As per usual Elsa the psychopathic guard dog went apeshit when I slammed the car door shut. I looked up and saw Cath leaning on the window sill, her plump pink shoulders showing in the yellow light of the kitchen, her face was pressed up at the window trying to catch a glimpse of me in the dark. Bill stood behind her talking and Cath nodded her head, and from where I was standing in the dark, unlit car park, it looked like they were shagging – Who’d blame him? Then, without the aid of an obliging light, I felt my way up the back passage to the rear entrance of the pub.
It was always like coming home; Bill stood in the hall between the rear lounge door and the kitchen, a smile on his face and a warm welcome in his voice; “You’re late! Cath’s just about to shut up shop; you’re in number one because we’re full tonight – are you having your usual?”
“Yes please Bill,” I said and ran up the stairs to number one; not my favourite room, it was a little cramped, ‘my room’ was number three, it overlooked the fields at the back and was quiet and cosy. I flicked the light switch and the bulb blew with a disapproving tut. Never mind, I knew where Bill kept the spare bulbs and I knew where the key to the cupboard was hidden. ‘I’ll change it later,’ I thought to myself. I dumped off my bags and went down to get a pint before dinner.
I entered the lounge through the rear door, old oak beams, open fire, leather settees, historic warmth, a puby yellowing and Cath’s husband Cyril standing at the bar behind the pumps. “Pint of Six X please Squirrel – What’s the matter with you, you look like you’ve lost a shilling and found sixpence?”
“Oi’ve got a whitlow on my big toe and I’m in agony. Jug or sleever?” said Squirrel, who I now realised looked more like a tortured chipmunk.
“A sleever please. Christ Squirrel, what the hell are you doing here? You should ‘ave your feet up. Whitlows are very serious; I once had one on my thumb!” I hid my thumb out of his view. “Anyway, I wish I’d heeded the doctor’s advice.”
“Sex you said? What advice?”
“Yes please. He said that I should take very good care of it, but I didn’t!” and with a wince on my face, for dramatic effect, I thrust my hand forward revealing my right thumb, the tip had been crushed off in a motorcycle accident years before.
“Oh dear, o’ deary dear.” Squirrel finished pouring my pint with all the professionalism he could muster and without a word he took his shocked, green, squirrel-like face home.
After a couple of swallows Bill came through and balanced a card on the yard of ale glass that hung on the wall behind the bar like a double-barrelled shotgun, which announced: Free Beer For Life – Take The Test. “Squirrel’s bad,” he said. “By-the-way, we’ve got some of your friends from London in tonight. And Cath says yer dinner’s nearly ready, so you’d better go up.”
“Cheers Bill. Nasty things those whitlows!” At least I had got Squirrel the night off!
I went up into the featureless, modern dining room that was reminiscent of a day care centre for the elderly, and Cath immediately came through with my gammon, egg and chips. “There you are my lurvly; would you like any sauce?”
“Oooh, no thank you darling, when you’re around I’m saucy enough!” Which was my stock reply, and she disappeared back into the kitchen with a fake bossy ‘Hey, Less Of That’ and a theatrical wink. The payphone rang and I jumped up to answer it, “I’ll get it Cath, it’s probably for me” I said, thinking it was Streaters. “Hello, Kings Head Uley.”
“Ooh er, ooh er, ooh er, peglerrR, HarrR HarrR,” replied the woman at the other end, whose overly strong West Country accent made her sound like Mary Read the eighteenth century pirate!
“Sorry, what was that you said?”
“PeglerrR, I wunneR speak t’ PeglerrR, HarrR HarrR,” barked Mary.
I walked to the entrance of the bar and shouted to Bill, “Mary the eighteenth century pirate wants Peglar on the phone!” And I hurried back to my grub.
Normally I would have phoned Streaters on arrival, but tonight he was calling in on his way home from work and now I was on edge, thinking he wasn’t going to come because of that stupid phone-call. Anyway, I was facing the payphone, so I was able to bear witness to the elusive Peglar when he eventually arrived – he hadn’t rushed. He looked exactly like Abraham Lincoln, but he was short and dressed in a nineteenth century farm labourer’s fancy dress costume, which would have been hilarious had I not been able to hear his side of the conversation, which went exactly like this:
“Ello. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Small break for Mary, then: “Wha’ ja wunt then? Wha’ ja wunt then? Wha’ ja wunt then? Wha’ ja wunt then? Wha’ ja wunt then? Wha’ ja wunt then? Wha’ ja wunt then?” Another small break for the vicious eighteenth century pirate Mary Read, then: “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Wot! Yeah. Yeah.” Another pause. Was it a shopping list? I only got as far as: pork scratchings (obviously), plain crisps, salt & vinegar crisps, cheese & onion crisps, smokey bacon crisps, quavers, wotsits, bacon fries, scampi fries, dry roasted peanuts, plain peanuts, cashews, bombay mix, mini cheddars, mini poppadums, cockles, chocolate and pickled eggs, although in reality I suspect Mary was just saying “DrrR-ink!” “Wha’ ja wunt then? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” And so it went on and on until I finished my gammon, egg and chips followed by treacle tart with vanilla ice-cream!
