The boys in the public giving it large
somebody’s birthday, any excuse.
The men in the lounge bar, generally terse,
polished mahogany, hunting prints, smoke.
The lavs and the fag machine, handily placed
in the passage between them, narrow and bare,
where many a deal for beast or machine
is sealed with a spit and a cursory shake.
Rosemary flits between public and lounge
a barmaid as pleasant and willing as any
but push her too far and she’ll turn you to jelly.
The Woodman as ever, low-eaved in the lane,
open to locals, grim for all else.
Up at the bar in their customary places
there’s Tony the Tractor and old Piggy Fred
Trevor the Quarry and Micky the Van
Harvey the Vet’nry, Percy the Farm.
Tony and Piggy walked three fields each morning
and sat next in school every day for ten year
(before it were bulldozed and built with them flats).
Trevor’s alright, but you need to be sharp,
if you ask him the time he’ll expect a fresh pint.
Just touch his tobaccy, he’ll call you outside.
And Micky, well Micky has won and he’s lost,
he once had his colours and watched his horse win,
they’ve still got the silk in a frame on the wall,
but now he’s got nothing except those blue eyes,
that thatch of blond hair, that come hither grin,
so the women still love him, and Micky’s the king.
Well, Harvey, you’d say, was a posh little kid,
lived in the Rect’ry, driven to school.
It’s gen’rally said, though, he come out alright,
he’ll see you OK if you find yourself short
and he won’t walk away from the sick or the lame.
It’s just best to call him around about twelve
when his hangover’s waning and lunch not yet served.
And Percy, yes Percy, of Claphammer Farm,
he’s not a nice man and he weren’t a nice kid,
though I know they all say that his old man were worse;
three wives and twelve dogs, it’s a lot to get through
before you’ve reached fifty, we won’t say no more.
Round to the side, on threadbare moquette,
are Fudgie and Squeak, with their mentor the Boss.
There’s talk he’s a villain but nobody asks.
He bought the old manor with two hundred acres
and holds his cigars between diamond rings.
His wife, she were local; they rode with the hunt,
brimful of vodka and little blue pills.
He don’t ride no more on account of his size,
but he wept when his hunter was loaded and taken
and threw in his saddle, his cap and his boots.
He fitted his Massey with quadruple speakers
and Fudgie shifts muck to Sinatra and Dean.
Basic’lly Squeak walks about looking evil,
toting a shotgun and shooting at crows,
(and squirrels and rabbits and pigeons and foxes),
stone deaf, the poor bloke, so not much conversation,
but makes a hare curry to curl all your toes.
An ordinary evening, the night setting in,
the chat is of gundogs, their breeding and faults,
the probable rise in the price of sulphates
and the wonderful roundness of Rosemary’s bum.
The door crashes open, “Hey up!” someone cries,
in through the dust looms a terrible sight.
He’s covered in blood and he sinks to the floor,
(Rosemary’s hand hovers over the phone
she was here when old Barker came in with his gun
and shot Tiger Tim for poaching his wife).
Chairs overturn and pints are secured,
only the Boss stays unmoved in his place
giving his orders, impeccably calm:
“Just go and see what the silly prat’s done.”
There’s blood on his lycra and blood on his hat.
It’s Paul the Biker and maybe he’s… dead?
But he groans and he stirs and they step back a bit
helpfully slopping a drench of warm beer.
“My God!” he exclaims, “them cows is real ‘ard!”
Hauled to the bar, he accepts an old towel,
refuses the offer of hose, fuzz or cart.
The Vet takes a look and pronounces him fit,
though it has to be said, by this time of night,
Old Harvey has prob’ly drunk more than his nag.
“I was just biking through the top meadow,” Paul gasps
“And I hit it full on. Forking cow! What a thing!
Bloody well standing there, up on the path!”
Sympathy flows and lager supplied,
when out of the corner one voice disagrees
“Young Paul,” says the farmer, “I’ll give you a bell.
When they comes in for milking, we’ll take a good look
which one of my girls has a dent on her head
and we can discuss the matter of fault.”
Of course, you’d expect it from Percy the Farm,
he’d buy and sell all of us, tight little git.
But, like Jabba the Hutt, the Boss takes command:
“That path is public,” he growls from his throne,
“I reckon his bike is remarkably bent.
You’d better start thinking which one of your girls
is down for this damage to man and machine.”
Well, Percy stands up; the Boss remains seated.
Squeak gives a growl but is ordered to “Sit!”
For one breathless minute they stare at each other,
then Percy thinks better and beats a retreat.
A small confrontation, just one of many,
but one more good story to add to the fund:
When Paul Rode his Bike into Percy’s Prize Jersey.
The Woodman, as ever, you can’t find it now.
They ripped out the bars and they built out the back
and put in a carpet and brought in a chef.
They piped in the music and piped in the beer,
in Rosemary’s judgement, “All of it piss.”
They threw out the trophies for darts and the shoot,
in summer no cricket, in winter no hunt.
They broke up the tethering rail and the trough,
they tarmacked the front and landscaped the back.
They banned all the locals for wearing work clothes
(and fighting on Thursdays when wages were paid).
The people from Croydon come out in their cars
and celebrate birthdays with champagne and steak.
They tell all their friends of the lovely old inn
“Real country,” they say, “dead quiet and unchanged,
just like it must have been, in the old days.”
Ann Butler Rowlands