15: No More Marching Up The Hill?

A chunk of the past, I thought, as I stopped at the bottom of the hill and saw the boards up. Even though the evidence was right in front on me I couldn’t believe it!

In the early eighties the Duke was a regular haunt for Blameworthy and I, but unlike a lot of people, we rarely went out drinking in the town at weekends. The pubs were too busy then. We spent an average of two to three nights a week in the Duke, breaking it up for visits to one or two others we particularly liked at the time.

We guzzled a lot of 2Bs then.

We indulged in many a long conversation or argument, both of which were never taken seriously. To be honest, we never remembered what they were about. So our theory was we didn’t vary the conversation night to night, probably just the same things over and over again.

Needless to say, we couldn’t prove the theory as we’d forget the results of any test conducted.

What we would have said to anyone who told us then that the price of a pint would go to about three quid, give or take, I’m not sure; although the news would be greeted by the need to order another pint! However, early on the eighties it got to fifty pence a pint (after a recent smash and grab by the government of the day; the same representatives who in opposition condemned a similar raid on the poor, defenceless drinker by the previous government); quite high enough!

Although any increase in the nectar of life is enough to reduce most hardened drinkers to sob – preferably not into their beer because that tends to dilute it – we tried to be positive about it.

‘That’s a two pence increase,’ Blameworthy sighed.

‘I know, I know,’ I sighed back, agreeing with him. Usually within the first few beers we were always amiable with each other.

‘Still on the bright side, it’s easy arithmetic, isn’t it. Two pints for a quid. Less fiddling with change, particularly when we’re less capable of dealing with it.’

I nodded. We raised our glasses and tasted the beer, satisfied it was as good as the last time. After all, that was what the evening was about. Ensuring the standards of beer. We were CAMRA members; it was our duty, no matter how unpleasant…

On those nights we drank an average of nine pints. I think back and wonder how, with that amount of ale in me, did I get any decent sleep and get up for work in the morning? It probably didn’t help matters that I often persuaded the hapless Blameworthy to divert to the Indian takeaway for a curry before going home.

I was and still am, very fond of curry, and foisting this fondness onto Blameworthy was unfair of me. Still, all credit to the chap, he usually had one with me. I like to think it was a result of his natural camaraderie, but I’m sure the influence of the aforementioned nine pints may also have been a contributing factor.

He did, in fairness, push me towards late night pizza’s, especially at the bottom of the town. Not that Old Fitrambler needed much pushing when came to the matter of shovelling food into the gob.

The good thing about pizza’s is they don’t cause such volatile and fruit-some flappy woof-woofs to emerge from the rear end; unlike spicy curry. It was probably why no one else in my family ever went into the Fitrambler bedroom after a drinking Session; well, at least they didn’t unless armed with the appropriate mask and aerosol…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head…

Now, standing outside the Duke, with these thoughts travelling through the old noggin, I knew it was extremely unlikely Blameworthy and I would clock up any more memories in there.

I cannot remember the first landlord who served us when we first ventured in there. I do recall, during this era, one particular landlord. He was rather a large chap, big barrel chest, black beard, with long hair brushed away from the forehead but hung down to the shoulders. He always seemed to wear the same navy blue turtle-necked sweater, with sleeves. He affected a grumpy manner which seemed to suggest he’d little time for anyone.

I think his name was Francis…

However, he was alright to Blameworthy and I. To be fair, he was hardly likely to fall out with two of his prize guzzlers…

His girlfriend, if memory serves, was petite, a startling contrast to him. I cannot recall her name.

Yes, Francis. He did try and get me involved in his sideline of selling cleaning materials over a couple of free pints to little success. Pyramid selling I believe it’s called nowadays.

Occasionally, we get a game or two of darts in, but it wasn’t the best of places for the game.

The board was close to the bar and the whole pub is little more than a couple of rooms of a corner house. This made visits backwards and forwards to the bar for beer rather perilous.

As a player, you need to be alert to the movements of other inebriated drinkers with only their next pint on their minds. So a patron straying by unexpectedly could lead to an accident.

And wouldn’t most of us take at least a little offense to a dart in the lug hole, no matter how unintentional…

I believe it the dartboard had several homes over the years, due to the odd shattered glass or associated injury. Or perhaps that was a coincidence?

Looking back to the mid-eighties, our visits became less and less frequent to the Duke, or indeed anywhere. Blameworthy went through a period where he didn’t want to drink in the town. Neatentidy and I tended to meet in other pubs in Old Town, so the Duke, for want of a better expression, fell out of favour.

Most of nineties I seemed to spend in the Glue Pot – currently still a haunt of mine – but it was mainly once a month as the decade went on. I rather pursued an unsustainable course with my finances – I got into debt – and was forced to restrict my drinking… and indeed most other activities which required the folding stuff…

This monthly visit became quite a tradition and on day trip to London I met Gloom-Laden, who eventually joined us on the monthly pilgrimage. In fact he took Blameworthy’s place when Blameworthy took a long sabbatical.

In the early years of this century, I re-established contact with Neatentidy after an absence of about six years.

Our first meeting place was the Glue Pot. Movenon and Pontyview couldn’t make it.

It was a good evening, and one which felt as if the gap years hadn’t existed.

I joined the Wednesday trio to make it a quartet and the Duke was visited every so often. Sometimes, at the kind condescension of Movenon we stayed for most of the evening. However, as befits the man, he always manages to get us to at least a second pub.

It wasn’t a favoured place, and I later learned Neatentidy wasn’t all that keen on the beer…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head…

The text telling me the bad news came through from Wellread. Now, I’m not for one minute suggesting Wellread is in the habit of telling fibs but I just didn’t want to believe what he was telling me. Even when I read a passing mention in the Swindon Advertiser, an article which referred to the re-opening of The Globe, I still didn’t want to believe it. So I decided to see for myself.

In the nineties, Gloom-Laden joined the fray, but he was, from certain remarks, not a great lover of the place or the beer.

‘Like soapy water,’ I believe was one comment directed at the beer.

We conducted most of our monthly drinking sessions in the Glue Pot.

What provoked the latest revival was the knock on effect of Blameworthy arranging a drink with the gang in the Glue Pot. Gloom-Laden was invited but didn’t turn up. However, a second meeting was arranged, this time at the Duke, straight after work.

