This is exactly the kind of place where I expected to find one. The problem is, as all Taggers know, finding these kinds of places nowadays – by definition, they don’t tend to exist. The initial frustration of realising I’d jumped off the tram a stop too soon gave way to the serendipity of chancing upon this old school boozer, Pomona Palace, presiding over the Cornbrook Road. It was easy to see how I’d failed to notice it previously, resigned as it was to demolition, its dusty pale exterior merging into the concrete grey of the road and the Manchester sky. A second look allowed me to discern that, contrary to my initial impression and despite the boarding of several windows, the front door was open, there were some dim lights inside and the pub was open for business.
Inside it was clear that the establishment was nearing the end of its days: a musty, old beer odour suffused the air, dirty net curtains darkened the remaining window that wasn’t yet boarded and despite the ban having been in place for – quick search (no Wi-Fi) – several decades, the room was veiled with the opacity of cigarette smoke. From behind the bar, the elderly landlord broke off his conversation with the woman perched on a stool at one corner (the ease of their bodies together suggested intimacy, they looked like a couple), stood in front of me and simply nodded, his eyes faint and far behind his thick lenses. Although I don’t rate it, playing it safe, I asked for a pint of Guinness. It’s a fall-back. At least you know what you’re going to get. He placed a flabby hand on the pump and shook his head.
“Okay, I’ll have the bitter then.”
“S’off as well. Only got the lager left now.”
“Right…ok,” I nodded as he swung a pint pot under the pump.
With a grim face, he watched my eyes search the bar for a scanner. They usually hung from fixtures above the bar on flexible cords but there were none.
“Cash only, network’s down.”
Cash? Cash? Who would carry cash around these days? Surely that kind of unusual event should be flagged up before a transaction was undertaken? I checked my pockets as if there might actually be hard physical money there. He seemed amused by this obvious charade and my reddening face.
“You going into town, lad?”
“Bring it in on your way back.”
He nodded, placed the pint on the counter and stepped back to the woman on the stool.
I wondered how this unexpected line of credit might have contributed to the pub’s imminent demise, thanked him and headed over to a table near the window. The glass was warm, the beer headless and unappetizing. I’d have to drink it now. I took a sip and it took a great deal of effort to avoid wincing at the vinegary taste. It was off. It may as well have been a gallon rather than a pint. Drinking any of it suddenly felt like an Olympic challenge. Even through my shoes the carpet seemed too thin and as much as I could see of it in the gloom, the upholstery, with its bristly texture, brought back memories of the flecked seating of buses from my early childhood. It was then that I noticed him. He must have been sat there when I arrived, I guess I must have just had my back to him. Disappointed, I’d figured the place was empty but I couldn’t bring myself to walk back out. Anyhow, although it was unlikely, I thought I’d scan the two at the bar as I was there, just in case, but no one in a position of retail would be so conspicuously rogue, not if they wanted to make any money at all.
He looked pretty ordinary. Natch. But the tell-tale signs were there. No eye contact. Hunched over his beer (three quarters drank – a Herculean feat), real clothes, receding hair but you know, not in a way anyone would choose, no visible wearables, no devices that I could see – just sat on his own, staring at the table! I could feel my heart racing. There were a lot of points at stake here and I’d be shooting up that leader board.
I took out my phone and laid it on the table. If he was a decoy then this would be his moment to disappear, as soon as the tiny red winking light activated I’d be sat here alone minus five hundred points. Incredibly, the app initialised and scanning began. Inadvertently, I took a chunky quaff of the ale and had to resist spitting it back into the glass. The phone buzzed. The report was in.
Social media platforms: unregistered.
Do you wish to tag and assign identity?
Ensure subject is in the centre of field and press TAG.
I raised the phone, caught him in the crosshairs and tagged the rogue. 500 points richer. A nice little earner that would also see me climb the board. All from getting off at the wrong stop and the “price” of a rancid beer. Oblivious to the fact that his status had changed forever, that his digital profile was being activated along with all its obligations, dragging him into the twenty first century, my five hundred pointer arose and disappeared through a door to the toilets.
I downed as much of the pint as I could manage, grabbed my phone and headed out. The road was silent, devoid of traffic. It was neither night nor day. Maybe I drank that too quickly, I felt disoriented. I activated my mApps and switched to street view to be more precise. The signal was unusually poor. The data wouldn’t quite complete. There was some sort of semblance of a roadway surrounded by urban wasteland. I refreshed. I moved and sure enough the mApp rotated accordingly, the direction of the roadway conforming to the one beneath my feet but the Manchester skyline impossibly distant. I tried to unpack the co-ordinates for the pub from the tag report and it was then that I saw the error message:
Log incomplete. Location: unknown. Error 618
Submit data. Re-run scan.
There was nothing for it. I would just pretend I’d forgotten or lost something down the side of the seat. No big deal. The rogue would be back from the toilets. All good. I turned around and re-traced my steps to the door of Pomona Palace. But there was no entrance. Just boarded up windows and doors and some considerable foliage shooting up from cracks in the masonry. I walked around the exterior three times and then consulted my phone. A quick search for Pomona Palace pub… No signal.
James Stanley the Seventh Earl of Derby, 2016
Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art