Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Swinging on Caligula's Nipples

A handwritten sign at the bar door promised a 'selection of traditional cask ales'. Perfect. Surely a belly full of real beer tonight would not spoil my strict training regime? Mainly, because I didn't have a training regime, strict or otherwise. No tonight it was a case of no bars held on the drinking front. Especially if there we're local cask ales available to sample.

I love to try new, rare and interesting sounding ales and no name could be too ridiculous to stop me giving them a try. Brewers droop, Old Leg Over, Dragon's Crag, Hobgoblin or Holy Grail ale, I would be happy to try a sample of any. My only prerequisite was that it must pass the three fundamental Golden Standards. Firstly, that, on first tasting, my vision should not be immediately impaired and there should be no sudden attacks of paralysis or instant retching, and if all was well on these three points, I'd be certain to give it a go.

The Falcon bar was small, but wonderfully olde England. Lots more of that of dark wood panelling, decorated with old photos of the house and town of Settle, with images of it's long-since departed inhabitants. A selection of once-beloved drinking tankards hung from the ceiling and a beautiful, long, brass yard measure held pride of place over the large hearth, which, on this warm evening, remained unlit.

In addition to the three Toby mugs seated on stools at the bar, there were only a handful of couples eating quietly at tables in the room leading from the bar. A young waitress was attending to one of the couples. Looking good on the food front, I thought.

There was a spare high stool at the end of the bar, so, not wanting to be antisocial, I joined the three regulars who were already perched there.  The men, all in their late  60s or early 70s ,I guessed, were painfully thin and I could tell they were regulars as they weren't saying much to each other and all had made little more effort with their clothing, which hung off their shoulders like damp tea towels on wire coat hangers. If the three of them were manacled to the walls of an ancient Roman dungeon, they wouldn't have looked at all out of place. The most painfully gaunt of the line was talking in hushed, gravelled tones, through a severely tobacco-stained, yellow-grey beard. He seemed to be complaining about something and , from the words I could make out, his language was nothing short of obscene. In front of him a phone, the size of a house brick, suddenly bleeped into life. " Ah f****." he burped. "Hold up a second", he now let out a vile, phlegm-cough, which instantly turned my stomach.

He picked up the phone with an orange-coloured, skeletal hand. "Front desk, can I help you ?.. Yes madam....Yes, I believe the concert starts tomorrow evening at quarter passed seven, at Gigglewick Academy."

My God, with one magical, bronchial hack, he's turned from a foul mouthed old sea dog into Sir John Guildgood.

"Will that be all madam?...Of course, madam.. Have a lovely evening."

He put the phone down and noticed I had been listening with interest.

"Look's like you needs a beer mate," he glanced over my shoulder and returned news that the barman was on his way.

"That would be me", it was the Hotel manager again.  "What can I get you, Sir?" So as to not waste any time he was already wiping a pint glass, with the sort of cloth that I imagined  would be used for miscellaneous purposes behind the bar.

"Well I am interested in your cask ales?"

 "Right." he said, " Pint of Tetley coming up."

 "Oh do you have any others? " I enquired politely.

"It's Tetley Sir?" he gave me that astonished look again and, for a split second, I could have sworn that his big shiny head turned, just for a brief moment, into a huge blueBerry muffin, I shook my head to remove the image. Head back to normal, he was still staring at me, glass in one hand, other hand poised over the Tetley tap.

"But your sign the door mentioned a variety of cask ales?  Plural." The four old dungeon folk looked imploringly at me. They obviously knew this unhinged hotelier far better than I. It was clear that they considered what I was doing equated to dancing into the lion's den, at the Roman colosseum. Possibly even dressed as Ronald MacDonald and carrying an armful of cheese burgers.

"PLURAL?" his eye twitched briefly.

" Yeah, more than one? " I smiled broadly at him and down the bar hoping to induce some levity into an unnecessarily awkward and uncomfortable interaction. He blinked hard at me and shot a look along the faces at the bar. Three pairs of eyes immediately looked down into their Tetley dregs.

His glare returned to me. "We DO have more than one, Sir...", he spat the words at me. Now I felt I was back in colosseum territory with this mad man and, by the looks of things, this time I was swinging on Caligula 's nipples singing 'ding dong the king is dead' .

"....WE HAVE TETLEY SMOOTH", I thought he might finish this revelation with announcing 'check mate!' but he resisted.

There was a long and heavy pause.

 "Oh lovely" I said, summoning every ounce of sincerity I could muster, "I'll have that then, please."

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