We had a party the other night. A kind of fancy-dress do, where everybody came dressed as a pub. There were several Red Cows, three Spotted Dogs, a Lord Nelson, a Duke Of Wellington, several Queen Victorias and a Pig And Whistle. And of course a Black Lion. This, naturally, being the guvner himself.
Then John The Butcher arrived. He was carrying a placard which read, ‘repent all ye who enter here for the end of the world is neigh’. He was also carrying a bloodied parcel, which he slapped on the counter in front of the guvner.
‘There you are. Five pound of the best tee-bone.. Tender as a baby’s bottom’.
‘What would you know about babies?’, someone in the crowd piped up. John was a confirmed bachelor.
‘Plenty’, he said, without averting his eyes from the pint that was being poured by one of the Red Cows. ‘I was one once’.
The guvner, meantime ,was dividing his time between sniffing at the parcel and studying the placard. Eventually, satisfied with the meat, he shoved it out of sight and rescued a tenner from the till. This he shoved grudgingly in John’s direction, indicating the placard as he did so.
‘Am I missing something?’
John waited until he had lowered the froth on his pint to below the half-way line before answering. ‘Ha, ha. Got ya there, haven’t I?’ He flicked a hand at the sign. ‘It’s the world’s end’.
‘Is it? Not right this minute I trust? Not in the middle of my busy time’. He looked closely at John. ‘You gone religious or sumthin’?’
‘You berk. The World’s End. It’s a pub.’
‘Never heard of it’
‘It’s a pub I tell ya. Down the Kings Road’.
‘He is right. I myself have been there many times’. This was Artic Alice. ‘I can vouch for its existence’.
Alice always spoke in a clipped, formal way. A legacy of her upbringing undoubtably, which, it was rumoured, included some of the best finishing schools in the land. Alice herself never confirmed (or denied) these stories, but there was no doubt she was well-educated, and, from the way she conducted herself in company, well-bred.
Alice never got drunk. She was content to sip Martinis in her favourite corner, poring over a crossword or a book, being polite to everyone, never opening her heart to a soul. She participated in the occasional pub quiz ( at which she excelled), but she was still as much a mystery woman as the day she first appeared about five years ago. Hence her nickname.
‘There. If Alice says it exists that should be good enough for you’. John finished his pint and signalled for another.
‘Not so fast’. The guvner wasn’t going to concede as easily as that. ‘Anyone can invent a pub. How do I know it exists?’
I forgot to mention that the reason for dressing up is this competition the guvner dreamed up, in which the winner can drink as much as he or she is capable of over the weekend. It occurs to me he might have a good reason for not wanting John to participate. With his capacity for unlimited guzzling he might easily drink the place dry.
Alice, who was to be the judge, wouldn’t be denied. ‘Of course it exists.’
‘That may well be. But it still isn’t proof’.
‘Proof you want, is it?’ It was the first time I had heard Alice raise her voice. ‘I’ll give you proof’. She snatched her handbag from the counter and rummaged through it for a few moments. Eventually, she produced a cutting, dog-eared, and yellowing ,and spread it out before us on the counter.
‘Hey, that’s Georgie Best’. The guvner poked a finger at the picture staring up at us. A look of something approaching awe appeared on his face. ‘Is that you pulling him a pint?’
‘It certainly is me. I was much younger then of course. What does it say on that banner behind me?’
We could all see it now, in letters that must have been a foot high. WORLDS END PUB …GRAND OPENING BY GEORGE BEST…FREE BEER ALL DAY
‘I knew I could rely on you Alice’. John clapped her on the shoulder. ‘You deserve a large drink after all that’.
‘Thank you John. My usual will suffice’. Alice carefully folded her cutting and placed it in her bag between the pages of a loose-leaf note-book that looked filled with notes. ‘By the way, the word is nigh’.
‘The end of the world is nigh, John, not neigh’.

More tales from the Black Lion soon…

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