Category Archives: Pub stories

A walk round the streets can do you good.

As a youngster Tim had been a loner – partly by choice and partly because of circumstance. Dad had always seemed to be changing jobs – changes that caused his son to be continually changing schools. He coped very well as a loner. On leaving school he went to Technical College to learn extra skills and from there earned a place at University. It was not one of the top ones – Oxford, Cambridge and the like were beyond him – but it was a pretty good one.

Today was the first time that Tim Peterson had been back in this University town since he had graduated. In those long gone days his life had been beer in the pubs by the river, rowing with the girls on the river and late-night combinations of beer, girls and a trad-jazz band of some quality in the bar close by the river. Oh, he had studied as well and had obtained a reasonable 2:1 at the end of it all.

He had arrived late yesterday, checked into the hotel, sampled the mini-bar contents and then fallen asleep.

His alarm told him it was eight o’clock already – and reminded him why he was there. He had a 10 o’clock appointment with the local college selection board for a teaching post there. Julie, his wife, had seen the advertisement in the Sunday paper and had convinced him that it was a post that fitted him to a tee. He wasn’t so sure but he had humoured her by applying. The college, much to his surprise, had invited him for interview – and here he was. Not only that – he was determined to make a good case for the powers-that-be to hire him.

To be honest – he could not really care less about it, but Julie did. She was getting fed up with his frequent changes of jobs. It was not too bad while she was working as well – between them they had a more than adequate income for their needs. Now things were changing. Julie was six months pregnant and it was time Tim got himself a stable job; one of security, stability, and a decent income. Today was the day he was out to prove that he had what it took. Julie deserved it.

A church clock struck twelve noon as Tim stood outside the college gates. He was disgusted, disappointed and extremely angry – and that was an understatement. The optimism, ambition and determination he had felt when he had left home were all gone. The dismissive interview had destroyed all that. He had forced himself to believe that this opportunity would make a fresh start for him and Julie and their soon-to-be little one. Now it was crushed; he was crushed; he had let Julie and himself down. He could blame the ‘interrogation board’ but they were just doing their job, even if it seemed a bit one sided.

He felt that it was him – Tim the failure again. He walked across to the taxi rank – ‘Station please’ he said as the driver opened the door.

When he reached the station despondency, fear, self-loathing hit him. It was made worse by his mobile ringing. It was probably Julie. He didn’t answer it. How could he ‘face’ her? He had failed.

When the call had ended he played it back. It was Julie. ‘Hello Tim; just wondering how things went. Give me a call when you pick this up. I love you – and little one has just wriggled in my tummy. Bye.’

Tim turned the mobile off; put it in his overnight bag and put the bag in one of the security boxes at the station. He just couldn’t face going home just yet.

He wandered out of the station and meandered along a street he hadn’t seen for years. West Street had changed in many ways since he had seen it last. There was a lot more traffic for one, but it was still recognisable in others. It was certainly more appropriate to his feelings than a stroll through the ancient colleges of the city centre. As he walked, the ‘feel’ of the street began to merge into his mood. He became aware of the tattooists, the bicycle repair shop, an Asian general store and a couple of Chinese restaurants. He stopped and looked at the low-cost furniture shop’s display and thought of the conversation he had with Julie about moving and refurnishing when little-one arrived. There were estate agents – no need of those now, they wouldn’t be moving to this town after this morning’s debacle.

He walked on to a road junction. Across the road was ‘The Blue Boar’ – a sleazy looking pub that told all and sundry that they were ‘open all day’. It didn’t look much like the pub he would normally frequent – but he needed a drink. To his left and right was a narrower – much less busy –street. The one to his left headed to ‘who knows where’. To his right was a street of drab looking houses. Tim forgot about the ‘Blue Boar’ across the road, and his plan to drown his sorrows, and turned up the street of those drab houses. They matched his feelings, so he thought he would join them.

He hadn’t walked far when he began to feel at home – not that it was anything like his home with Julie. This street had a ‘feel’ that suited his present mind-set – depressed, frustrated, yet now becoming determined.   All the houses opened straight on to a narrow pavement no more than a single stride wide. He walked on, then, without warning, the pavement did widened. A low wall filled the gap and behind that was a single cottage with grass that needed cutting and some shrubs that had seen younger days. The building was something tangible, cosy in its’ own right yet seemingly unoccupied and lonely; a house saying ‘you’re welcome here, I know how you feel’ to Tim.

