‘Closed,’ said Velocipede.
‘Looks like it to me,’ he insisted.
I sighed a little. We were just passed The Cricketers, having decided to move on from an unfortunately overcrowded Glue Pot. There was room on the benches outside, but the evening wasn’t a warm one, so without seats available inside, we decided to move on. It was something we rarely did on our monthly meetings.
I wasn’t too keen to move on because the Entire Stout was on, one of my favourite beers, but didn’t fancy having to stand all night. Well, the old back was playing up. It was part of the reason I was getting back into – slowly, mind you, doesn’t do to push these things – walking to work. Trying to re-establish a level of fitness seemed to be provoking the old spine and I’ve never been all that keen on Mr Pain.
Anyway, back to the point…
We got closer to the Bakers Arms. I was telling myself that it never looked all that bright a place from the outside. But then, it’d been at least a year since I’d last been in there; perhaps more.
We were within twenty yards of the Bakers Arms.
‘No, it’s alway been a little dull where the light’s concerned. See, there are thick coverings over the windows stopping the light getting out.
Velocipede was dubious. I was getting less convinced of my own spiel the nearer I got. I was beginning to feel disappointment coming on.
‘Quiet, too,’ added Velocipede.
‘It’s never been the noisiest of pubs anyway,’ I replied, still not giving up.
‘Hm,’ Velocipede responded.
‘No, not the Bakers, it can’t close. I can remember many a happy time Blameworthy and I spent in here. One of only a few pubs in Swindon we drank in with any great regularity. Yes, back in the 80s, when we were in our twenties. Use to put away a great deal of 3Bs then….how I ever got up for work in the morning I don’t know. Often three mid-week sessions…’
‘Closed,’ retorted Velocipede as we go the entrance, cutting me off in mid ‘memory lane’.
It did look dark, he had a point, darker than I remembered.
‘Two sets of doors,’ I said, ‘not so easy to see the light through.’
I could be quite stubborn sometimes, especially when I didn’t want to face an unpleasant truth. I tried the door. It wouldn’t budge.
‘Closed!’ I mumbled.
‘Penny’s dropped,’ mumbled Velocipede.
I pretended not to hear.
‘Odd thing, though,’ Velocipede added. ‘The opening times are pasted up on the inside of the window.’
‘Probably months out of date,’ I sighed, trying to get back to reality, no matter how unpleasant.
‘Says spring opening times. It’s spring now isn’t it,’ mused Velocipede.
He was right. I looked at the opening times. It should’ve been open. I looked at the couple of benches out the front. I wondered it Blameworthy and I ever used those in the hundreds – possibly a thousand times we went into the place? I couldn’t remember, but then we’re talking over twenty years ago; possibly more.
A few memories drifted over. I’d played for the darts team very briefly. I’d been recruited by a chap Blameworthy and I referred to only as The Cap; short for Captain. Not particularly original, but there you go.
Blameworthy and I often played darts in there, while consuming copious amounts of three Bs. There was a bench seat along the wall with the window to the outside world and the dartboard wall met it some twelve or more feet from the table we always tried to get. Nobody sat on the bench when we played darts, but then once you’ve narrowly missed losing an eye, you do tend to be a little more particular where you sit.
I must’ve been having one of my better nights when the Cap came along to join in. We didn’t usually like to get involved in groups or play anyone but each other, but we there were no plans to move on, so Cap was in.
We played a couple of games when Cap asked if I’d like to play for the Bakers Team. I must’ve been a tad drunk – six pints of 3Bs tends to do that – because I agreed.
At that point Cap noticed Blameworthy was finishing one of the pint’s on the table. Cap’s permanent frown seemed to get even deeper than normal.
‘That’s my pint,’ he said indignantly to Blameworthy.
Blameworthy frowned slightly as he finished the last mouthful, looked at the glass, wiped his bearded chops, then looked back at the table. He picked up another half full pint of beer and said: ‘This must be mine then,’ and proceeded to empty that glass of beer as well.
So unashamedly did he do it that Cap was left there staring at his empty glass. I was caught between amazement that he’d actually done what he did and amusement at the recreation of a sketch I’m sure we once saw on a Benny Hill show.
I think it was at that point I distracted Cap about the next darts game and where it would be played. Shortly after that I believe we left. I don’t remember Blameworthy and I ever playing a game of darts with Cap again, nor seeing Cap let his pint of beer leave his site when Blameworthy was around.
The Bakers Arms was also where Blameworthy and I were subject to a challenge we just couldn’t resist.
There was a period of time in the early 1980s when the Bakers Arms was Managed by a chap called Hummer and his wife. In my mind, probably the best landlord the place ever had. Hummer had a predilection for singing as he went around the bar, or collected glasses or closed the curtains. ‘Paper Roses’ was a favourite, as was ‘Jealous Guy’, the latter belted out in a style somewhat similar to Bryan Ferry.
But what we found out in Hummer’s era was there was a group of locals who when time was called always hung back. Over a period of time we got curious about this and found out he served people he could trust after hours. Not strictly legal and a precedent which haunted quite a few landlords who followed.
Eventually, Blameworthy and I became part of that group and would often take advantage of a few extra pints after hours. However, we noticed we always left before any of the other privileged people did.
