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Buying a Country Pub, Part 5
One of my regular locals owned a Guest House a mile up the valley from the Pub. He had semi retired from Leicester, moving down to Exmoor with a fairly recent Wife.
She seemed determined to make her mark in the Guest House business whilst her Husband Paul was adopting a more “Laid back approach.” He enjoyed fancy cars, fishing and drinking, his Wifes views on his drinking became well known to me.
They duly introduced themselves to me since I represented a source of customers, which suited me fine since it is always good to share the business around. She told me that she very seldom ever drank and proceeded to get completely out of her “Brains,” on rough cider. She was duly carried out and transported home by her Husband and she was not a little woman. Her visits to the Pub were very infrequent, but when she did chaos prevailed and her exit was always the same.
Paul’s behaviour was always very dignified, he would stand there drinking with very little effect and usually be among the last to leave, climb into his Jaguar and drive home.
This carried on for about six months, then at about twelve thirty one night the phone went, I took the call and a voice said could they speak to Paul, I passed the phone over and it practically exploded, everyone in the Bar could hear the screeching coming out of the ear piece. Paul calmly put the phone down and carried on drinking as usual.
This obviously caused me some concern, since wives can cause a lot of problems for Landlords, especially when the drinking habits of the locals are continually causing a breach of the law in the eyes of the Police. Not that the Police were overly worried, since they were found drinking after hours in a variety of pubs on Exmoor on their days’ off anyway.
I preferred to be diplomatic and spoke to Paul voicing my concern, he told me to ignore it, which I did.
His Wife came in shortly afterwards became noisy and paralytic on rough cider and I carried on as though nothing strange had happened, she was duly helped out as usual.
About a week later the phone went at twelve thirty again, I took precautions and told the bar to be quiet, picked up the phone and in a drousy voice said “Rockford Inn,” a voice screamed down the phone “Where’s my B……. Husband, I suppose he’s in your B……. Pub rotten drunk.” I explained that she had woken me up and that I was in bed and had closed at eleven o’clock. She apologised profusely and rang off, and every one continued drinking.
The next week at a similar time she phoned up again, I used the same ploy, only this time instead of ringing off she screamed down the phone, “Don’t lie to me your’e not in bed your’e standing in the bar, I’ll send the Police in for breaking the law and ruining perfectly good families through serving drinks after hours.” I immediately got hold of Paul and told him what she had said, he told me to ignore it and he would sort her out. As a precaution I cleared the bar in case she did phone the Police, the locals in turn would all moan at her in the village the next day for ruining their evening. I was pleased because I was able to get to bed early for a change.
The next week she came in and got completely paralytic on rough cider as though nothing had happened.
Paul came in early one evening with Dudley determined to have a heavy night, I said that I was going to close early since I had been far too late the previous night and they left at ten o’clock for Brendon Manor.
I duly got to bed to be woken up by the phone at one thirty in the morning, in a very bleary voice I answered, to be met with a stream of abuse about a drunken husband. I explained that I was in bed, which had no effect and my wife took over. She explained that Paul had gone with Dudley before closing time and the phoned was slammed down, we retired to sleep.
At two o’clock the phone rang again, this time she said “Enough of your lies he’s still in your Pub, Dudley sent him home hours ago.” I slammed the phone down this time.
The next morning I phoned Dudley in case Paul had driven into the river or a ditch to be told the cleaning lady had found him out cold on Dudley’s kitchen table with his false teeth resting on his forehead.
They had both drunk so much whisky that Dudley couldn’t remember what happened and Paul passed out. Dudley remembered someone ringing up during the night but couldn’t remember what it was about.
I was of course held totally responsible by Paul’s wife.
One very busy Summer evening Paul came into the bar, sat on one of the settles and proceeded in his usual fashion to consume a fairly reasonable amount of beer. He seemed to be totally disinterested in talking to any of the other locals, which was slightly unusual. My Brother-in-law David, was giving me a hand behind the bar, about an hour after official closing time I noticed Paul’s complexion had gone from pink to red. I told David to keep an eye on Paul since he appeared to be on a course of possible self destruction. Shortly after I noticed that Paul had gone from pink to white followed by a grey colour. I told David to grab him and get him outside as fast as possible by which time he was a lighter shade of green and totally incoherent. David suggested I put him in my car, I rapidly declined and said put him in his own car and you drive him back and I would pick him up in my car. I told David to park Paul’s car as far away from the Guest House as posssible and leave Paul in it, since the Guest House had a large car park, some way from the main house.
