4: The First Pub

The Kings Today

Movenon celebrated his 50th birthday last Saturday. Some time ago he told me and the rest of the Wednesday Group he intended to have a party.

He’s the last of us old school chums to get to 50. At least of the little group that still keeps in contact. I was the first to hit that number in 2007. It doesn’t seem all that long ago but 53 is hovering gloatingly over the horizon.

Movenon decided he would hold the celebration in the Kings and asked us to clear our calendars and attend, although his actual birthday isn’t until later in the month. But it was a convenient time for him to get his family and friends together.

Knowing that he’s got quite a large family and quite a group of friends, I knew it would be quite a big party. I’m not over keen on big parties these days, not so sure I ever was. When he handed out the invitations a couple of months back, I tried not to commit, being that I’m rarely free on Saturdays.

Getting nearer to the date I still my doubts but the way my Saturday panned out, I decided to go. Admittedly, it wasn’t a decision finalised until a few hours before the event.

When I got there around 9pm, I remembered what Mr Pointyview told me about the Kings these days. He’d been there over the Easter Weekend and while other places were heaving with people celebrating the extra days off, there was hardly anyone in the Kings.

It was like that this Saturday. Although going into heaving pubs wasn’t something I enjoyed, seeing a pub as large as the Kings with only about four or five customers made me feel rather self-conscious.

I headed out the back way, near to the toilets, because I thought Movenon’s party would be there, but most of the spare rooms were darkened. It was another of those times I wished I’d paid more attention when being given instructions.

Neatentidy said he would be there around 9pm, so I texted him to see where I needed to go.

As I strolled back towards the bar a few memories stirred. I don’t know why that night of all nights. I’d been there often enough in the past…

The Kings, or Kings Arms as it’d been then, back in 1974, was the first pub Neatentidy and I visited on a regular basis; and that was due to a touch of serendipity. In that year, mid-teens but out of the pubescent acne stage, I had a weekend job in a shop now long gone. G.J. Handy’s.

It was a hardware shop and initially I worked there Saturdays. The following summer I worked during there during the school holidays.

Not long after I got the job Neatentidy got himself a Saturday job as well; in his case a grocer’s around the corner. It was convenient, we sometimes met up lunchtime.

However, some months later Neatentidy left school and I decided to stay on to take a couple of A Levels. Although I expected at the time we would lose touch, Daddy Fitrambler found that to be the case when he left school.

Fortunately, it never happened that way as Neatentidy and I – after a gap of a few weeks – began meeting up on Tuesdays. Being about 16 we tended to just stroll around talking.

Then one weekend, I agreed to help with stock-taking at Handy’s – extra money always welcome – and as it was an all day job, the boss would provide the lunch.

On the day I found out that lunch was to be at the Kings Arms. I wasn’t really keen on drinking in those days, but come lunchtime, a colleague, some twenty years older than me, ordered a half of lager and lime. I did the same.

In those days I didn’t use pubs except when with the parents, so my knowledge of beer wasn’t all that good. What little knowledge I did have, came (frighteningly) through tv adverts. So I took the lead from my co-worker – my senior by around twenty or more years – and followed his lead. What he ordered was good enough for me; or at least it would have to be as I was unlikely to go through all the keg taps until I found something more agreeable. (That sort of thing was to come later in life; 1977 springs to mind but that’s another story.)

I drank about a pint that lunchtime and felt very light-headed for many hours afterwards, but managed to do an afternoon’s work; a possible trial run for later dinnertime sessions of the late 70s at my current employer.

It was that lunchtime dinner and drink that gave me a good idea; I’m occasionally prone to them. So on our usual Tuesday meeting, I put it to Neatentidy that we could go there for a drink. He was quite keen on the idea. I suppose to be fair and honest, I believe something like that was what he wanted to do all along, he’d probably suggested it but I hadn’t been keen.

Yes we were only 16, so underage, but dressed a little more like adults in jackets and ties, we got into the Kings Arms and were ordered two halves of lager and lime. We drank a further two halves each and left at around 9pm to get home by 9.30pm at the latest.

We felt quite light-headed, merry and things became a lot funnier than normal.

The King’s Arms wasn’t the same then, internally. As you walked through the doors you could go straight ahead to the toilets, dining room, to the left a reception, to the right was a long room, a bar away from the rest of the place.

On most Tuesdays over the next few months we were mainly served by a rather rotund barman, balding, the little hair he did have was grey. His face was a smiling face, a cheerful chap, but with some of his teeth missing at the sides of his mouth, only obvious when he grinned.

He was a nice bloke, but we found him a little amusing; or to be more precise, his name was amusing.


I suppose Cyril isn’t the most amusing name in the world and thinking purely about the name, it still isn’t but it was the context, I suppose, the history of the time.

You see, around this time there were these adverts on the box about Wonderloaf, a sliced bread nationally available. The commercials were set, unsurprisingly, in a bakery. The baker – dressed in white with the cap shovelling loaves in and out of ovens, presenting them to the cameras – was called Cyril. His grinning face and the loaf were in turn presented a few times to the audience accompanied by a jingle; something to plant itself in the minds of the viewers as in so many adverts then and now.

It went: “Nice one, Cyril, Nice one son, Nice one Cyril, Let’s have another one…”

I daresay you’d be hard pushed to really latch onto a belly laugh from that. But Neatentidy and I did. We racked our brains to see how many times we could use Cyril or better still ‘Nice one, Cyril,’ in our conversations or brief bar encounters with him, when buying a round.

