Back In The Day, whenever that day was…with affectionate memories of Joyce and Harry Hall
Just one more pint, he thinks, and I’ll be off. From the jukebox pounds an unchained melody. He shuts one eye to focus but the room is swaying from side to side. The Lamb Inn by St. John’s. He‘s been drinking here for all his adult life and some nights he finds it challenging to remember when is now. He knows that once it was the Scribbling Horse and there was another name he can’t recall. Roundheads stayed there in the Civil War. Hordes of foot have marched in through the doors and out again with viewpoint skewed by copious consumption of ale, with banter or with melancholic step. It was acceptable in the Eighties, he remembers, to smoke and overdose on pork scratchings and pickled eggs in bags of crisps. Now the air is easier to breathe, although the unmasked smell of man grows less sweet towards the end of busy nights. These days, as has been so for many years, you can shoot a gun in to a hole in the wall in the front room, still throw a dart in the bar and shoot pool in the back. So many shots, he thinks, bang, clunk, swig.
There was a time when Thursday afternoons were packed. Market Day and after lunch, down with tools and all hands to the pub. He remembers Joyce and Harry well. She was sometimes cross and sometimes kind and woe betide you if you sparked her wrath. He was taciturn, ironic with a longer fuse. She would sometimes appear without her teeth. Harry got new teeth once. Quite disturbing they were, incongruously bright within his face. His Christmas jumpers added to the legends of the Halls, along with the mystery illnesses of Joyce and the brandy she enjoyed much as a cure. Some time passed after the Halls. There was a landlord whose name slips his mind, a time when there was more spit than sawdust in the pub and the drayman refused to brave the grimy cellar depths. Then there had been an intellectual flowering, when George and Ailsa ran the pub. Then there were crosswords (of the paper kind) discussed at length and filled in on the bar, and unusual antiques. When George died his coffin was carried on the dray, pulled by Wadworth’s horses through the Market Place. Now Sally runs the pub, he still feels welcomed and at home.
The barmaids there had been. Funnily enough his requests to “Give us a smile, darlin’” had rarely had the desired effect. Likewise rattling his change and banging his pint glass on the bar seemed never to have had the result he had expected. There had been some pretty ones, some scowling ones, some frankly unusual ones. In the space behind the bar had been no room to swing a cat so when there were two pregnant ones and a weighty lass there had been a slower pint but a most amusing watch. “Cheer up, love, it may never happen” had always been a phrase to raise an eyebrow with the girls. The punky one was fun, quick of wit, efficient with a pint. Once he thought she had her tits out but on close inspection they were comedy breasts, worn for hilarity and shock effect. That night he had cracked one off swiftly in the gents and forgot to wash his hands. Hey, it has to be done, he thought, a man’s a man.
The seat at the top of the bar is empty now. It was one man’s chair for many years. For decades Tim had quaffed his ale and held his court. “Don’t sit there, that’s Tim’s chair.” Tim had watched the comings and goings of the bar through steamed up spectacles, dripping the occasional drop of 6X from his tankard on his beard. He had been the mayor once. He drank his secret deeper every year. Nothing lasts for ever, though, and truth will mostly always out. Over St John’s Street and under the Town Hall, only a few feet from his seat, lies the old clink, where rogues of old would have looked up through iron bars on to the street and heard the voices of those at liberty to frequent the Inn . Who can say if Tim will take his seat again.
So many years, he thinks. Of banter in the flowered yard, of pints and women pulled, in the shadow of St. John’s. Now there is music upstairs in the bar now named The Fold, the strumming and the song wafting down upon the summer air, the sunlight falling through stained glass on the dark wooden table and glinting through his ale. So many drunken Christmasses, he recalls. So many happy days and sad. Babies heads wetted, the dead commemorated with beer.
He becomes maudlin and decides to leave, in fear that if he sits in the corner long enough he may be in danger of losing his religion. There is a house in Devizes Town, he thinks, they call the Rising Sun. Maybe another pint before I go….
Gail May 2015