I left Peglar and Mary to their mindless, monosyllabic conversation and went back to the lounge bar. Streaters had arrived and was lifting a pint from the bar and by the time he’d said, “what you ‘avin’?” Bill was already setting a pint down on the bar for me. That was the thing about William Neale, he was the world’s best landlord. For instance, the first time I arrived at the Kings Head, Winter 1979, Bill said, “Hello Ian, put you’re bag down for a moment and have a taste of this.” He set a pint on the bar, and as I was drinking he said, “Good isn’t it.” Yes it was. Obviously he was a psychic; his party trick was to seemingly pick a pint out of the air like a card and say, “Whose is this?” and someone always said ‘Mine!’ “There’s some friends of yours from London over there,” said Bill in an overly loud voice, Streaters and I turned round to see two gormless looking couples wearing matching anoraks. “I should think you probably know them.”
“I expect so,” said Streaters sarcastically. And we walked over to the Anoraks.
“I think we’d better be awf t’bed,” said one of the dreary looking women who looked like Anthea, Gary’s secretary from Men Behaving Badly, and the two tragicomic wives melted away.
The Anoraks’ glasses were almost empty so I said, “What d’you want then?”
“What do you recommend?”
“Well we’re drinking Old Timer; it’s Wadworth’s winter brew, rich, full bodied with a beautiful malty flavour – it’s what all the locals drink this time of the year,” I lied. Actually, Old Timer is an agricultural version of rocket fuel invented by Professor Wadworth for psychotic farmers who lust for an intergalactic experience. In the meantime, Bill’s wife Lois had plonked herself down on my favourite bar stool, in the corner by the fire; so I casually pointed out to our new friends that she was using Old Timer as an aromatic mixer for her double brandy! “Two pints of Old Timer please Bill.”
The Anoraks, Simon and Anthony, turned out to be teachers from Wandsworth Common. They seemed happy and relaxed and supped greedily on their pints; they enjoyed listening to Streaters talking about his life in Streatham. After three more pints Streaters said he’d better be off because he may have to work in the morning, and I invited him to breakfast with me at eight o’clock sharp. “Two pints of Old Timer and a pint of Sex please Bill.”
Bells rang, and soon the bar was empty except for Lois, who was still drinking at the bar; Ron Moulder, who was playing air golf and singing Bing Crosby’s, ‘Straight Down The Middle;’ Florrie his wife (Cath’s sister), who was the only person who actually knew what was going on; all of Cath’s children, who had appeared like magic from the public bar; Simon, Anthony, myself and Cath, who stood in the doorway with a large tray full of thickly sliced ham sandwiches, which disappeared as quickly as they themselves did, once the sandwiches were finished!
We were coming to the end of what would be our last pint, when Lois fell off her bar stool. Her head hit the tiled floor like an egg, but it sounded like a hollow coconut, and she just lay there. I jumped up and went over to her. Bill craned over the bar and said, “leave her Ian, I’ll sort her out, she’ll be okay.”
“Definitely time for bed,” I said and as we staggered out of the bar I casually said, “It’s always like this at the King’s Head Uley.”
Shit, I’d forgotten about the light. I went into the bathroom, retrieved the secret key, opened the store cupboard, which contained everything you’d need to run a bed and breakfast, and took out a one hundred watt light bulb. Back in the blackened bedroom I found the only way I could reach the light fitting was to stand on the end of the bed and lean forward a fraction. I reached up and leaned forward a fraction, overbalanced, whirled my arms like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon swimmer to help keep my balance, grabbed hold of the lampshade to stop me falling and pulled the whole fucking lot down, ceiling and all, so I just lay on the floor and laughed! ‘I’ll sort it all out in the morning’ I thought, and I crawled into bed.
At about half past midnight I was roused from my stupor by loud heavy moaning, ‘some top level tragicomic shagging going on’ I thought. I didn’t like myself for doing it, but I got out of bed and pressed my ear up against the wall for a better view, as it were – Total Fucking Silence. I could still hear the moaning though, and it seemed to be getting louder. Uh, Uh, Uhhn. It was coming from the hall! Uh, Uh, Uhhn. I went to the door and removed the key. Uh, Uh, Uhhn. I bent down and looked through the old fashioned keyhole. Uh, Uh, Uhhn. And Lois’s face appeared, staring straight at me with such ugly drunken power that it pushed me over backwards. Of course she couldn’t see me. I looked again, just in time to see her horrified eyes widen like saucers and her falling backwards down the stairs. I went back to bed. Uh, Uh, Uhhn. I was asleep by the time she had climbed back up.