After handed over our halves…”Nice one, Cyril…” or going up to the bar with empty glasses. “Yes? Another round?” he’d asked pleasantly .”yeah, let’s have another one…”

You get the drift…

Yeah, ok, you had to be there!

I rather liked that old layout with the separate bar, rather than its open plan look. I reflected on that as I got back into the bar.

Wonderloaf Magazine Advert

I suspected the ‘do’ for Movenon would be upstairs and I could hear the loudness of music as I approached the bar. Neatentidy probably wouldn’t have been able to hear the text alert, so I asked about the party at the bar.

A couple of minutes later I was upstairs and in a small room with a bar, which led to a larger room. The music was really blaring out now and I was beginning to wish I hadn’t decided to come. After all, I had a blog to write and I could have used the time to do it. But that was unfair.

Neatentidy was at the bar, with Mrs Neatentidy. We greeted each other and that meant I was trapped, I couldn’t sidle off. With normal lights of the room, being invaded every so often by multicoloured lights from the disco room, the 70s music and the dance floor populated with the over the top 70s costumed guests along with some bewildered old ‘uns (and apprentice old ‘uns like me).

Neatentidy suggested a move to the Disco room. I went along with it but I groaned, inwardly. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to help Movenon celebrate the half-century, but the flashing lights and the noise…

2: Last Man Standing

“There’s nobody about these days,” said Uncle Fitrambler as he settled himself on my settee.

It was a Sunday morning, the weather pretty good considering what has been dished out since Christmas. I was thinking of a good walk or cycle ride after lunch while the weather was behaving.

Uncle Fitrambler usually arrives on Sunday mornings, it’s often part of his routine for the day, once he’s helped his wife with the shopping. I think it’s because it’s the one time in the week he’s a good chance of catching me in.

“No, there’s nobody about these days…” Uncle Fitrambler repeated.

I agree. He’s actually right, because as far as he’s concerned, there isn’t anyone about.

Perhaps I’d better explain. Uncle Fitrambler is 84. He lives in a nearby street to me, no more than a five minute walk; or probably ten for him these days. He’s my father’s – that’s Daddy Fitrambler – brother.

It will come as no surprise that I’ve known Uncle Fitrambler since I was born. He, my Gran and Gramp, Mum and Dad, lived together in a house in Park South for about five years. Uncle Fitrambler and I got on quite well, more so than most of my uncles. He’s always liked to keep in touch. Like me, he’s always quite enjoyed a good walk.

When he talks of nobody being about, which he’s done for many years now, I feel more in tune with him and have begun to form an empathy with that phrase; one he’s so often used in the last ten years or more.

You see, Uncle Fitrambler has outlived all his friends and most of his brothers and sisters. It’s a side-effect of survival. It’s something most of us don’t think about most of the time, but obviously the longer you live the more it happens. (Ten green bottles, anyone?)

The reason I feel more in tune with this phrase nowadays is because several friends of mine have died in recent years, most of which have been younger than me. I’m only in my fifties, two didn’t quite get that far, a third at least was approaching 80; which was something of a fuller life.
Life goes on, we are told, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept the deaths of those you are close to.

It makes you think of the ones who are left and you can’t help but wonder how many of them you’ll see off before you yourself are burned or buried?

One such friend was only 47 when he died, another no more than 51. Then there have been nearly half a dozen work colleagues who haven’t been much older than me before entering what could be termed ‘The Undiscovered Country!’

Before I can be accused of entering Gloom-Laden’s territory, I can report that after my latest check up – and not including ‘the cough’, which seemed to turn me into a pub carpet inspector – I seem to be fairly healthy. The cough and weather has slowed me down, but now a change in weather and the cough easing off I’m getting a lot more exercise again. Getting the Fit back into Fitrambler, so to speak, before age gets too firm a hold. Plenty of long walks left in me yet, I hope.

Velocipede remarked once – while I was enjoying a pint of beloved Entire Stout in the Glue Pot – that he didn’t mind the numerical advancement each additional year brought, but disliked the fact it seemed to bring with it failing parts. Being an extremely keen cyclist and collector of bikes, ‘parts failing’ seemed to be a reasonable analogy.

Still, unlike poor Uncle Fitrambler, I get about very easily, with, I might say a bounce in the old stride. These days he shuffles a lot more, looks more drawn in the face, still got a fairly good head of hair, greying but still with a lot of its original colour. But he doesn’t give up. He’s got a bus pass, but walks most places, usually alone, as Auntie Fitrambler is not as keen on Shanks’s Pony as he is.

Uncle Fitrambler isn’t much of a conversationalist really. He never has been, and the ground covered in our meetings is more or less the same.

You see, he likes to check to see if I’m alright, even though, really, it should be the other way around.

Within ten minutes Uncle Fitrambler and I have finished our somewhat ritualistic chat and he’s ready to shuffle off again. I’ve offered him a cup of tea, but he always refuses. Well, once he accepted but never since. Perhaps that’s a subtle critique of my tea.

“There’s nobody about, not like there use to be. All gone…” he tells me one final time as he walks to the front door.

I sympathise again and think, I’m around; and I’m thirty-two years younger than you, so hopefully, there’ll still be somebody about for a long time when you venture out…