Blameworthy had told me that old friends of his, Mr and Mrs N. Thusiastic had taken over the place – quite peacefully and legally, I might add – and were trying to run it as a going concern. Not easy when one considers the small size of the place and that it can offer little beyond the prospect of a good pint; the average drinker these days wants more.

N. Thusiastic, though, still kept his job, leaving most of the running to Mrs N. Thusiastic, until they were sure they could make it work.

I turned up at 5.30pm Friday, straight after work. Blameworthy was already there talking to the effervescent  Mrs N. Thusiastic. However, N. Thusiastic was still at work and didn’t join us until later in the evening.

I was told the Kingsdown was on. A strong-ish ale and one I decided to pass on. About four or more of those and my plans to get up early the next day would go of the window; in fact drinking Kingsdown all night would probably stop me getting up early Sunday morning!

After the disappointment of the last get-together I was hoping that Gloom-Laden would have turned up. I was especially keen on seeing the chap after a gap of some years. But he decided to decline, fearing too heavy a drinking session.

Just over half way through the evening, N. Thusiastic joined us. I commended him, as I had his good lady, on the improved quality of the beer.

‘I’d gone off 3Bs lately,’ I told him, ‘but this is the best 3Bs I’ve had in ages.’

Obviously that pleased him. But it was true, what I drank that nigh had restored my faith in the brew. He offered me a free pint but (uncharacteristically) I refused. I’d reached my limit for the evening.

While I was finishing my last pint I remember hearing N. Thusiastic tell Blameworthy it was him who’d given N. Thusiastic a greater interest in pubs and beers, which expanded beyond the Good Beer Guide. My own interest in Real Ale began under Blameworthy’s guidance….a story for another time…

Blameworthy was quite reluctant to take the credit on both counts; a tribute to the man’s immeasurable modesty.

Some weeks later, the gang got together for the Chippenham Beer Festival, including Gloom-Laden. The following day Blameworthy and I had a Sunday lunchtime beer in the Duke. A review of the previous day’s activities…

Blameworthy arranged another session on the following Friday. Again, this was directly after work. I’d been afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it. Work had caused quite a few late evenings. But make it I did.

Unfortunately, Blameworthy couldn’t make it. So I spoke to Gloom-Laden most of the evening.

He said he didn’t like the idea of a hung parliament, nor a resulting coalition government. Unfortunately for the old curmudgeon, there was a hung parliament and we did get a coalition government.

Over the next six months I dropped in on a Wednesday with Neatentidy before we went on elsewhere, depending on whose choice of venue it was. Although there was one occasion when the standard of the beer slipped, for the most part I enjoyed the beers there.

But in recent months, possibly as many as five or six we haven’t been in the place.

Sometimes you think things will be around forever but all things are transient and before you know it another part of your life has gone.

No more marching up the hill.

On the bright side, I do have a lot of good memories of that old public house…

Boarded up windows. I shook my head sadly as I walked away…

10: A Christmas Gloom-Laden

Stave I

Humbug, I say!

It was Christmas Eve, early morning and Gloom-Laden was trudging through the snow on his way to work. His tousled hair collecting snowflakes.

Although wrapped for the inclement weather, he shivered every so often. For the fourth time now, as he walked, he nearly slipped over, looking to the casual observer as though he was doing some sort of drunken breakdance.

“Bloody snow,” he exclaimed.

Around him were all the usual glitter of Christmas decorations in shop windows, the lights above him although not lit, showed preparation for the season. People hurrying as best they could through the chilly and icy conditions, some with easy some like Gloom-Laden with odd stop for a touch of break-dancing…
Gloom-Laden hated Christmas, he hated snow and he wasn’t all that keen on break-dancing either. To be perfectly honest, Gloom-Laden wasn’t all that keen on many things. Most things made the poor chap depressed, and those that didn’t tended to upset him…

But Christmas it was and Gloom-Laden was trying to get through it as best he could…

Children around the shopping precinct on one of their many inexplicably long holidays from school, played with others in snowball fights.

Gloom-Laden slipped past (almost literally) them, and onwards to work.

It was a bad day. A very bad day. Not least after the phone call he received last night.

“Mr Gloom-Laden?” asked a female voice he recognised.

“Mrs Blameworthy, long time since I’ve had the pleasure,” said Gloom-Laden.

Yes, I’m sure, but enough of that sort of talk over the phone…I’ve some very bad news to tell you…”

“I already know it’s Christmas!” exclaimed Gloom-Laden with a sigh.

“It’s going to be a very unhappy Christmas…”

“It usually is,” sighed Gloom-Laden.

“No really bad. Blameworthy has died.”

Gloom-Laden’s mouth turned down even more at the corners. That certainly was a shock.

“He met his unfortunate end while undertaking research for a forthcoming book on unspoiled pubs of England…a dedicated man was my Blameworthy…Anyway he was making his way to the ‘Cock in Hand’, a fully intact Victorian Gin Palace in South West London, when he crossed the busy six lane carriageway with a copy of the Good Beer Guide in one hand and England’s 1000 best Churches in the other when he became distracted and was struck violently between the shoulder blades by a runaway horse-drawn dray belonging to Thronk’s Brewery of Cheam. His foul-mouthed outburst spooked the two massive shire horses even further, causing shed their load of forty-four firkins of Fuggle’s Finest Flagship strong ale, this swept him off his feet and he sailed on a tidal wave of ale, into the gutter directly outside the pub. As he staggered into the road, dripping with four hundred gallons of ale, he was hit full in the chest by a huge, wooden hogshead of Entire Butt Imperial Russian Stout. Blameworthy – arms outstretched – never had a chance. He was crushed hopelessly onto the road surface like an ant.”

Gloom-Laden said nothing for a full minute. It wasn’t so much the news of the death of a friend that caused the silence but the calm (and rather long, it must be said) way in which Mrs Blameworthy reported it.

“Well,” said Gloom-Laden.

There were mixed feelings perambulating in his rather intelligent noggin.

“Lucky bugger…” he mumbled.

“What?” snapped Mrs Blameworthy.

“Uh, nothing, nothing, it just made me shudder,” recovered Gloom-Laden.

“Well, I’d just thought I’d let you know,” said Mrs Blameworthy and promptly hung up.

And so Gloom-Laden was on his way to work, his heart heavier with misery than ever…

Within ten yards of his place of work, a voice called out to him.