‘Wonder how long they go on before they close,‘ mused Blameworthy, one night when we left after putting away about ten pints. It was after 1am.
I shrugged. ‘Can’t be all that long.’
‘Hmm, I wonder.’
And wonder we did for quite some time. Then, one Summer night, a Friday, June 1983, which was unusual as we rarely went out at weekends, Blameworthy and I walked up to the bar in the Bakers Arms at around 8pm.
There weren’t all that many in the pub at this time, but we worked away at the beer and played some darts. Last orders came.
‘I’m going to keep going up until they stop serving us,’ said Blameworthy.
I gave Blameworthy the thumbs up, not because I couldn’t think of anything to say but because my mouth after ten pints was a little slow espousing the words quickly enough.
It was after finishing the thirteenth pint that Blameworthy came back from the bar, grinning.
‘They’ve refused to serve me!’
It’s not often either of us are happy when refused service at a public house, but on this occasion we felt we’d outlasted the landlord’s keenest to serve with our keenest to consume.
‘We did it then?’
(Please note that all the words spoken by Blameworthy and I at the time would have been slurred and really hard to understand after the aforementioned thirteen pints. However, as anyone who drinks above average amounts will tell you, if you and the person you are drinking consume equal amounts of beer, their ears are able to translate slurred and disjointed speech with such efficiency that either would think the other perfectly sober and remarkably eloquent.)
We walked home pleased with our victory. Last ones out and refused service!
I smiled to myself as the memories poured back into the old noggin. Velocipede and I were still strolling to and fro by the corner pub when I noticed my second disappointment of the evening.
The Bakers Arms sign remained in place, but above the side window were the words: Irish Pub.
Irish Pub? Irish Pub?
I sighed out loud, not a happy bunny, thinking that had it been open it would have had an Irish theme to it. Perish forbid! If I wanted to experience an Irish theme I’d go to Ireland, I’m sure they’re better at it than us. Besides, the thought of all that didily dee music quite turned my stomach.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the Irish any more than any other nationality, but usually these sort of theme pubs tend to be insults to the type of pub they’re supposed to be emulating.
‘It’s closed, ha, ha!’
I don’t know about Velocipede but I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was the cackle of a laugh at the end of his pronouncement that did it, not his appearance. I’d seen the rather dumpy figure approaching through the shadows out of the corner of my eye.
‘It’s showing a Spring Openings time notice in the window.’
‘Closed! Been closed since a’fore Christmas…ha, ha!’ retorted the squat figure, with a head something like an egg with a crew cut.
The most curious thing about the head was that it appeared to have only one eye on the left hand side – his left hand side, that is. It wasn’t until he got a little closer that I notice he did have two eyes in the conventional positions either side of a straight nose. It was just that one eyes was squinting and the other wide open to, I guessed, compensate for narrower vision of the other.
‘Yep. Closed, ha, ha!’ he retorted again.
He reminded me of a Frankenstein assistant from the thirties films or indeed any mad scientist assistant who generally seemed to be saddled with the name Igor.
Our Igor paused about ten feet from us. It would have been closed had we not stepped back to maintain an exclusion zone of around ten feet.
This was getting to be rather much for me. The first blow was The Bakers Arms being closed, the second blow was at some point between my last visit and now it’d been given an Irish theme, and now we have a refuge from a thirties horror film.
‘Why did it close?’
‘Before Christmas, ha, ha!’
‘Do you know why?’ I repeated as he obviously didn’t understand the question first time around.
This time Igor shrugged.
‘Dunno, ha, ha!’
I wasn’t sure why the ‘ha, ha’ had to go on the end of every sentence or the accompanying cackle but on a dark night with little street lighting and near a closed pub, it was getting quite atmospheric. Unfortunately, not an an atmosphere I liked.
‘But it has a Spring Opening times notice…’ insisted Velocipede; who’d been the first to notice it was closed.
‘Closed last year, ha, ha!’
Velocipede and I looked at each other and shrugged. No Bakers Arms to sup in. Would it ever re-open? I was still trying to come to terms with the Duke of Wellington having closed down last year. It felt like someone had it in for my favourite drinking holes.
‘Whaaaahooo, ha, ha,’ Igor yelled out.
We jumped again, the cry going right through us, being so unexpected.
Igor was no longer interested in us but in three women about thirty yards away near to The Cricketers. One of the girls called out, slightly less demonstrably. The girls halted a while, looking to see who’d cried out.
Perhaps one of them was Mrs Igor and it was their ritual mating call?
They seemed to stare at Igor for a while, then as he got closer they went inside The Cricketers. I’m not sure whether that was where they were going to meet or so that they could avoid young Igor?
Velocipede and I, thwarted in our efforts to drink in The Bakers Arms, decided to go back to the rather crowded Glue Pot. Not a bad thing, the Entire Stout was on rather good form that night from my point of view and Velocipede had been enjoying his beer.
As we walked passed The Cricketers, Velocipede broke the silence that had formed.
‘Was he pissed or mentally challenged?’ he asked.
‘I would’ve said pissed if it wasn’t for the look in his eye and he could walk in a straight line!’ I replied.
We walked a dozen or so more paces.
‘Mentally challenged?’ I queried.
‘Well, a bloody nutter!’