Its terraced neighbours were torn down before they could collapse of their own accord: factories across the road lost their wives, their children, had their bricks covered in fake cladding and were rebranded with abstract nouns robbed of their initial capital letters. People moved in with pastel shade curtains and hung out their washing from where industry had clattered its noise and produced its smoke.
Street names changed, wiped from maps and memory, grid layout streets abandoned for warehouses and car-parks, in turn replaced themselves. Advertisements turned too, once housewives, then families, now animated toys mouthing website addresses through knitted teeth.
And it remains, The Sacred Oak, with its growing collection of monochrome prints and real ale pumps. Regulars replaced cloth caps and blazers with jumpers, then open shirts: women chose pints over halves, and friends over husbands. The Sacred Oak lost its tobacco smell for sweat and for aftershave and occasional wafts of cannabis on Friday nights. Horse racing lost out to pop videos, and then to the dull reflection of itself, its blank screen staring at the regulars whose place along the bar needed only a ‘Reserved’ sign. Bar snacks moved in, then moved away from arm’s reach to behind the bar. Peanuts lost out to crisps, to sticks of processed meats and see-through packets of Bombay Mix, to a coffee machine parked away from any available plug socket.
Elvis and his railwaymen would pack out the bar with their wages in envelopes, long away into the night with songs and serenades, their faces etched with a youth which would be changed by time and temperament. Elvis lost his colleagues to romances, to new lives in Australia and South Africa, and to the ugly blossoming of cancer robbing an unwritten history from within. He would move away for employment and caravan holidays, stolen from handshakes and toasts as each new landlord passed as new faces for old hands. Here is the place which withheld the forces of fashion and economics, withheld by each new name across the door: Carole Granger, Yvette Broughton, Terence Wetherington, Michelle Hale.
Elvis died in what once had been the snug. His head rested on the redundant buzzer above the red leather seats. His hands lay across his lap, content and comfortable in passing. The regulars raised their glasses, cheered his name until the ambulance arrived, when all noise surrendered itself to the harsh beauty of mourning.