Gloom-Laden turned, a little too quick so break-danced a second or two, then saw his friend Tolerant.

“Oh it’s you.”

“Isn’t this lovely?” exclaimed Tolerant, happily.

Gloom-Laden was hard pushed to know what around him at that precise moment was ‘lovely’. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen something he’d describe as lovely.

“What?” Gloom-Laden retorted.

“The snow!” insisted Tolerant.


Tolerant smiled, he knew Gloom-Laden of old. “The snow and it’s Christmas…”


“Humbug?” queried Tolerant, “how can you say such a thing at this time of year?”

“Humbug I say and humbug I mean!” insisted Gloom-Laden.

“But it’s Christmas!”



But the explanation waited as a member of the Salvation Army stopped to speak of them.

“Collecting for the poor and homeless,” said the woman.

Tolerant took out his wallet and gave generously. The woman smiled at Gloom-Laden. It had little, if any, effect.

“Waste my money on the poor and homeless, you are joking. It’s people like you that keep them the way they are. Make them work for a living, earn the money and then they might not be poor and homeless…”

Tolerant felt a little sorry for him. “Be fare, Gloom-Laden, the woman’s only trying to help…”

“And that’s the trouble. If you help the bloody poor then they don’t help themselves. Humbug to them as well!”

With that, Gloom-Laden retreated into work.

Tolerant followed shortly afterwards and Tolerant re-opened the conversation.

“I don’t know how you can be so miserable at a time like this…”

Gloom-Laden mentioned about his telephone call from Mrs Blameworthy. Tolerant was visibly shocked. He was at a loss for words…

The death of his friend served to abate any further attempts by Tolerant to try to persuade him about the joys of Christmas!

Stave II

Gloom-Laden arrived home a little after 8pm and shut the door behind him with a resounding thump. He sighed as he hung up his coat. He made himself tea, surfed the internet to check upon his savings accounts, where he’d squirrelled away money, then decided to relax for the evening. He treated himself to the rather good Stilton cheese he’d tucked away, with a rather excellent port to wash it down.

Half-way through his enjoyment he heard another noise coming from the kitchen…

Gloom-Laden froze for a second or two, still holding the bottle of Port, ready to pour another measure.

What was that noise? It sounded familiar…

Behind him, the living room door flew open and then the sounds grew louder. He felt too much fear to turn around. Was this a burglar? Was this a thief that had come to rob him?

Thump, thump, thud and then the rattling of what sounded like glasses. Gloom-Laden placed the port bottle back on the small table beside him. He managed to move his head a little as the noise drew level with him and what he saw nearly caused him to faint. A ghostly figure walked a little past him, pushing a large beer-barrel – the cause of the thump as every so often he dropped it upon the floor. From his position he caught sight of the white figure first at waist level, which solved the mystery of the rattling glasses; for around the figure’s waist were fixed several pint pots which clashed with each other every time the figure moved.

What sort of devil was this, he wondered.

And it was then Gloom-Laden moved his eyes to gaze upon the pale, ghostly face and was shocked further to see the features of Blameworthy, his old drinking partner!

“What? What? WHAT?” was all Gloom-Laden could say…Then. “I must be drunk and seeing things.”

“No, no you’re not…” the ghostly Blameworthy paused. “…well, yes, you’re pissed, but you’re not seeing things. It is me, Blameworthy, come to give you a warning,” said the ghostly figure of Blameworthy, with a wail.

“But, Blameworthy, old chap, you’re dead. Mrs Blameworthy told me so…”

“And so I am,” he continued to wail.

“How did you get into my house!” demanded Gloom-Laden.

The ghostly Blameworthy frowned. “Like all ghosts…walked through the bloody walls. Never mind about that,” he said irritably, then returned to the wailing. “I’m here to deliver a warning…”

“I’m not sure I like the idea of you coming and going just as you please in my house! I mean, what if you suddenly walked through the bathroom wall while I was in the bath. Or my bedroom while I was…”

Blameworthy held up his hand suddenly, a look of disgust crossing his ghostly features. “Stop it, stop it! It’s bloody bad enough being dead and doomed to be like this for all eternity, let alone having those sort of images flying around my head…Let’s get back to the warning, alright!”

“If we must…”

The ghostly Blameworthy sighed. “I haven’t got long, can I get on…”

“Why are you carrying a beer-barrel and those pint pots around your waist?” asked Gloom-Laden.

“I’ll come to that, it’s part of the warning!!” cried an exasperated Blameworthy.

“Well get on with it. I want to go to bed!”

Clearing his throat Blameworthy re-attuned his voice to wailing pitch.

“It was my love of beer, my mean pursuit of pubs to the exclusion of all else. Being mean to others by making them travel great distances to pubs, at the same time pretending they were close by. Putting them through walking assault courses to get to the little gems I’d sorted out. It was the pursuit of beer and pubs that led to my death. And so I’m cursed to carry a beer barrel and the pint pots around my waist for all eternity…each day they get heavier….”

“Pint pots and a barrel of beer…” muttered Gloom-Laden.

Blameworthy flicked something into the air and caught it in his mouth. “And an endless supply of pork scratching’s…not all bad, eh?”

“I don’t see what that has to do with me?” sighed Gloom-Laden.

“Because your obsessiveness with depression and despair along with your meanness will be your undoing. You too will be cursed to end your days like me, walking eternity, burdened with your life time sins…”

“You’re not actually making a lot of sense…”

“You will understand,” Blameworthy wailed.

Gloom-Laden’s frown deepened as he sighed. “Could we leave out the wailing bit. It’s getting to be annoying.

“Part and parcel, Gloom-Laden…” Blameworthy paused, thought for a few seconds. “Where was I? Ah, yes, you will understand…tonight you are to be visited by two spirits…”


It was Blameworthy’s turn to be irritated. “What?”

“Well, something tells me I should be visited by three spirits…”

Blameworthy threw another port scratching into his mouth, scrunched then once he’d swallowed, replied: “Normally, yes, but they’re had this spirit election and the new blokes in charge have announced thirty-three per cent cuts across the board…”

“You’re joking!”

“No, this new lot’s meaner. They’re even making me pay higher duty on the beer I haven’t got…say it’s for the good of my health; work that one out!”

“Now I know you can’t be serious…”

But before he could say anymore, Blameworthy wailed above Gloom-Laden’s voice: “My time is up. When the clock strikes mid-night you will be visited the first spirit….”

