wa’n’t gonna turn a shift down. But it were more than that. I were curious. I’d never met anyone like that before. I wondered what she’d be like; what her tits would be like, obviously, but also what kind of person she were. Everybody’s got a story, Nanna says. I wondered what her story were, and if she’d even talk to me.
I weren’t the only curious one as it turned out. Seemed half’ valley had come down to get a look at them tits. I’d never seen’ place so rammed, and it were only half past six. The pro drinkers, the old guys what never seem to go home, they were all crammed in that booth by’ door, nudging each other and giggling. Derek were ‘collecting glasses’ which is code for chinwagging. He can’t half gab and he were right on form, like’ kid wi’ latest toy who’s invited half’ school back to show off. Pam were nowhere to be seen, which were probably fer’ best.
I pushed me way through to’ bar. I didn’t know what to expect, but she were nice. Hayley, she were called. She were little with long blonde hair and a right deep tan. She were wearing them skinny jeans with criss-cross thongs up’ sides and she had these right nice wedged sandals on. Her tits weren’t that big to be honest, but they did look sort of stretched, like they’d been pumped up. I didn’t have much time to check her out, there were that much work to do. She were a good barmaid, but she obviously di’n’t know how to work’ dishwasher, or else that wa’n’t in her contract, so there were this massive pile of glasses to wash. I whacked a load in and started serving.
Usually there’s a few old guys propping up’ bar but that day there were just this big fella I’d not seen before, sat staring at his pint with a right face on. I didn’t pay him much mind, because I were too busy watching’ regulars, it were that funny. I mean, it were obvious what they’d all come for, but they just couldn’t look! When they come to get served, they looked at’ clock, they straightened’ towels on’ bar, or just gazed at their own beer bellies. The young lads from school were‘ most embarrassed. They just held their money out at arm’s length, like they wanted nowt to do wi’ whole thing, even though they’d come down especially. The older, bolder fellas looked Hayley right in’ eye and gave her a fat tip. But not one of them, young or old, school kids, hipsters or blokes from’ soap works, looked at’ tits while they were getting served. Instead they sneaked sly glances from a safe distance, while me and Hayley just smiled and said:
‘What can I get yer?’
I were like a machine, sliding trayfuls of glasses in’ dishwasher, yanking ’em out chinking and steaming, pulling pints into glasses still warm from being washed, tapping’ tend key on’ till with a satisfying ching, then shoving’ drawer back in with me hip.
‘Keep’ change, love.’
‘Ave one fer yerself, Amy!’
It wa’n’t just Hayley who were coining it in on’ tips that night.
‘You don’t half go at it, you!’ said Hayley, leaning against’ fridge in a moment of calm. I blushed.
‘I love shifts like this. Can’t stand when it’s quiet.’ I wanted to ask about her job – if she worked in many pubs on topless nights, how she’d got into it.
‘Three pints of Landlord, a JD and coke and a packet of Scampi Fries, please.’
And I were off again.
‘There she blows!’ said Hayley. ‘Like a force o’ nature!’
I had me back turned, getting’ Jack Daniels when I heard Pam’s rasping tones.
‘I’ll have a white wine spritzer, a blue WKD and a Taboo and lemonade’
‘Oh hiya Pam, y’alright?’ said Hayley.
‘Oh, yes, love, I’m fine.’ She had that note in her voice that she gets when she’s had precisely three and a half white wine spritzers.
‘Nice jeans, where’d you get ’em?’ Pam was needling, like the bullies in school when they’re about to diss your offbrand trainers.
‘Oh, thanks, Primarni special!’ said Hayley, trying to keep the tone light.
‘Primark, eh? They’d look a lot more classy with summat up top, but I suppose that’s not your style.’
I topped up’ pints. Me hands were shaking. I knew Pam were about to kick off. I’d seen it too many times. I wanted to defend Hayley, but’ words were stuck in me throat.
‘There’s your drinks, Pam. Do you want a glass for’ blue WKD?’
‘Yes, I want a glass. I won’t have folk swigging out’ bottle in my pub!’
Hayley tipped’ glass and expertly poured half the blue fizz into it.
‘That’s ten twenty-five, please.’
‘You can put it on me tab.’
‘Oh right, how do I do that? Are you keeping tally, Amy?’
I didn’t know what to say. Pam’s idea of a tab is basically helping herself.
‘On second thoughts, don’t bother. I don’t want to drink anything your filthy slut hands’ve touched. Yer can keep it!’ And she grabbed the spritzer and’ blue WKD and chucked the contents all over Hayley.
After that, everything happened really fast. The massive bloke what’d been sat at’ bar sprang up and got Pam in a headlock. He were big enough to lift her off’ ground so her cracked toes were dangling and her gold flip flops fell off.
‘Put her down, Steve! She’s going purple!’ Hayley shrieked.
He loosened his grip and Pam’s knees crumpled as she slid to’ floor. He caught her under’ armpits so she were slumped against his legs. Her skirt were all rucked up and her blouse were coming open.
‘What’ve you done?’ said Hayley as her …boyfriend? minder? Whatever he were… stepped back and Pam’s head bumped onto’ carpet like a sack o’ spuds.
It were like time stood still. Nobody moved. The whole pub went silent, save fer’ jukebox blasting, ‘Cos honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go!’ Pam were gasping and gurgling. Hayley were’ first to react:
‘Everybody back!’ she yelled, running round’ front o’ bar. ‘I’m CPR trained!’
