Buying a Country Pub, Part 3
We had been warned about Dicks’ habit of drinking after hours and we duly fell by the wayside and joined our predecessors in long nights. Dick would bring an assortment of Visitors, Farmers, Horse Dealers, all sorts of people in late at night drinking vast amounts of Manns Brown and Haig Whiskey and milk. After eleven o’clock singing would commence, of the uncensored variety, Dick would sing this song “He’d spent all his tin on a woman drinking gin,” and take all his clothes off, and he was not a pretty sight. HTV actually made a film of the antics on Exmoor including Dicks’ strip. The bar was normally heaving until two or three in the morning, we unfortunately had already done a days work before we started, the result was shattering, especially when it happened three or four nights a week. There seemed to be a new group of Visitors down every day and they all became the personal friends of someone in the valley, which was an excuse for a party. I was getting to bed at four in the morning and getting up at six thirty to go Salmon fishing, which was proving very beneficial to the Menu.
The first Summer seemed like a succession of Coaches, starving walkers near alcoholic Farmers and late night parties.
Sam the cat made a couple of serious dog mistakes, the first was rushing up to a Golden Retriever to play with him only to find that the Retriever went for him, Sam jumped on to the Bar and finally settled on the Plate Rack causing a near riot. The second was when a substantial Lady with four Boston Terriers on a multi lead was sitting in the bar, Sam rushed up to play with them, they of course attacked as a pack, the Lady let the lead go Sam disappeared between the customers legs hotly pursued by four howling dogs, the dogs got as far as the first group of customers to find the multi leads rapped round their legs attached to four snarling dogs. Sam ended up sitting on my shoulders behind the bar with a very confused look on his face, it took him some considerable time to realise that dogs do not like cats under normal circumstances.
Sam’s other passion, was any sort of motor vehicle. He would always check every vehicle in the Car Park, if he was around and climb into it if a door or window was open, coaches included. Occasionally he would disappear for hours and arrive back looking very tired and fall asleep for longer than usual and on the very odd occasion a car would pull up with a concerned driver asking if this was our cat. We finally thought that we had lost him when he disappeared for about ten days, only to reappear looking very thin, dirty and extremely tired, which a lot of fuss and T.L.C. put him back to normal. I got the feeling that his enthusiasm for cars and coaches had waned after this trip.
The licensing laws regarding children seemed non existent at that time, every family that appeared in July and August would troop into the pub en masse and any attempt to restrict children’s access to the Bar areas was met in the main with hostility, the Police were continually warning us about allowing under age children in the Bars, unfortunately the families with the worst children were the most difficult which invariably created problems.
It seemed that however wise we became to the peculiarities of holiday makers, a new twist appeared every week.
The Bars were filled with curiosities and junk that we had acquired or already owned, to give a traditional pub image. Unfortunately so called souvenir hunting or petty thieving occured, various items went missing and everything became nailed down or wired up. Even old whisky bottles filled with cold tea or another tea coloured liquid were taken. I would have loved to have been there when they tried to drink it. I actually saw a holiday maker removing some items and putting them in his car, I didn’t actually believe it when I saw it, but he came back a second time and I watched him putting the things in the car. I walked out to the car park and asked him to return them, he sounded like a perfectly respectable, thirtyish person, unfortunately he became abusive and quite frightening, the things that he had taken were not expensive, but were decorative, it was something that I had not really experienced before and put it down to experience. In later years I took more positive action when faced with similar incidents.
The ceiling was covered with pewter tankards that I had won years before, all suitably wired to the beams, hanging over the Bar were two scimitars which could be removed from their scabbards easily. On this particularly busy August evening, the bar was packed and from behind the bar the floor was raised giving a clear view over the customers heads. I noticed two hands reaching up trying to remove the wire from one of the tankards, when someone is in a crowded bar they assume that they are not really visible, which is right, but two arms sticking above the heads are very visible. I removed the scimitar leaned over the bar and gently prodded the point at one of the hands, the crowd immediately parted revealing the culprit, I suggested that if he continued I would leave his hand hanging from the beams. He needless to say beat an embarrassed hasty retreat.
The Summer came to an end, or rather August did, the families went home, September was much quieter with better spending mature couples. After the panics of August, September was highly civilised and manageable. October went even quieter, there seemed to be a lot of talk about the Pony Round-up on the Moor, which didn’t really register with us, though we had all taken up riding on the Moor with the help of Dudley and his horses.
The Round-up week end drew near, the phone started ringing from various people that we had met saying they would be down on Friday. Friday arrived and the Valley was full of people talking about the Round-up on the Saturday, it was nearly as busy as August.