Blameworthy walked towards the door, Gloom-Laden reached for the port, then looked back to see Blameworthy was gone!!

Gloom-Laden swigged some more of his port. Perhaps he was drunk, perhaps he was hallucinating.

Finally, with a jerk, Gloom-Laden sat bolt upright. Had he just dropped off? Or had he been asleep for some time and now just woken up? He looked at clock. It was just after 1pm. Blameworthy or whatever that was who came before him was obviously wrong as neither spirit had visited him…

No, the Blameworthy visit was just a dream. His lips moved a millimetre upwards from their droop, the nearest he came to a smile. He got up from his chair and decided it was time for bed. As he crossed the floor he saw something on the floor. A beer mat, with Dolman’s XXX Old Toe Curler; a strong ale that Blameworthy was fond of.

He swallowed hard. Surely not, but the evidence was there. He never had that beer here. Blameworthy had to have been here.

Stave III

It was 1am when Gloom-Laden went to bed but for some reason, a while later, he was sure he woke to the town hall clock striking 12 midnight! Surely that wasn’t possible!

Had he slept for nearly twenty-four hours and wasted part of his holiday?

He looked at the clock beside his bed and saw that it was indeed mid-night…

He got out of bed and went to the window. There were few people about, few lights on but then visibility wasn’t great with the fog outside…

From behind him he felt a chill in his otherwise warm room. He turned and there was the spirit Blameworthy warned him of.

“Oh God,” muttered Gloom-Laden.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present…” said the ghost, with an obligatory wail.

Gloom-Laden wasn’t accustomed to Woo-Wooing in his bedroom at midnight in his bedroom; or indeed, truth to be told at any time.

He set eyes upon a shadowy figure. It was dressed in black, a robe with a large hood, which swept down to where the feet would be.

The spirit repeated his introduction. “I said I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past & Present…”

Gloom-Laden sighed. “Surely that should just be Christmas Past?”

The ghost sighed. “The cuts… had to take on another job, but don’t get me started on that…anyway, I’m the ghost of Christmas Past and Present…”

“So you said. And?”


“I said, and?”

“And what?” said the Ghost.

“Precisely. You’ve just claimed to be the Ghost of Christmas Past & Present…”

From beneath the cowl the skull became a little visible.

“Claim? Claim? I don’t claim anything….” It began only to be interrupted by Gloom-Laden.

“Yes you do, you said you’re the Ghost of Christmas Past & Present.”

“Yes, CPP to my friends. Anyway, I don’t bloody claim it, I am.”

“Got any identification?”

“What d’you mean have I got any identification. Look at me!”

The figure spread his arms and made a particular point of highlighting the skull face, while resting most of his weight on one leg..

“How do I know you’re not some idiot playing a joke?” responded Gloom-Laden.

The spirit paused as he digested the remark. In all the hundreds of years since he started the job no-one had said that to him before.

“Playing a joke? Playing a joke? I don’t do jokes!”

Gloom-Laden sighed with uncharacteristic sympathy. “No, I know what you mean. They’re supposed to make you feel good, provoke a laugh. Lots of it about this time of year, everybody grinning, acting really cheerful. Can’t stand jokes myself or Christmas…”

“Precisely!” exclaimed the Ghost.

“Glad you agree.”

“What? No, I don’t agree.”

“Changed your mind, have you?”

“No, I didn’t agree in the first place.”

“You did, you said ‘precisely’ in response to my decrying the futility of Christmas…”

“No, no, that wasn’t what I meant. I mean you act miserable…”

“No act, I can assure you, I really am depressed, miserable and don’t consider life worth living!”

The Ghost sighed. “You’re mean with money…”

“Well I’m certainly not going to waste it on other people to make them happy when it does not do the same for me! Not going to give you any just dressing up silly…even if you are playing a joke. Student, are you?”

The ghost frowned. “I’m not playing a joke. I mean do I look like someone playing a joke?”

Gloom-Laden shrugged. “To me you do. Not a very funny joke, mind you…Then again I’ve never understood student humour…”

“I’m not playing a bloody joke!! And for your information I’m not a student either.”

“Educationally lacking are you? Never mind, university education’s overrated anyway…Look at the idiots it produces, only got to take a good look at the politicians we have got to see evidence of that… Not that primary education is anything particularly spectacular either…Or higher education…or any state education…”

“Shut up!!”


“Because we’re getting away from the point. You were told I was coming, weren’t you.”

“Yes, but then, people keep going on about Christmas is coming as though nobody has ever thought it is, despite the fact that it happens this time every bloody year! God, it’s so tedious! Then we get all this ‘isn’t everyone wonderful and how I’ve always like you…’ ‘Oh and have a piece of paper with snow, glitter, rose-cheeked children on it, or snowmen’ just to prove how nice I am, along with big smiles and wishing you a happy Christmas in a supposedly sincere, caring way, when for most of the year I couldn’t give a toss whether you’re dead or alive’….”

CPP (to his friends) was frozen to the spot, his sockets wide, not quite able to take it all in. Where was the fear, where was the regret. He’d got out of his grave this evening with a funny feeling; something had told him it wasn’t going to be his day. He’d felt it in his bones of which, of course, there were numerous…although he’d left those back at the grave…

“…then there’s all this aren’t you my best friend…” continued Gloom-Laden, “…let’s all go out for a meal together, put on silly hats, have our halves of Shandy or single glasses of sherry and act silly and out of character just because it’s Christmas! Not that anyone really thinks about the alleged true meaning of Christmas; where lots of people believe some really, really nice chap was born; a bloke whose only wish in life was to see peace on earth and everyone being nice to each other….Look where that got the poor sod? Nailed to a bloody cross, that’s what being nice, cheerful and decent gets you…”

“You think that’s all down to Christmas?” asked CPP.

“That and life in general. It’s all depression and misery.”

“What about man basic goodness,” asked CPP.

“Huh,” Gloom-Laden exclaimed, pulling the sheets up around his throat. “You don’t get out much…Doesn’t exist, all false…”

CPP sighed as he realised they were getting off the subject. It wasn’t going to be easy this year, the bad feeling was really haunting him, so to speak.

“Anyway,” he said, trying to get things back on track, “come with me…”

“Out in the bloody cold, you must be joking! I’m warm enough where I am!”