Squirrel woke me at 0600 by revving up his fucking skip truck outside my window and rattling off down the road like a demented carthorse of the apocalypse; which is why I hated number one. I shook a leg and the dust out of my hair, took a piss in the sink and surveyed the damage. I had pulled the plastic ceiling rose, pendant light fitting and cobweb covered lampshade clean off, along with large chunks of highly decorative Victorian plaster ceiling rose. I knew that I could not reach the high ceiling, so I dragged over an extremely heavy Edwardian dressing table and stood the stool on top. Using my Swiss Army knife I refitted the wires and screwed the plastic ceiling rose back up. I changed the light bulb and checked to see if it worked – it did! In the glass provided for cleaning ones teeth, I mixed about half a tube of Colgate toothpaste with some Dip’N’Set extra firm hair setting gel (strong stuff), proportions about 80::20, to use as a glue come plaster, and repaired the Victorian plaster ceiling rose and made good the ceiling in general. I put everything back in its place, made the bed and hoovered the room (and the lampshade); and in a bad light, with a hangover and from about twelve feet it all looked perfect. I took a celebratory shit and shower and I went down for breakfast.
In the morning the dining room always looked like the lacklustre restaurant of a nineteen seventies cross-channel ferry; my mental image endorsed by the Anoraks, Simon, Anthony and their dull looking wives, who were obviously on an ill-fated booze cruise. Both women pursed their lips when they saw me, so I gave them a jolly and an enthusiastic, “Good Morning, nice to see the sun.” (which it wasn’t!) I wandered over to my usual breakfast table by the picture window on the opposite side of the room, which was set for two – ‘Sky of blue and sea of green’ rang through my head as I looked out at the beautiful Cotswold countryside.
Bill entered stage left with their bacon sarnies; he was dressed in his familiar grey cotton drill jacket, which made him look like a cross between Danny Kaye in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and a down at heal grocer. “Good morning young man, what time is Streaters coming?”
“Morning Bill. Eight o’clock sharp,” I said.
“He’s late,” and with that, in walked the man himself.
“Good morning William, and how are we this morning?” said the grinning Streaters, who didn’t ever seem to suffer from a hangover – I on the other hand did and I needed the cure fast!
Bill shimmied over, “I’m bright and breezy thanks gentlemen, but it looks like you two could do with a Nobby Stiles and a pint!”
“You’ve taken the words out of my mouth Bill,” I said and we ordered two Nobby Stiles, the King’s Head’s version of a traditional full English breakfast and in my opinion the real Full Monty, it constituted of: half a pint of fresh orange juice served in a tall glass, three rashers of back bacon, two Gloucestershire sausages, black pudding, two double-yoke fried eggs, two grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, bubble and squeak, fried bread and baked beans, all served up on two plates. And as much toast as you wanted. A couple of pints of Six X helped it slide down, but on the menu it said tea or coffee. [A Nobby Stiles is the world’s best hangover cure.]
The Anoraks looked askance at us when Bill ceremoniously presented us with our early morning pints. “As valued guests I’d like to offer you these complimentary pints of Old Timer,” he announced theatrically attempting to cover his ass. We raised our glasses to the Anoraks and took a sip, however, they looked away without smiling and were soon gone without even so much as a ‘Goodbye.’
“What’s the test Neale – What do we have to do to get free beer for life, or have we already unwittingly passed it?” asked Streaters.
Bill looked up from clearing the Anorak’s table and said, “Well it’s a bit of a joke really; but Elsa is very poorly with an abscess caused by a bad tooth and no one will treat her because she’s so aggressive. She bit the vet on Wednesday and we’d hate to have to get her put down. So I came up with this idea: firstly, you’ve got to drink a yard of Old Timer in under ten seconds and without spilling a drop. Secondly, extract Elsa’s upper left back molar. And lastly, Lois hasn’t had an orgasm since 1963, so you’ve got to give her one! Do all that, and you can have as much free beer as you like for the rest of your life.”
“Oh dear,” said Streaters, “I don’t think I could manage Lois!”
The first pint of Old Timer hit the spot, and I was feeling much better. Bill brought us another pint which was soon followed by the magnificent Nobby Stiles – lovingly cooked by Cath. At the start we tucked in ravenously, Streaters being delighted with the over generous helping of fried bread. But we soon slowed and we leisurely breakfasted on that handsome and hearty animal, the pig. Bill came in with a couple more pints and a loaded toast rack. And so it continued on and on until Cath put her head around the door and roared, “Come on, some of us have got work to do!” Of course by this time, Streaters and I were totally bladdered.
“William my old friend, fetch me the yard of ale, I’m going to accepted your challenge.” said the drunken Streaters. And we all trooped down into the bar. The yard of ale glass was filled with two and a half pints of rocket fuel, and Streaters downed it in 9.45 seconds without spilling a drop. He shook his head as if his hair was wet and staggered out down the back entrance to Elsa’s kennel. Out of fear Bill and I stayed behind in the bar, and listened to the most terrifying barking, howling and yelping, then silence. Streaters stumbled back into the bar, his shirt ripped and his body bloodied.
“Right,” says Streaters vehemently “where’s that fucking woman with the sore tooth?”
Brian ‘Streaters’ Streatfield
A Celebration of The Life of Brian. Brian ‘Streaters’ Streatfield, born 4th October 1938 – 25th July 2014. He was like an Uncle to me, he was a dear, dear friend and I loved him very much.
This is the last in my series of ‘Pub Jokes’ marked Streaters, they are my little tribute to a man who loved a pint in a good pub; he was also the bloke that I loved to have a pint with, and I’ll miss him forever. Rest in peace you wonderful old ‘B’
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