Tim stood and looked – something in the back of his mind was trying to get out. Something was beginning to establish itself when an aged man stood behind the window – staring at him. Before Tim could react the man had thrown open the window and shouted angrily in a dialect Tim didn’t recognise. He didn’t need to know what was being said – it was very clear that he was not welcome standing and staring just there. Tim mouthed a silent ‘sorry’ and moved on. The man reminded him of his grandfather who didn’t like people ‘gorping’ at him either.

It also brought back the interview he had attended that morning. The interviewers had not really wanted him. Tim was convinced that they knew the one that they wanted from the beginning. For them Tim – and probably one or two others – was ‘cannon fodder’. They were just going through the motions to make it look legit.

This street – strangely devoid of traffic – was taking hold of him. Was it showing the same depression that he felt? Was it in need of a ‘pick-me-up’ to bring it back to life? Tim mumbled ‘I know how you feel’. He walked on a short way then saw a welcome sign. ‘The King’s Arms’ it said. Tim still wanted a drink and went in. The place was empty apart for a middle-aged woman behind the bar – and she seemed to have the same amount of drive and humour as Tim felt – ZERO. He looked around – the place had seen better days and could do with a clean. He settled for a bottled beer and a bag of crisps. The woman served him then turned her back – she obviously did not want to talk. Tim drank his beer straight from the bottle, finished off his crisps and was just leaving as half a dozen men pushed in. They were obviously regulars as the woman started pulling beer as they walked in.

Outside the pub Tim looked at his watch. He should retrace his steps and get back to the station and his journey home but something in his mind told him – ‘not yet – walk a little further’. He looked again at his watch – ‘ten minutes more he said to himself’ then I’ll head back.

Twenty yards or so from the pub there was a road joining from the right. Sandison Street – a new name as far as he could recall from his past time here – looked like it should head back to the railway station. Tim turned into it. He hadn’t gone far when he saw a house that was so different from everything thing else he had seen.

It stood back a little from the road – there looked as if one or two cars could park there – and had been spruced up. The large window facing the road did not have a domestic look about it.   Moving a little closer Tim could see that interior was a workshop – a workshop with a very cluttered bench inside. It may be surrounded on either side by houses, and behind the workshop there may be a house as well – but in front it presented itself as ‘Peter Barker – Bow Maker’. Tim went closer. The workspace was crowded but not scruffy – and the bows were very obviously not for shooting arrows. Lying on a table were five musical bows for strung instruments. On the door hung a handwritten sign ‘Back soon’.

Tim stood there. Hadn’t there been a Peter Barker at his time at the Uni? Hadn’t he been a musician? ‘It can’t be the same guy can it’ Tim thought. With a shrug he looked at his watch and walked on.

The road turned to the left – it wasn’t heading to the station it seemed so Tim turned round and began retracing his steps.

The ‘Back soon’ sign on the door had gone and Tim paused and looked through the window. A man – presumably Peter Barker – was there, putting on an apron. As Tim watched he selected something from his bench before sitting down with a work-in-process bow on his lap. There was something about him – the way he’d walked; the way he held his head – that reminded Tim of the past. Could this be that fellow student of days gone by? Certainly the Peter Barker he remembered was musical with both voice and instrument. This one looked at ease with his work – work that no doubt he enjoyed. He looked up, saw Tim, smiled and nodded to him, then carried on with his shaping of another bow. Tim smiled, raised his hand in acknowledgement and headed back to catch a train. ‘If only I had more time’ Tim thought.

At the station he retrieved his bags and caught the next train heading homeward. Once on his way, Tim tex’d a simple message to Julie – ‘Been here; done it; taken a walk; home soon. Love you – and little wriggly-one’.

Once home he told Julie the whole story of the day. She cursed the appraisal board; said it was their loss not Tim’s; and then changed the subject to what the ‘little wriggly-one’ had been doing.

Tim decided that the board’s decision was their loss, and that the walk round the streets was his gain. There were more educational establishments around that needed staff – and anyway, there were more important things pending. One of these was only three months or so away.

Over the following days Tim found himself having a more positive attitude than he had enjoyed for ages. The forthcoming ‘little wriggly-one’ was a great boost, and if he started to feel down he recalled watching Peter Barker.