CPP insisted: “You have to come with me…”

“Who says?”

“What,” replied CPP, unsure.

“Who says I have to go with you; on what authority?”

CPP hesitated. This wasn’t at all like all the training courses he attended…

“But I must show you Christmases past.”

“Show me here, if you must, not that I’m interested mind you. After all, what’s the point of bringing up the past? We’re living in the present…”

“To show you how happy you were, how Christmas brought joy, the good will to all men…’n that…” trailed off CPP, as he saw Gloom-Laden’s morose expression become even more morose. “It will show you the path to happiness, kindness and generosity, good will to all men…”

“How?” said an unconvinced Gloom-Laden.

“Well, by showing you the way you were once happy, to show how you’ve lost your way…”

“Maybe it’s a paradox, have you thought of that?”

“What?” asked CPP, slowly getting quite irritable.

“Maybe I like being miserable, maybe I’m happy when I’m miserable…”

“You can’t be happy being miserable…that’s a contradiction..”

“Or a paradox.”

“No, it’s bloody contradiction!!”

“Same thing!”

“No it isn’t…”

“Look it up in a dictionary. Paradox, contradiction, absurdity, irony…” went on Gloom-Laden.

“Ok, ok, let’s just say the words mean the same…”

“They do…”

“Alright, they do…” said CPP, trying is best to hold back anger and irritation, “it’s my job to…”



“Jobs. Remember the cuts. Only two of you now.”

“I know, me and Christmas Future…”

“Christmas Future and I,” corrected Gloom-Laden.

CPP said through gritted teeth: “Both of us to make you mend your ways.”

“Bit unfair, though.”

“What is?” asked a puzzled CPP.

“The cuts. How is it that you ended up with two jobs and old Christmas Future kept his old job with no extra responsibility…?”

CPP thought for a few moments. “Well. Past and present are closer than the Future. Felt it was a better division of labour that way…”

“Not fair as far as I can see. You get two jobs and old future gets one….”

“Well, we all have to do our bit…”

“Only your bit is a lot larger bit than Christmas Future…”

CPP frowned, thought about it. “Well, you could put it that way. But the hours are the same…”

Gloom-Laden raised his eyebrows. “It gets worse. Not only two jobs but you’re expected to do them in a shorter time. They saw you coming, didn’t they…”

“What d’you mean,” said CPP through narrowed eyes, a spark igniting in his brain.

“Well, not only did they dump two jobs on you, make you do the job in a shorter time but they’ve even convinced you to be happy about it. You’re bosses would do well where I work…”

CPP stroked his chin. “Hmm. I suppose I do have to work a lot harder than old Future….”

“And let’ s be very honest here. Who is it that goes first, lays the groundwork that makes it easier for Christmas Future…if you ask me then your friend has got it rather easy. He was let off extra duties, and carries on as normal…”

CPP nods slowly. “Never really got on with the boss, you see. Always felt he didn’t appreciate me…”

“Well he’s certainly proved that by the way he’s treated you. I feel depressed thinking about it, God knows how I’d feel if it happened to me….”

CPP sat down on the edge of the bed, head in hands. “You know, I never thought about it before, but I’ve never been appreciated. No matter how hard I work, whatever I do, never get much thanks for it…the boss hates me, really hates me….”

Stave IV

It was twenty-five minutes later than a rather depressed CPP left Gloom-Laden alone. Gloom-Laden was feeling tired. It was gone 3am and he fell asleep with very little trouble.

It was what seemed like minutes later that he was awoken by another figure in the room. Tiredly, he looked at the clock to see it was mid-night again. He sighed, beginning to feel as if he was experiencing his own version of Groundhog Day.

He wasn’t surprised to see another spirit, one looking a little older than the previous one he’d managed to send away..

Christmas Future looked at the rather podgy man in the bed. He wasn’t all that happy at the depressed and bitter way young CPP spoke to him when they crossed over shifts.

Christmas Future wasn’t a happy at all and believed the reason behind it was the clever sod in the bed. Just let the little bugger get clever with him, oh yes, he’d know what suffering was all about if he tried that!

Christmas Future – who was decidedly against diminutives of title or name – knew exactly how he was going to open up his session…

“I suppose you’re Christmas Future? Ok, get on with it!” asserted a fed up Gloom-Laden.

The spirit signalled for Gloom-Laden to follow.

“Oh no, not in this cold…”

Christmas Future pointed a spindly finger at his gown more firmly.

“No!” insisted Gloom-Laden.

Gloom-Laden paid little attention to the glaring eyes of Christmas Future, not impressed by this new ghost’s taller, darker look, or it’s silence.

One of the things which had always been in the job spec for Christmas Future was the brooding, enigmatic silence, which usually helped increase the fear and anticipation laid down by CPP. But it didn’t quite get the obedience required when faced with this bespectacled depressive.

“I’m not really going with you anyway, it’s all bogus, so just do the illusion here…”

Keeping his thin-lipped mouth as tightly shut as possible, he pointed an angry finger at the wall. A picture formed which to Gloom-Laden almost felt he could step into it.

It showed a darkened house. There was a man talking to another man, one had on an overall. A logo with the sub-message of ‘House Clearances’.

“Nothing much worth anything in ‘ere, mate. Burn the bloody lot, I would. Even the cheese in the fridge is rotten…”

“Stilton, actually…usually looks mouldy.”

“Yeah, I know, but Stilton don’t wear fur coats, do it?”

The man grimaced. “What about his wine collection. He was always boating about it…”

“Nothing there, mate, empty bottles…drank it as soon as he bought it. Some old betting slips, a few books…”

“Ah,” said the other man. “He was fond of books, very well read. Any first editions?”

“Not even a 101 edition. Worthless paperbacks.”

“So nothing here of value, nothing to mark him out?”

“Well, no, you’d think no one had lived here…although…”

“Yes…” the other man said, anxiously.

“Well I did find a beer mat…”

“A beer mat?”

“Yeah. Dolman’s XXX Old Toe Curler. Give you five quid for it. My mate collects beer mats. It’s an early version…”

“ A fiver?”

“Might get him to pay a tenner…”

“Hmm. All those years and a tenner. I knew he was a tight-ass but…”

The picture began to fade…

Gloom-Laden frowned. “So, what this shows me is that I lived a life and had nothing left when I died, nothing to connect me to the house or to the fact that I’d ever lived? And that anyone who inherits my estate will get very little…” frowned Gloom-Laden.