Saturday morning was one stage short of the Wild West Show, horses, Land Rovers and Horse Boxes were clattering up and down the road, Steptoe would have made a fortune out of Horse Manure. The whole district seemed to be out and about, we opened the Pub early dispensing coffee and whisky from 10-30 a.m.
Two lads from Tiverton arrived and said that they had come to collect some ladders from one of the local farms. Realising that it was Round-up day started drinking, by 2-30 p.m. they left for the farm and passed out in the Farmers Kitchen and spent the afternoon sleeping it off.
We took the children into Brendon to see the wild Ponies and Foals being auctioned, needless to say it was chaotic, the World seemed to have descended on this sleepy Hamlet. Gypsies, Horse Dealers, wealthy Tweedies, Farmers all looking to buy or sell horses, most of them seemed to have already consumed a large amount of Booze and it was only early afternoon. We watched the antics as various people were towed around the ring by some fairly determined horses, who were not very impressed at being restricted to small enclosures after the expanse of the Moor, in due course we returned home for tea.
The Pub was opened at six o’clock, to be invaded by a horde of sweaty, smelly, lubricated horse dealers and farmers plus the two lads who had come to collect the ladders.
The bar was packed solid with people drinking as though there was no tomorrow, various bodies passed out and were removed and the odd one fell asleep on the settles against the wall.
At midnight I had a break from being behind the bar, when someone said there was a boy being sick in the bar. I struggled through the mass of people to be confronted by one of the Ladder Boys relieving himself against the bar, total horror and a deathly hush ran round the bar apart from a noise like a small fire hose. I grabbed the Boy and realised that he was sound asleep and no amount of shaking seemed to have any effect, taking a mop from behind the bar I mopped up, squeezing it outside the door in front of the peering crowd. The crowd began to laugh when they realised that I was not going to throw them all out and blow my top. The second Ladder Boy and a couple of locals picked the Sleeper up and dumped him in the Car Park to wake up and sober up. The second Boy came in and said his friend did not normally do that sort of thing, kissed all the women in the Bar and drove back to Tiverton, leaving everyone totally dumbfounded, needless to say it was a tale that was told many times afterwards.
The phone rang some four days later with somebody called John on the line, he told me that he had been in on Saturday night and had just found out what had happened, apologising profusely, I said that I wouldn’t have had the nerve to ring up and apologise. His family apparently lived close by and would be horrified if they found out, also would he be allowed back into the pub, I told him that it would cost him a round of drinks for everyone in the bar the next time that he was here and he agreed. Some time later he sidled into the bar asking if I was available, fortunately he was as good as his word and bought a round of drinks on a busy night, much to the customers amazement, and I told them the reason after he left.
As the Winter drew on, the tourist business dropped off and the Hunting Season took over. The local people seemed to be passionately involved with either the Stag Hounds or the Fox Hounds or both. If you had any sort of commercial business on Exmoor involving local people, to be anti hunt would be a complete financial disaster.
Both Hunts seemed to have Meets several times a week all over the Moor and everyone seemed to be there, either participating, watching or consuming copious amounts of the Stirrup Cup long after the Hunts had left.
It became fairly obvious from the blatant hints from our customers that we should organise a Meet from the Pub. I then approached the Foxhounds to suggest that they may like to have a Meet at the Pub, this was met in a very off hand sort of way by the Hunt Master who suggested that they may be able to fit us in next year during Cubbing, end of conversation. Cubbing for the uninitiated takes place before the normal season and is a method of controlling the young fox population. The Hunt ensure that farmers do not kill foxes in their areas, by assuming the responsibility of controlling the numbers to avoid too much damage to the farmers stock.
I retired gracefully from this circle feeling rather like an interloper trying to enter an exclusive club.
Unbeknown to us the Masters’ Wife came out for dinner one evening with some friends and in the course of the conversation afterwards, I mentioned that I had offered our premises for a Meet and had been politely put on the deferred, possibles list. She introduced herself and said that it would soon be rectified, which she did and we regularly had Meets for the Foxhounds, Staghounds and the Otterhounds (who hunted mink in the river).
The hunting round our part of the Moor was never very successful because it was very difficult ground and was therefore more of a social occasion enjoyed by all and sundry, in fact some horses never left the Pub railings all day, they quite enjoyed it since they were fed and watered regularly and generally looked after by a variety of horsey girls who seemed to be permanent Hunt followers.