David was only to delighted to drive Paul’s latest fancy car, I wondered whether Paul might be violently ill in it, which he might have difficulty explaining to his wife in the cold light of day. I parked at a discreet distance away but with a good view and realised to my horror that David was carrying Paul away from the car towards their main front door. The building being an old Devon Long House with numerous doors, I told David to leave him with the car but Paul said “Jush’ get me to the door I’shll be alright,” I wasn’t worried about him, I was worried about his wife. David had no experience of her antics, having spent the last six months in New Zealand, I had visions of a shot gun being fired at us from one of the upstairs windows or being pursued through the village by a raging termagent, screaming abuse, she was also considerably larger than both David and I.
Paul was not going to let go of David until he reached the front door, I turned the car round and left it with the doors open and engine running and gave David a hand to the front door , by this stage lights were being turned on at the end of the house and this dreadful screaming started sounding something like “I’ll kill you B…….rds,” I told David to leave Paul leaning against the door and get in the car, as he did so the door opened, Paul fell headlong into the hall and his wife, saying “Sshurrup Woman, sshurrup Woman.” His wife then rushed into the road screaming that she would seek eternal retribution and many other four letter words, by which stage lights were coming on all round the village, I looked back and she looked like a large white spectre waving her arms in the middle of the road, in daylight she was not a pretty sight during the day, at night she looked horrible.
By the time we got back to the pub she had been screaming abuse on the phone to my wife much to the amusement of the customers. To be fair it was extremely funny at the time but I was concerned, Paul was always very polite and not in the least aggresive and I had visions of him being beaten to death by his large wife. He appeared the next day with a slight hangover and his wife duly appeared a few weeks later and got totally legless on scrumpy as always.
The local farmers would go to great lengths to find a musician capable of playing a musical instrument moderately well whilst totally under the influence of drink, to accompany them with their singing. Their singing was amusing but would never win a talent contest even if they censored the lyrics. We even had some notable Country Music people who came to listen and discover some Exmoor Folk songs. I explained that nothing ever happened until after hours because the content of the majority of the songs could possibly cause offence, and anyone there after hours was there illegally so they couldn’t complain anyay. They stayed and played and listened and were the best Musicians to grace the Pub certainly in my time, whether they learn’t anything that was publishable I never found out.
One of the local musicians, who played the accordion was commonly known as Banjo, he apparently achieved this name because he could never pronounce accordion when he was under the inluence of drink, which was fairly frequent. He was short with pebble glasses, which he frequently lost, and in the main his dialogue took a considerable amount of translation by the locals under normal circumstances. His regular occupation was that of a high wire man for the Electricity Board, I found this hard to believe because of his pebble glasses and inability to ever appear sober, certainly when he was in the pub.
My first encounter with him was during a particularly noisy night, he appeared totally incoherent added to a broad Exmoor accent, I was assured that he was in reasonably good shape before he left at closing time. I subsequently discovered that he had driven out of the car park and turned right instead of left, for Porlock and came too in Barnstaple eighteen miles away.
A few weeks later he was in the same state, it was suggested that the rear of his car be chained to the railings in the car park to prevent him driving, since it had proved impossible to get the keys off him. The next morning I found part of the rear end of a Ford Anglia chained to the railings, I gave up after that.
There were numerous incidents with Banjo, since he seemed to have a love, hate relationship with his accordion as the alcohol took effect. At the beginning of the evening it was his most treasured possession, by the end of the evening it was like a wheesing caterpillar wrapped round him or frequently falling to the floor as he lost his grip. My final recollection was of Banjo stomping towards the door the accordion falling down a short flight of steps, rather like the childs toy in the form of a spring that runs downstairs, only this sounded like a wind instrument breathing it’s last, very much out of tune.
His career as a high wireman came to a sad end when he touched a live cable, it would seem that this was not the first occasion, the first time the local story was that the alcohol protected him, this may be partly true since people under the influence are normally totally relaxed when the hit the ground, there was a story that he may have been in danger of exploding if the alcohol had ignited.
The Austin Seven club were annual visitors arriving with up to twenty four vintage cars, they camped in a farmers field, consumed enormous quantities of beer and caused us to keep late hours as usual. They seemed to be people from all walks of life but all sharing a passionate love of the old Austin Seven. On the Sunday wherever you went on the moor there seemed to be Austin Sevens’ being driven feverishly around, they always appeared to be driven by extra large people packed into these little cars, many sporting beards or whiskers and wearing period clothes. The Police would comment the next week, that I had obviously closed on time? Since all the lights were off with about twenty antique cars parked outside and in the car park at one o’clock in the morning.
The London Taxi drivers were very similar, about ten boxy London Taxis would arrive with an assortment of East End Characters in them, money brokers, city dealers, barrow boys, even a taxidermist. Some came for the fishing, others for the riding, in the evening they would come in for a meal, a lot of drinking and singing, the farmers would arrive and an endless joke session with typical East End humour, followed by cards. We would eventually get to bed at about four o’clock, desperately trying to remember the jokes for the next onslaught of visitors.