The ghost inclined his head as he bowed slightly.

“Hmm,” said Gloom-Laden rubbing his chin. “Seems the perfect way to go. Why should any other bugger have the benefit of anything I have worked hard for? Get it, spend it and enjoy but never bloody share it….”

It wasn’t the reaction Christmas Future was expecting.

In an irritated sweep of his hand the picture changed to that of a dark and dank graveyard…

Slowly, amongst all the gravestones the picture seemed to focus on one…an unkempt, rotting gravestone. Gloom-Laden squinted through his thick glasses, his expression soured even more.

“Can you go in a bit closer, can’t see that.”

With a suppressed sigh the ghost of Christmas future pointed his figure irritably. It would’ve been better if they’d gone there, like he wanted to in the first place.

The picture enlarged, drawing the gravestone closer. Gloom-Laden could see the faded writing on it a lot better now.

Born 21st July 1971:
Died just after lunch, Christmas day 2010.
Beloved of no-one…

Christmas Future looked at Gloom-Laden for his reaction. Gloom-Laden just shrugged.

“So what?” he retorted, then, “Can I go back to sleep now?”

The ghost pointed again at the gravestone which became even larger on his wall, his arm and finger shaking…emphasizing the point.

“Yes, I know. I’m going to die. Can’t come soon enough for me!”

The Ghost lost control; not able to believe anyone could be so casual about dying. “But you’re going to die tomorrow!”

Gloom-Laden raised himself from his bed. “So you can speak then?”

Christmas Future slapped a hand over his mouth in sudden panic. Then he realised it was pointless and spoke again.


“And swear.”

“Yes but I’m not about to die,” responded Christmas Future, a little smugly.

“No, but that would be pointless as you’re already dead!”

“The point is it’s no good you lying there, acting as though you don’t care…”

“I don’t,” said Gloom-Laden, “and even if I did care, all that you showed me was a load of rubbish.”

“Rubbish? Rubbish! That’s your future, matey, what’s in store for you….” said Christmas Future with folded arms and a nod of his head.

“No it isn’t”

“Yes it is and I should know. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Future!”

“So,” said Gloom-Laden, thoughtfully, “I’m going to die tomorrow and that’s it?”

“Getting through, now is it, eh, good.”

“So, I might as well have a good night’s sleep then.”

“No, no, no! You’re supposed to start changing your ways!”

“Haven’t got time, I’ll be dead before it can do any good.”

“Not if you mend your ways.”

“Then I won’t die?”


“So you haven’t really shown me my future.”

“Yes I have…”

“The bit where I’m dead, but you said that can be changed. Well, that means it’s not a fixed point then?”

“Fixed point? It’s what’ll happen if you don’t change your ways.”

“So what’s my future then?”

“I’ve just shown it to you!”

“You haven’t, you’ve just shown me something that might happen or rather what you guess will happen if I don’t take your advice…” argued Gloom-Laden.

The Ghost looked hurt. “Guess? GUESS? I don’t bloody guess, I know, matey.”

“Well, not really, you’re only showing me something that might happen…”

“If you don’t mend your ways…”

Gloom-Laden looked dubious. “That’s playing the odds. Pretending to know something then putting in a little clause that says if it doesn’t happen it’s because of something else someone did…You didn’t use to write the Astrology column for the Daily Rambler, did you?”

“No I didn’t, wouldn’t be seen dead writing that sort of trash!”

“It’s not far removed from the stuff you’ve shown me.”

“I resent that. What I’ve shown you is an accurate vision of the future, matey.”

“But it isn’t, you said so yourself.”

“No I didn’t…”

“Ah, you did, you said it was the future I would have if I was to continue as before. But if I change my ways then it won’t be my future.”

“That’s right.”

“So what you showed me might not happen.”

“If you change your ways…”

“So it’s not immutable?”

“Well….not exactly, I need to know what you’re doing.”

“But isn’t that like the weather man looking outside to tell you the weather.”

The Ghost thought about that then. “No, no it isn’t. That’s telling you what’s happening now. I’m telling you what’s happening in the future.”

“Not very clearly, though. It might be this, if you do that, or might be that way if you do that. Not very convincing, is it? And it’s not as if you’ve got that much to do, is it?” exclaimed Gloom-Laden.

The Ghost frowned. “What d’you mean, not got much to do? I’m bloody busy, really busy, the work’s piling up.”

“Well, if you say so,” responded Gloom-Laden dubiously.

“It’s not because I say so, it’s because it is…so.”

“If that’s as accurate as your predictions for the future…”

“There’s nothing wrong with my predictions for the future,” screeched the Ghost.

“Except you can’t honestly say which one I have to look forward to.”

“Yes I can, it just….”

“…depends on what I do. Everybody can work that out about their future, don’t need you to tell anyone. Still, I suppose it passes the time for you, stops you getting bored.”

“No chance to get bored with all the work I’ve got to do.”

“Seems to be your friend does most of it.”


“Well, he goes first, softens them up, then you go in a do the easy bit…and it doesn’t have to be accurate!”

“His job isn’t that hard…”

“Well, on it’s own it might not be, but he got lumbered with two jobs. Past and Present and you got off lightly with just Future and you can’t seem to pin that down with any degree of accuracy!”

“Two bloody easy jobs? He wants to try mine.”

“Still two jobs to your one, and you don’t have to be accurate in yours. He’s got to check out the past, make sure he’s got all his facts and then present it. Then the same for the present. All facts as opposed to your rather limp ‘might be’ futures!”

“I work just a hard and I resent the comment ‘limp’ and the words ‘might be’, for that matter. My predictions are accurate!”

Gloom-Laden said: “Then you yourself do not have that much faith in the Future you present people. I mean a prediction is a statement of what somebody thinks will happen in the future…”

Wide-eyed, the Ghost stuttered: “Well…well…well, yes, yes, it could be said. But mine are well grounded. Solid.”

“Not very solid if they can be changed, are they?”

Having rarely felt anger and frustration, or indeed needing it in his job – the Ghost shook a little. There was this irresistible need flowing through him to commit an act of violence. He hadn’t faced anyone like this portly little twerp before. All his past clients had been supine in nature with a good dose of regret and fear but this sod, this bloody sod!