We became popular for Meets, I subsequently discovered because we provided more free drinks and better food for the riders and hangers-on than most other places. I put it down to advertising and we had more of a social life during what could have been a very long Winter.
Two people who appeared to be following one of the Hunts were talking to me and said they wanted to do an article about people opting out of the “Rat Race” and could they do an article for the TV Times on my Wife and I. We agreed and a vast amount of gin was consumed interspersed with a lot of scribblings on a note book and a great day was had by all. They promised to return with a photographer within two weeks and we all waved “Good-bye”.
Six weeks later, after we had forgotten all about it, they returned consumed even more gin and took some photographs and duly returned to London.
Six months later the phone started ringing non-stop, had we seen our pictures in the TV Times, there was no point in us buying the TV Times because we couldn’t get a picture on the TV, being situated at the bottom of the valley. We rushed out and bought the TV Times and found that we had a two page spread in the centre, terrific publicity, but we had no part in the programme whatsoever, which seemed totally crazy. Needless to say all our friends watched the programme, phoning up again to ask what had happened to us.
Our experiences of the Summer had made it patently obvious that we had to increase and update the Bars and Kitchen, to cope with the level of business that could be done.
After my fairly nasty meeting with an officious Planning Officer, who told me that the pink and cream corrugated iron Beer Store and Toilet Block were typical Exmoor, they allowed me to build a modern flat roofed Beer Store and Toilet Block and ignored my ideas for a tasteful building with a matching slate roof.
We managed by various means to carry out all the alterations during the Winter and keep the Pub open, with hindsight it is always quicker and easier to close the place down and open in a Blaze of Glory with plenty of impact after all the work is done.
Before we commenced the alterations we had to dig the hillside out at the rear of the Pub. This caused quite a lot of consternation because it was mainly rock, fortunately for us soft rock. Using my civil engineering knowledge and a fair bit of negotiating with a local Contractor over a lot of drinks, I hired an excavator and lorry.
I phoned the River Authority and said that our River wall needed reinforcing at the upper end and would it be acceptable to put some large rocks in front of the wall. The river when it is in flood is a raging torrent and I was concerned in case our wall ever got washed away. They readily agreed and I told the Contractor that we could drop the rocks at the upstream end of the wall.
By the end of the first day we had tipped a vast amount of rocks in front of the wall and suitably built up a good protective barrier. By late afternoon the rain came pouring down and all work finished, the river turned into a raging torrent overnight and the next morning everything had been washed away. The Contractors thinking that we could not tip any more rock in the river, had arranged for a tip some five miles away which was going to be fairly expensive. When they duly appeared I pointed out that we could start again tipping in front of the wall, much to their amazement. We tipped for three days in front of the wall and every night the river washed it away, on the fourth day an irate resident phoned the River Authority saying that we were polluting the river by tipping rock in there. I pointed out that I was only doing what I had agreed and carried on. We completed excavating on the fifth day and put a nice shape to the rock in front of the wall running down to the river, the River Authority came along to inspect and said that it looked absolutely ideal to protect the wall and left. The irate resident who lived a mile away was ranting at the River Authority about our activities and they told him that they could see nothing wrong with what we had done, all the surplus had been washed down river and nobody was any the wiser.
I made another classic error, an approach was made to us to sell the pub at a substantial profit after eight months, I declined, mistakenly thinking that we would make an even larger profit after building up the business and altering it. Always take a profit, we in fact ended up selling it for half what we would have got three years later. I am much wiser now.
We had fairly regular visits from our safe blowing customer and various others of a similar kind, all driving new Mercedes, BMW’s, Range Rovers and a black Rolls Royce. They always insisted on sending a case of Guinness or Champagne to the old lady next door, whose family had the Pub for years. She would come back in saying that she really didn’t drink that much and would prefer the money, I of course obliged.
At about this time my Wife’s cousin Becky, who was seventeen with large horn rimmed glasses, came over from Canada for a fortnights holiday, she decided that she liked living on Exmoor and stayed for six months.
She was a consummate poker player, her family being highly intelligent enjoyers of life, where poker was essential to a young ladies upbringing.
Our would be safe blowers, not only enjoyed drinking after hours but also playing poker, Becky asked if she could play one night, I refused but the safe blowers persuaded me to let her play, she proceeded to skin them hands down, much to everyones amusement and very successfully supplemented her income on a regular basis. She is now married to the President of a Cosmetics Company and we always laugh at her poker playing. Doubtlessly she will teach her four children to play at an early age the same way, one of which is due to go to Harrow School, the results should be very interesting if he is anything like his Mother.
Not the sort of things that you would expect in a country pub.
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