He envied that man’s apparent self-sufficiency and every time he began to feel down Tim looked for ‘the Barker effect’. It worked – but he didn’t tell Julie that; she might get the wrong idea. In any case – when little William Timothy Peterson arrived there would be more pressing needs anyway.

One thing Tim never did tell Julie was that he had toyed with the idea of having their little fellow christened William Timothy Barker Peterson in memory of a day that began a change in his daddy’s view on life.

2,042 words

 

 

The Tudor House

I had been unimpressed by the rambling Victorian pile of bricks Susie had taken me to see. I had no idea what had fired her enthusiasm about it but sometimes her ‘feeling’ about things had been right, and we were looking for something different, so I went along with her. The house was being auctioned on behalf of an estate with one heir who had no interest in it – and I think I could see why. The bidding started low and stayed slow, the bid price climbing in small increments. I followed the trend and was surprised when it was knocked down me at quite a few thousand pounds below our limit. Susie was jumping around in glee when the hammer fell.

As we completed the after-sale paperwork, two men, standing nearby, looked at us.  ‘You’re not from around here are you?’ the one said.

‘No’ I said, ‘we’re not.’

‘That would explain it then’ added the other as they walked away.

With the paperwork completed we drove out for a last look at our acquisition before heading home. Tudor House stood back from a narrow by-road threading its way across the countryside. Susie just stood and gazed at the house.  ‘All ours’ she breathed. ‘All ours and it feels so …….’ she paused ‘……. so special.’  That done we dropped into the nearby pub for a bite to eat. We were its only customers.

‘Don’t get too many here this early’, the barman said in answer to my silent query.

‘What’s the village like?’

‘It’s OK. You passing through?’

‘’Sort of – but we’ll be back. We’ve just bought Tudor House down the way there,’

Oh‘, he paused, ‘what made you do that?’

‘We liked it’ Susie chipped in. ‘It looks and feels different to other places we’ve looked at.’

‘Well you’re not wrong there’ he said, moving away to serve a couple who had just come in.

Autumn was well advanced when we finally moved in. We soon made it a routine to visit the pub a couple of evenings each week, avoiding weekends when ‘the townies’ invaded. Everyone was friendly and welcoming – to a point. Whenever the fact that we had bought Tudor House came up the conversation seemed to die and there would be a change of subject.  Eventually I reacted to this. There was just me, Josh the barman and Charlie, who claimed his family had lived in the village for a couple of centuries or more, in the bar.

‘So what is it about our house that causes people to clam up and change the subject?’

Josh and Charlie exchanged glances. It was Josh who began ‘Well,’ he paused, searching for the right words, ‘that place has a reputation; stories; strange things.’ He went quiet and Charlie took up the story. ‘Things happen around that house. People don’t stay there long. They leave without giving a reason – or telling the next folk why they are leaving.’

‘So?’

Before either could respond the door was flung open and the quietness vanished as half a dozen lads burst in, heading for the bar and calling their orders as they did so. Josh became busy and Charlie drifted away and soon was gone.  I drained my glass and left as well. As I walked back to Tudor House my mind was struggling with the implied meanings of their comments.

It was dark when I got back to the house. Its bulk in the darkness looked foreboding. A freshening east wind blew up from nowhere and made me shiver. The cobbled stable yard was a collecting place for fallen leaves and the wind caught them, swirling them upward creating a rustling sound that seemed to linger in the disused buildings around. I jumped as some leaves swirled past my face.

‘Bloody fool’, I muttered as I let myself into the house.

Susie was already in bed. As I went up I looked out of the window; the clouds were scudding across the sky, sometimes covering the moon, at others leaving it to light up the whole landscape. It clearly showed the road with a track-way, something like a coach path, turning away from the road and heading toward the house. I hadn’t noticed that before.

‘Quite Gothic’ I thought to myself.

Susie was spark out but I laid thinking about the conversation in the pub.  Outside the wind had freshened further and I could hear the leaves dancing with it in the yard. A couple of times I heard other, indistinct but different, noises before finally falling asleep.

I woke up with a start. There was a distinct smell of smoke. My bedside clock showed 2.30. I nudged Susie awake. She sniffed.