Stave V

It was about an hour later that the ghost of Christmas Future left having got no further forward.

It was another time and place that a Ghostly Supervisor went amongst his reports to find a CPP drinking what seemed to be an alcoholic beverage, looking depressed and telling everyone around him who’d listen, that he wasn’t appreciated and even if he had been it was all pointless anyway and he might as well be dead. Despite appeals from said colleagues that he was already dead and so it was a mute point, CPP continued his self-pitying wail.

Christmas Future was quite silent, save for the thumping noise he made every three seconds after he head-butted the wall…

The Supervisor decided it was going to be one of those Christmases!!

Stave VI

It was at 7am sharp that Gloom-Laden arose from his bed to find it was Christmas Eve once more. He checked his clock and calendar again. No, it was Christmas Eve. Or was it for the first time.

Gloom-Laden frowned. Something about poor old Blameworthy being dead…

Once he’d had his bath and breakfast, he lifted his telephone receiver and called Blameworthy’s number. The voice of Blameworthy answered. Gloom-Laden quickly put down the receiver.

Ha ha, so he was alive, it was Christmas Eve once more and so the whole thing had to be a dream…

But the experience changed Gloom-Laden. No more did he decry Christmas and its associated trimmings to those who loved and cherished Christmas; to those who wished him Merry Christmas. Oh no, Gloom-Laden formed a club, a very special club for those who were like-minded and moaned and groaned and complained together about those over-enthusiastic ticks who claimed to love Christmas so much.

It was called the “Bah Humbug Club!”

(With apologies to Charles Dickens and thanks to Blameworthy…)

8: The Immutable Gloom-Laden

“Ah, Fitrambler, old chap,” says Gloom-Laden, pleasantly.

Mr Gloom-Laden in one of his happier moods.

“Gloom-Laden, old boy,” I replied, amiably.
“What are you having?” Gloom-Laden asks.
“Same as you, I think,” I respond; there’s only 2Bs or 3Bs available.

Apart from sounding like a Toff’s convention, it’s an amiably start to an evening. And why not? It’s been roughly seven years since we enjoyed a drinking session with just the two of us.

Gloom-Laden pays for the beer. Arkells 3Bs. An ale I find rather inconsistent in recent years. Earlier this year the Duke of Wellington produced some good quality 3Bs, but my last couple of visits found it rather under par. In the Plough, Old Town, it never tastes right to me although Mr Neatentidy rather likes it.
As Gloom-Laden paid for the beer, I looked around and some memories played across my mind. The Clifton, where we’d agreed to meet, was a pub off the beaten track. Back in the 1980s it was a pub Blameworthy and I spent a fair amount of time in, along with the Duke, the Baker’s in Emlyn Square. Those were the days of the nine pint sessions, two to three nights of the week. I often think fondly back to those days. I also look back and wonder how the hell I made it into work, the next morning. At our peek we did that two to three nights a week.

In those days there were two bars in the Clifton. Blameworthy and I used the Public bar and often played darts.

The basics of the layout, besides taking down the dividing wall hadn’t changed that much. Like most pubs these days there was an absence of cigarette smoke, but the smell of beer, stale and fresh.

The Clifton

The bloke serving behind the bar is about late twenties, a little older than Blameworthy and I when we used this place regularly. He looked a lot taller than either Gloom-Laden or myself, but after a minute I got the idea the floor behind the bar was raised a little.

The bar curved around the seating area so wherever you are you can be seen from the bar. In the 1980s when I drank in there, it was a two bar pub, but the wall separating them is long gone.

We decided to stay in what would’ve been the old public bar, not far from a dart board and a pool table.

Gloom-Laden and I sat down not too far from the bar. It seemed to a quiet night.

The evening was organised by email, the first sent when I was on holiday in North Wales. I followed through a couple of weeks later. Gloom-Laden had broadband these days, something I tried to convince him of the virtues of back in the early part of the decade. He had not been keen then. He also doesn’t own a mobile phone; possible one of a dying breed.

“If I’d a use for one I wouldn’t hesitate but to get one, but I don’t,” Gloom-Laden said.

For our first meeting in years I suggested The Clifton because it was in the same street where Gloom-Laden lived.

The pub wasn’t all that busy, but then, it was only about 6.40pm.

We settled down. The beer wasn’t bad. I was expecting worse.

I remembered it was Blameworthy who suggested Gloom-Laden and I would get on. We’re both amateur writers; his efforts lay in the short story area, whereas mine have always been in the novel-length area.

I remembered our first meeting. It wasn’t the best of starts as I was rather rude to the poor chap. It was because I was forced to sit next to Gloom-Laden and I’d have preferred to have sat alone…

So, when he tried to make conversation I was exceptionally rude.

However, whether by fate or chance, the incident didn’t stop us from becoming friends.

Another trip arranged by Blameworthy not so long after put me in the presence of Gloom-Laden. It was a trip to the beer festival being held just outside Gloucester in Winchcombe, Postlip Hall. Or more accurately the barn a short distance from the Hall. I would’ve preferred it to have been just  Blameworthy and myself but…

Mr Blameworthy

Well, let’s be sensible here. There was beer to be drunk, a place to see which I hadn’t seen before. What could I do but make the sacrifice and accept a stranger in the camp? A social obligation!

With the assistance through the course of the day and much of the evening of a minimum of 12 pints of beer (maybe a few more) I decided Gloom-Laden wasn’t a bad chap after all. I think, among all the other subjects we discussed I recalled our first meeting and I apologised.

We arranged between us to meet up in the Glue Pot for a session outside the usual monthly one. If I remember correctly, the usual monthly one began to fade and just Gloom-Laden and I got together on a monthly basis; with a guest appearance by Blameworthy and others from time to time.

Over that period of about half a dozen years Gloom-Laden and myself had many a long discussion, many a long argument and many a drunken stagger home. Of those many arguments over the years on various subjects from books to films, politics and people. I probably won most of them. Not because I was necessarily right or cleverer than Gloom-Laden but purely because memory held up better than his and so I usually got him on what can be best described as a technicality…

Sneaky? Absolutely, I admit it, but not proudly so.

I did learn a great deal from Gloom-Laden and read quite a few of the books he recommended; one in particular was The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I became quite fond of that author.