They normally stayed for about three days, which was very lucrative, funny and exhausting.
Their tales of the antics of their cutomers were almost unbelievable, but so many of them had similar experiences, that they had to be true.
One group who came from Biggin Hill appeared about six times a year and normally caused untold mayhem, their children assuming that they ever survived that long would cringe at their antics if related to them to-day.
They would come rushing down on a Friday night in an assortment of Range Rovers, a red E type Jaguar provided the driver had not lost his licence for drinking and driving, which he did twice in our time. They consisted of an Airline Pilot, an assortment of othe Pilots, including a fifty plus ex-Spitfire Pilot with a voluptuous, wealthy eighteen year old girl friend known as “Biscuit,” because they all thought she was “Crackers,” associating with someone old enough to be her Grandfather.
They always stayed at Doone Cottage opposite the pub, which was terrific business for us.
The amount of people that stayed there varied constantly and their sleeping arrangements did not bear scrutiny.
The story was that Biscuit always painted the ex Spitfire pilot with Honey and licked it off before they went to sleep, the mind naturally boggles at such stories.
They asked me back after the pub had shut to play cards, which I duly did. At about three o’clock in the morning, Biscuit appears in a shorty see through nightie, looking magnificent with a jar of honey saying to her elderly friend, “Are you coming to bed?”
Whether it was a set up for my benefit I will never know, but it was another interesting experience.
Dick had never ever been a respecter of time and least of all of my time, having decided that I was totally reliable, not particularly squeemish and a country boy at heart, would phone me at any hour.
The phone would go at three o’clock in the morning asking if I was still open, I would point out that since he was not there I had closed on time and was in bed.
The first phone call at this time, he said he had a problem one of his cows had gone down and could I come up to the farm to get her back on her feet.
I might have been borne in the country, but cows I have always avoided, since they tend to kick, stamp and butt with spiky things that stick out of a very hard skull.
My wife thought me totally mad as I put my clothes on and walked out of the bedroom.
I drove up to the farm to be met by Dick, he had phoned the vet, who I am sure was about as delighted as I was.
The cow was a somewhat substantial animal being used for beef and she was trying to calve. She had been standing in stall with block walls and had fallen over with the strain and effort, since in spite of their size they have very narrow hips, making calving quite tricky.
John Ridd was there, the three of us then had to manhandle the cow back on her feet in a confined space, not an easy job, we finally succeeded.
I was about to leave and Dick said we hadn’t finished yet, we still had to get the calf off. I am not good on medical emergencies unless I am the only one left to attend and this was one of those moments.
The cow was trying to calve and a pair of hooves appeared at the tail end and stopped, Dick put a rope round the hooves and gave one end to me and the other to John and we both pulled, nothing happened, finally we both had our feet pushing against the wall and pulling as hard as we could and the calf finally came away, to everyones’ relief, the cow included. The calf was fine and the vet arrived as we finished. It would appear that the calf was not affected by our efforts with the rope, I had visions of pulling it’s legs out of joint.
When I eventually got back to the pub and told my wife, she said that I hadn’t offered to help when the boys were born, I pointed out that she had not been in a barn and the only medical equipment had been a piece of rope.
Dick phoned me again at the same time on another night, with the same problem, but the calf died sadly.
He phoned me again one morning asking if I would go up to the farm in the afternoon, since he had a problem, it was lambing time, John Ridd was there and one of Dick’s workers.
Dick made us all swear eternal silence, at least in the short term.
A vixen had been killing lambs and we had to dig it out, I asked about the hunt, because they normally take responsibility for the foxes if they are a nuisance.
This one had found it too easy killing new born lambs to feed her cubs, unfortunately they do not necessarily kill to eat, but kill out of habit, possibly the ewe had chased her off after killing the lamb and she had gone after other ones, causing havoc.
If the Hunt find that you have killed a fox, they will ostracise you completely, especially on Exmoor at that time and we certainly were very reliant on the various hunts for business during the week in the pub.
We survived for four years with the total madness of Exmoor, the pub was successful, the bizarre antics of customers and almost unbelievable stories, were the same but slightly different each year.
My brother-in-law left the Merchant Navy and decided that he wanted to buy the pub and after due negotiation we settled on a deal, much to my Wife’s relief since we had four young children and a fifth on his way.
The rigours of late night drinking with the farmers and working flat out during the day, made me wonder whether I was verging on becoming an alcoholic.
I declined any form of alcohol for two weeks and had absolutely no side effects, much to my relief.
We then retired to Cornwall for a year before buying some more pubs and crazy businesses, I am sure that I will remember the odd humorous story to insert in this epistle and I hope that you have enjoyed our antics on Exmoor. I personally think it is something everyone should do, buy a country pub, my Wife disagrees of course.
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