‘Smoke?’ she stated in a querying tone as we climbed out of bed.

A thorough search revealed nothing except that the smell seemed to be all over the house – not strong in any one place but noticeable everywhere. After half-an-hour or so we had either become used to the smell or it had gone. As we went back to bed, something caused me to look out of the window. The moon was spreading its light across the fields. Was there something moving on the track-way cutting across the field? Whatever it was, it vanished in the copse by the road.

The following night the smell of smoke again woke me. Susie remained fast asleep. The waning moon sent a subdued cold light into the room. I sniffed the air. It was smoke – but the smoke alarms we had fitted and tested that morning had given no warning. The clock showed 2.30. I climbed out of bed. All was silent. The smoke smell lingered. From somewhere I heard a sound – faint but distinct. It sounded like shod horse’s hooves on cobbles.  Susie, stirred, muttered ‘He’s here’, and slept on.

Then there was no sound, inside or out, except Susie’s even breathing. The smoke smell had gone. I gazed out of the window for a while. Nothing moved. I got back into bed but it seemed like ages before I fell asleep.  At breakfast Susie was her normal morning bright self, and I said nothing about my nocturnal experience.

A month passed with nothing upsetting the equilibrium of our life. Tudor House was now definitely home. The visits to the pub dropped off to once a week. Susie rarely came and the subject of the house and its history never entered conversation.

The moon was again on the wane when I was awoken by the sound of horse’s hooves on cobbles and the jingle and rattle of a harness. ‘Who the hell is that’, I thought as I turned and looked at the clock. It showed 2.30.  I nudged Susie; she grunted, muttered ‘He’s here,’ and slept on. I nudged her harder.

‘What?’

‘Can you hear anything?’

‘No, but there’s that smoky smell again.’

‘You said ‘he’s here’. Who’s he? Who’s here?’

‘Did I? I don’t remember’ she said as she climbed out of bed and went to the window. I joined her. Something moving along the track-way caught my eye. I looked closely. Was it there? Was it someone on horseback riding away into the darkness? At this time of the morning? I shook my head. I suddenly felt hot – as if I was standing in front of a blazing fire. Susie moved close to me.

‘It’s nothing. Let’s get back into bed. I’m freezing standing here like this.’  Then a smell of burning permeated the room. It was no longer smoky – it was strong – something, somewhere was on fire.  ‘Those damn smoke sensors are useless’ I snapped as we headed to the stairs and looked down. Nothing.

Down stairs the smell was as strong as it had been upstairs. We checked every room. All felt warmer than usual but there was no fire – just that damned smell of smoke. I looked through the kitchen window toward the old stables. Did something move there? The leaves swirled as a breeze caught them. I went outside. There was nothing – just the swirling leave but – the smoke smell seemed even stronger there. Somewhere in the distance I heard a horse whinny. The rest of the world slept.

Bemused and confused I went back in and locked the door. Sleep was now out of the question; and the smoke smell had all but gone – now overpowered by Susie’s brewing coffee.

Daylight showed everything as it should be.

That lunchtime we decided visit to the pub.  Charlie was there. We sat down beside him and told him of our strange night. I added the tale of my earlier disruptive night. I also added Susie’s ‘He’s here’ comments.

Charlie said nothing.

‘So?’ I said. ‘What do you know about this?’

Charlie shook his head. ‘Nothing; nothing really.’

‘Come on – spill it’, I could sense Charlie was backing away from something. ‘Tell us what you know.’

He sighed – ‘there is a story about that house. No-one seems to stay there long. Three or four of them have upped and left – usually about this time of the year. None have ever said anything – they’ve just left.’

He looked at us, and then came to a decision.  ‘It’s like this. There has been a house there for about 600 years. The first stood there until Victoria became Queen. That burned down. The one you’ve got was built about 1850. They named it ‘Tudor House.’

Charlie went quiet.

‘So?’ Susie challenged after what seemed like an age of silence.

‘They say the burning was done by a stable hand who had been sacked. It’s reckoned he rode down the old Coach Path in the middle of the night and set fire to the stables. The wind was in the east and the whole darned lot went up in flames. It was about this time of year when it happened, so they say.’

‘They said nothing about this on the prospectus.’ I sounded aggrieved.

Charlie looked at me closely.

‘Will you tell anyone when you come to sell?’