Derek took one look at Pam laid on’ floor and keeled over. Steve the boyfriend/minder took his chance and legged it out o’ pub.
‘For fuck’s sake!’ said Hayley. ‘Amy, come and see to ’im! Just watch me and do what I do.’
Me heart were beating nineteen to’ dozen but I managed to focus. Hayley were shaking Pam by’ shoulder.
‘Pam, can you hear me? Are you OK?’
‘Derek can you hear me? Are you OK?’ I said shaking him.
‘No!’ slurred Derek, ‘Pam!’
He tried to get up. He were white as a sheet.
‘Keep him led down!’ said Hayley, ‘Do you know’ recovery position?’
I did because I’d done me lifesaver’s badge at swimming but he were that heavy.
‘Come ’ere love, I’ll help you,’ it were fit Rob the firefighter. Thirty-two, four kids, you wan’ see his Instagram. It is epic! He had Derek rolled over in no time.
Hayley were checking Pam’s breathing.
‘You! Call an ambulance!’ she yelled at this spotty lad from’ grammar school. He looked terrified but he grabbed his phone and rang 999.
Hayley put two fingers on Pam’s neck.
‘She’s no pulse! Is there a defibrillator in town?’
‘There’s one at Virgin Active!’ It were Josh Walmsley. He’s in my year. Practically lives at’ gym and reckons he’s’ buffest thing on two legs.
‘Geddit now!’ yelled Hayley and she tilted Pam’s jaw, pinched her nose and blew into her mouth.
‘Are there any scissors, Amy?’ Hayley started chest compressions. ‘One, two, three, four, five, six…’
I ran fer’ scissors
‘Seventeen, eighteen ….when I get to thirty, undo her top and cut her bra open… twenty-three, twenty-four…’
‘Twenty-six, just cut it! Twenty-eight, can’t de-fib her with a bra on! Now!’
Hayley did two more breaths into Pam’s slack mouth while I yanked her blouse open and jammed’ scissor blade under’ middle of her lacy balconette bra. Snip. The cups pinged open and Pam’s tits headed for her armpits. Hayley started chest compressions again. It were a sight for sore eyes with Hayley, rocking rhythmically over Pam, both of them naked to’ waist. It were then that Big Gaz spotted Noah Fishwick from school filming’ whole thing on his iPhone.
‘’Ave you no fucking respect?’ Gaz yelled, grabbin’ phone. ‘I’ll take care of this yer lickle cunt!’ and he threw’ phone on’ floor and decked it in wi’ leg of a bar stool.
Noah were speechless, and Gaz were like, ‘Do one! Or it’ll be yer ’ead next! In fact fuck off the lot o’ you! Can’t you see this lady’s saving a life here?’
By this time fit Rob had Derek sat on one o’ benches. He were like, ‘Come on Pal, she’ll be fine! Tough as old boots, Pam!’
And Derek were like, ‘Oh Pam!’ over and over again.
Then Josh ran back in wi’ defibrillator. I thought it would be like Holby City: two big paddles with handles and Hayley shouting ‘Stand clear!’ and Pam’s body jerking, but it weren’t like that at all. The machine spoke. It actually talked, I couldn’t believe it! Josh opened’ box and this dead calm American woman’s voice told us what to do, where to place the pads, when to stand back. It gave the shock by itself and Pam did jerk and’ machine said:
‘Provide chest compressions and rescue breath.’
‘Come on you bugger,’ said Hayley and started counting again
‘Five, six, seven-’
‘Pam can you hear me?’ asked Hayley.
Pam went, ‘Euuurrrgh!’
‘Place the patient in the recovery position.’ said the voice.
Then we heard’ door slam open and’ paramedics arrived.
That were me last shift in’ Crown. Pam pulled through, cashed in’ life insurance and retired to Portugal wi’ Derek. Me and Hayley got questioned by’ police. Steve were found guilty and sent down for GBH. Turned out he were already on probation for assault. Hayley were a local hero and were featured in’ Free Press under’ headline ‘Glamour Girl Gives Kiss of Life’. I found out then that she’d been a dancer on’ cruise ships which were where she’d got her CPR training. Before Big Gaz smashed his phone, Noah Fishwick had sent a video of Hayley and Pam to his cousin Kayden, who whacked it out on every social media platform going. #ToplessMondays were trending for a while. Pam were mortified.
I’m still Facebook friends with Hayley. She’s moved to Blackpool now. I met up with her and her kids in this chippy next to Ripley’s Believe it or Not last summer. She were really well, on about starting her own dance school. She should totally do it. She’d be awesome.
As for me, I’d had it wi’ bar work. I got a Saturday job at Rosedene Rest Home for the Elderly as pot washer and laundry assistant. Even here I can’t escape’ nudity though, always some old codger getting his knob out. Albert who stands at’ top o’ stairs and pisses all’ way down or Dennis sat blocking’ doorway in his wheelchair, lifting his flaccid knob and letting it fall into his lap. Still, I need’ money.
Jo Howard is a poet, singer, storyteller, scriptwriter and host of Manchester spoken word night, Verbose, along with Zena Barrie. She is a producer at video company Viva la Zoom, which she runs with her husband. Her work is inspired by experiences growing up in Lancashire and living in Manchester. Twitter: @joannuski & @VerboseMCR