I tend to believe what brought to a close these regular meetings was when I brought others from work to the sessions. That and the fact that we drank more than he liked to in a session. Plus being what is tactfully described as being visually challenged, the walks home from the Glue Pot were rather awkward. As a good friend I should’ve been more sensitive to that and ensured he got home safely as I’d done in the past. I know believe his excusing himself from the sessions was, in no small part, my fault.

Mr Fitrambler - too many beers, perhaps?

Of those walks back to Clifton Street served as a platform for great debates, sometimes arguments, depending on what the subject we were talking about was when we left the Glue Pot. Or, if we extended the evening by having a curry in the Jewel In The Crown. Gloom-Laden often liked it to a couple of writers who use to take long walks and discuss matters, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis…a rather nice thought…

I guess it was around 2001-2 that the gap began.

Time moved on and I often thought of re-establishing contact, but the nearest we came to that was the occasional accidental meeting around town, forestalling his walk home.

However, it was the indefatigable pub sniffer himself, Blameworthy, who kick-started the reunion. Although even his not inconsiderable persuasive powers took three attempts before Gloom-Laden elected to re-enter the scene. Well, Gloom-Laden is nobody’s fool…he knew what the possibilities were of rolling home the worst for wear after a session with both Blameworthy and myself…

It was at a Beer Festival the reunion began (as described in an earlier blog scribbling “The Chippenham Beer Festival”) and was the total opposite of our first meeting.

A second and third meeting followed, one in the Duke and one in the Wheatsheaf (both a matter of record on this blog) before a gap began again.

While the Pink Lady and myself were enjoying the delights of North Wales it struck me Gloom-Laden and myself hadn’t arranged a session of just us two; a chance to hit some of the topics of yesteryear or introduce some new. Besides, I felt it would be a bad thing let things go again…

So, through email – have you tried catching a pigeon in North Wales or training a seagull to do a pigeon’s job? – I suggested we meet up…hence the evening I began to describe earlier in this narrative.

The date, 1st October. The place, The Clifton. The time, 6.30pm.

As always seems to be the case when I need to leave work early, fate conspires against me. I didn’t get away until 5.40pm. By the time I caught the bus time was moving on.

Then there was the ubiquitous flood of teenage brats slowing down the bus as they charged on. Peace was disturbed.

So, it was after 6pm when I got to town.

There were several routes to the Clifton and I chose the easiest. I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic.

Within a few hundred yards of the Clifton, I see the familiar figure of Gloom-Laden striding towards the pub.

We talked work for a while, then we talked about the election, and how the coalition had lasted a lot longer than expected.

Unlike the old days the subject of politics could be covered without any argument. That’s not to say we agreed, but there wasn’t a heated argument over our differences.

Our talk covered the iPad and the Kindle. I pointed out that I hadn’t fully given up on the printed word; there were books that would be in my collection, ones which no electronic device could or would replace.

“It’s getting nearer to what I predicted,” exclaims Gloom-Laden. “That you won’t actually have real collections, real libraries. It’s all be virtual and you just download what you want.”

Years ago the idea of not having things as a physical collection bothered me. I still feel a little the same way, a liking of ownership. However, I am okay with the Kindle form of ownership.

“Right about that one but there is still a sense of ownership with the Kindle and the application of the same name which runs on the iPad….” I responded. “Even if you delete books off the Kindle you can download them again at no extra cost. The Kindle is broken, or stolen, then it can be deactivated and when you buy a new one then you can download the books again onto the new Kindle – no charge as you already own them.”

I do not think Gloom-Laden was sufficiently impressed to charge off and buy one but he was not against the principle. He still prefers the printed word. I cannot blame him from that. Although, he may have felt I sounded suspiciously like an advert for the Kindle…

In amongst our talks on old times I confessed that some nights after a curry as I’d left him at his house, I dropped off on the way home at the Chip Shop in Curtis Street. I bought large chips and fish cakes. How I could justify that I don’t know but there are stories still doing the rounds about the amount I could put away. I think I was a human vacuum cleaner for food in those days.

I couldn’t manage both these days – possibly struggle with one – but not having tea that evening did make me think a bag of chips would be appealing.

After nearly two hours Gloom-Laden went to the bar for a third pint. The pub had begun to fill up, there was a dart match on. One of the bar staff moved the pool table to a spot near to the bar, freeing up room where the dart board was.

It reminded me of the days when Blameworthy and I played darts in that pub. It never seemed so crowded in those days; but then when we played darts that often seemed to be the case; most seemed to be in the lounge bar.

Tonight, it seemed like a Jockie Wilson Convention, looking at the size of the players; even the women seemed rather on the portly side – to put it politely. One exception was a woman in a wheelchair, blonde – from a bottle – who I placed in her sixties but in good health. Well, ok, except for the wheelchair. She manoeuvred it very well. Also, in between throws she taught the pub dogs the shaking hands trick for a treat.

As always when an evening is going pleasantly, it seems to reach the end too quickly. We only drank four pints in just over four and a half hours.

I think, on reflection, the only thing missing from the evening was a further four pints, a large drunken attempt to eat a curry, several arguments…

However, I think neither of us missed any of those things.

We did, however, reach an agreement to do it again, sometime in the future….But hopefully with the presence of Blameworthy.

Then it was home but not before stopping of for pie and chips; a nod to previous sessions, perhaps? Actually, more like the fact I hadn’t had tea and not a lot for dinner…

But it was rather nice.

Many have often asked the question of why is Gloom-Laden called, well, Gloom-Laden.

The man is a pessimist and this often comes right to the fore after a considerable amount of drink. There is also his feeling that every trip Blameworthy is arranging, has arranged will or has gone wrong.

On occasion he’s been correct, a train has been missed and we are late getting home or things have gone very wrong throughout the day. These things only add to his air of pessimism.

In total fairness to Blameworthy, the level of cynicism and negativity Gloom-Laden expresses is totally out of proportion. We’ve only had few problems on our numerous trips with the tenacious beer guzzling Blameworthy.

And there are the times, when feeling the worst for drink, he talks of his plans to kill himself. Or of how pointless life is and why should any of us really bother?

I often think that the man finds the period between birth and death an inconvenient wait…

But during his less morbid moods, which are far more frequent than he’d like to admit, he is excellent company…

I, for one, looking forward to raising a few beers with him at our next meeting; but then, I would, wouldn’t I…?

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…