Wednesday, 4 November 2009

6. One Last Drink

We pass the time congenially enough – a game of cards, then tiddlywinks. A slow pint that lasts all evening; we argue and discuss the merits of horses versus tractors, the price of pigs and whether it will rain at Michaelmas. Old George doesn’t really say much, just grunts and sucks on his pipe. He doesn’t like the noise or the comings and goings, especially when a group are sitting in our alcove, sometimes almost on top of us. People are so loud and so rude these days, hardly even make the effort to say ‘Hello’, not that it bothers us. We have our own company and like it that way. When he gets really annoyed, like when those lads and lasses were larking around and showing no respect, George sometimes bangs his tankard on the table – just to get some peace and quiet. There was even a time when he threw a beer mat at a young lad who wouldn’t stop shouting. He had evidently had a few too many and didn’t know when to stop, or couldn’t hold his bitter. That shut him up pretty quick. Everyone in the room stopped talking and the group in our alcove were out of there before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’. We had a good laugh at that one. Even George was chuckling, not exactly smiling, but you could see that he was pleased with himself. After that people sort of avoided our corner, and we could mind our own business without anyone bothering us. Things have changed around here thought. Many of the old farmers have stopped coming. They used to come in on market day when they had a bit of money from selling off their lambs, or when they had a cow or horse surplus to requirements. Perhaps it is the price of beer these days – we can hear people grumbling about it although ours is always on the house – they never ask us old regulars for money.
One young lady – and you get far more of those coming in these days, sometimes whole groups of them, not a lad among them, and the wives who should be at home making the tea – anyway, this one complained to the lad behind the bar that someone was smoking in our corner. Well of course we were! Jack has his pipe, and George and I like to roll a cigarette. The bar man didn’t believe her at first, but she insisted he come over and sniff around. And as Jack puffed away, Alf came along to join us, and he lit up one of those small cigars, so there was quite a cloud of smoke. I used to have a bad chest but it has cleared up now, and the smoke doesn’t bother me at all. Anyway, this bar man agrees that he can smell it, and we can see other people coming over to have a sniff. Quite comical really, but why a bit of smoke in a pub should cause such a fuss I can’t imagine – we have always smoked as we drink our beer, and enjoy one another’s company. Well, the next thing you know a plaque goes up on the beam over the alcove, the one with all the horse brass and the stuffed carp that old Will pulled from the meer the summer of the drought, the year the water almost dried up leaving the fish stranded in a few inches of muddy water. This plaque, well, it said the pub was haunted. Haunted, I ask you! We have been here for years and haven’t seen any ghosts. If anyone knew about the pub being haunted it would be us. They could have asked us but people these days, they have no time for the old folk.
The problem with that plaque is that instead of leaving the place alone, more people started coming, and even making a point of sitting in our alcove. There was some story about the Hanging Judge, you know the one, Judge Jeffries they called him. Held assizes up and down these parts and, like many of the old inns, the room upstairs was used as a court house and the courtyard as a place of execution. They are saying that both the Judge and some of his victims are still around here; don’t know they are dead, and can be seen re-enacting their last hours. I think they must be soft in the head myself. Old buildings have an atmosphere and creak a bit, it makes people uneasy and they start imagining things. Then some young men arrived with all sorts of contraptions, calling themselves ghost-hunters, and set out to measure the temperature, and goodness knows what else. I have to confess we decided to have a bit of fun with them. Well, not much happens these days, one day is much like another, so it was a change, something to do. They kept asking whether there was anyone here, and if there was a spirit present would he show himself? We felt a bit sorry for them, not having seen any ghostly judges or cattle thieves or such like, so eventually Jack starts tapping his pipe on the table, and these ghost-hunters are so excited that George leaps up and heaves the carp off the wall. He didn’t mean to damage it but it must have been heavier than he expected because the case slipped out of his hands, narrowly missing Alf’s head, and smashes on the floor. I don’t know what they used to preserve it but there was quite a stink. The ghost-hunters were trying to stay calm but you could see they were rattled, and the smell was evidently too much for them as they packed up pretty quick, leaving the mess for the landlady to sort out in the morning. We were sorry about the old fish, but it didn’t do the pub’s business any harm. There have been more people than ever since then, whole coach loads of them. Perhaps that is why they started this ghost rumour in the first place, although why they should think the Judge or some wretched labourer should be interested in throwing a fish around I can’t imagine! All in all the effect has not been good – it just isn’t the old Black Lion that we used to know and we are pretty fed up what with all the comings and goings and everything. Even the beer is losing its taste – they must have switched breweries. Anyway, we are all agreed that we are going to move on soon, just as soon as we can work out where to go next. That’s the thing, where to go next.

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