Nestled in between Manchester and Liverpool is a town called Warrington in Cheshire. And sitting right on the banks of the River Mersey is a local pub called The Waterside, a place where both locals and visitors can find their fare share of pints, pool and one of the purest personalities in the whole of the United Kingdom.
His name is Wayne, and according to several bartenders at the Waterside, he’s a local town fixture, maybe even somewhat of a legend. Last week when my wife and I were about halfway into our nightcaps of Guinness is when I first noticed Wayne (actually I heard his alto-pitched laughter pierce the sound of sports highlights on the television). Wayne, who can’t be more than 55, will talk to anyone willing to listen – the problem is, like anyone who hears him for the first time, it’s almost impossible to understand what the hell he’s saying.
“I don’t mean to sound rude,” I said as I watched the bartender fill a couple more pints for us. “But I’m having a hard time understanding what language that guy is speaking. Whatever it is, I’ve never heard it before.”
“It’s amazing,” he laughed. “It’s a wonder how even I’m able to understand him. But the truth is, he’s talking English.”
As it turns out, according to another Waterside employee, Wayne has some kind of disability (although nobody told me exactly what his disability was). If you really, really, listen carefully one could make out every fourth or fifth word in a sentence and get an idea of what he’s talking about, according to people I spoke to.
“He’s in here every night and wears the same suit,” said the bartender. “During the day he does odd jobs around Warrington, pulling weeds, removing rubbish and other odds and ends. He gets 10 quid here, 20 there.”
Wayne walked out of the Waterside a short time before final bell – they really ring a bell for last call – and disappeared into the chilly night. But I continued to think about him, about how I misjudged him at first and thought he was just blitzed (or pissed for my British friends). Perhaps the highlight of his day, after pulling weeds and doing odd jobs for neighbors, was to dress up in his suit and be where everyone knows your name (to borrow a popular American television lyric). Perhaps The Waterside is Wayne’s safe haven, a place where he didn’t have to have a disability, where he, like anyone else is looking to blow off steam, could just be.
On our last night in Warrington, we went back to The good ol’ Waterside for a few last pints on this trip. Despite it being more packed than usual (it was a Friday night), I spotted out Wayne right away. He was carrying a full conversation with a couple of grey-haired men and all three seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. As the night went on Wayne mingled over to the pool table area and cheered for every shot.
“I’m buying him a beer,” I announced to my wife. “I’ve got to try and talk to this guy before we leave.”
As I placed my order the bartender called Wayne over.
“Wayne!” he yelled from behind the bar. “This bloke is buying you a round!”
Wayne’s face lit up like a Christmas tree and I’m assuming he yelled out “Thank you” in my direction even though it sounded like he said, “The sack is blue.” Nevertheless it sounded positive. A few moments later he approached our table. The bartender was right; if you listened carefully you could make out every fourth or fifth word. Our exchange lasted no more than 10 minutes, and during the entire time I was only able to make out that he lived with his mom and dad. I must have looked like an idiot trying to decipher what he was telling me. Finally, Wayne glanced at his watch and thanked me for the round. With jacket in hand, he made his way out of The Waterside and into the cold night.
Although I understood very little of what he was saying, I saw what made Wayne so engaging to everyone he comes across: it’s the genuine sense of happiness you see in his eyes as he’s trying to communicate; it’s the excitement in his laughter and the warmth of his smile. Wayne isn’t a fixture because of the same suit he wears to the same pub on nearly every night of the week. It’s not because of the odd jobs he does for “a few quid here, a few quid there.”
It’s not because of his disability. On the contrary, from the humble opinion of this Yankee from Texas, it’s Wayne’s ability to put a smile on other people’s faces, to make them feel welcome and warm – even when it’s damn wet and freezing outside. In fact, he embodies all of the terrific people we encountered during our stay in the UK.
The irony is that I went overseas to support a media partner of mine and provide training. Wayne teaches everyone he comes in contact with just how far a sincere smile can go. For Wayne language comes secondary.
If you’re ever in the area, go to The Waterside and see Wayne, The Earl of Warrington, and buy him a pint. He’ll most likely be wearing a suit, laughing his alto-pitched laugh, making people smile and helping them feel welcomed no matter the weather.