Ye Olde George Inn.
This 11th, 13th and 15th century pub
in the village of Ickleford, Hertfordshire
has so many tales to share.
It’s situated next to the church
and even has an underground passage
from the pub to the church where, long ago,
the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin
is supposed to have hidden.
Oh, the characters who frequented this pub
all those years ago, were all famous for something
and I learnt something from each one,
though I didn’t always know it at the time.
The four young men, brothers dominated
by their domineering mother –
none were married (would she have allowed it?)
I remember thinking, "That wouldn’t do for me."
The weathered old seaman regaling the pub
with his stories of his time with the merchant navy
in such faraway places.
Ken, the handsome man
who always brought the eggs
and stood at the end of the bar
with his pint of Abbot Ale,
whose friend Stan kept house
and rarely stepped over the threshold of the pub.
Naturally at a later age, I realised they were gay.
The publican's daughter
always had Labrador dogs,
Trudy at first and then Tanda, her pup.
Father Thomas, the rector
was often seen being followed
by one or both.
He had spent many years in St. Kitts
and often had visitors from that island.
One day he asked the publican's daughter
to see his visitor off safely at the railway station
from the bus going into the local market town.
Small villages are ripe for gossip
and before even getting home,
her father had been informed,
“Your daughter is going out with a Blackman”.
The publican quickly replied,
“Quite likely, she has lots of friends".
That took the wind out of their sails!
Another time, during a funeral in church,
a woman whispered very loudly several times,
"Father Thomas, there is a dog in church",
His reply “She’s all in black, isn’t she?"
Father Thomas always popped in for his tipple
after Sunday service; he was never short
of a drink at this midday meeting, I think sometimes,
so that the pathway to heaven was guaranteed.
Many were envious of Father Thomas’
excellent cooking skills, which one could see
he enjoyed in his rotund figure.
The village had the odd assortment of people
from local farmers and working folk to the eccentric
and lively wife of a Battle of Britain squadron leader,
who always wore colorful though odd stockings and
"avant-garde" attire and rode her bicycle
for her noonday social drink after which the publican
invariably had to escort her and her bicycle home,
more than tipsy, but all those years wondering
if her pilot husband would return, is it any wonder
she nursed her drinks.
The pub was honoured in the car park
with a burgundy Rolls Royce, another eccentric,
Jackie and her husband, their son was in the theatre,
whether he became famous is anyone's guess.
The pub served the usual “ploughman's lunch"
of cheeses, pickled onions, pickled eggs, sausage rolls,
but after the publican started a "car club",
those members wanted more substantial meals.
So John the Chef was acquired.
What that man could create
on an ordinary 5 burner stove was nothing short
of miraculous and before long orders for dinner,
weddings and other celebrations were booked.
There was a room upstairs
found by a winding narrow staircase.
One evening during a dinner for ten guests
in their evening dress and dinner suits,
a disaster occurred, tomato soup
all down the front of a guest's immaculate
dinner suit, the waitress bursting into tears
and a £10 note thrust in her hand to placate her.
Did he not want to go to that ball?
She never knew.
Her job was always to arrange the flowers
on the 16 foot 4 inch long table before John
would make his entrance in his brilliant white uniform
and tall chef's hat, his sharp knife at the ready
to carve the ham, beef, etc. and her reward
each year, especially for her, a birthday cake:
a bright yellow bonnet with an emerald ribbon,
the Houses of Parliament, and
a crinoline lady, to name a few.
There were three bars in the pub:
the public bar where working clothes
were allowed and darts were played;
the saloon bar with the long table
and bar billiard table;
and the small snug bar,
mostly for romantic couples.
And as this pub was only a few yards over the line
for the Royal Air Force officer cadets to imbibe,
it was popular for them, and one evening
the casual appearance raised an eyebrow with the publican.
“Jackets and ties please, gentlemen”, was his remark.
The next evening the cadets in force all turned up
in jackets and ties, but no shirts.
I can still hear the publican laughing.
There was always a little bribery between the siblings.
“I want to borrow the car."
"Go and play the piano," the younger was ordered.
There was a slight furor on the eve
of the youngest' 17th birthday.
Despite a large event going on, the publican said
“Go and put the L plates on the car, we are off for a drive".
“Where are you going?" his wife asked.
“My daughter doesn’t turn 17 every day!"
So out into the midnight March air
they went, to prove the point.
Many an early morning came
after a ball with the air force cadets.
“You’ll never amount to much", the younger sibling was told,
though I think she did end up being quite successful.
One sad evening has to be remembered,
when a man ordering a large whiskey had tears in his eyes.
The publican was told and subsequently it was revealed
he had just deposited his daughter to start her noviciate
to become a nun, and his little girl was no more.
The pub was the place joys and sorrows were shared. Even so, pubs in England are closing all the time,
and now have to be open all day
instead of the split hours in those days.
Christmas and New Year were always riotous.
Haggis was always served, lots of kissing under mistletoe,
often with complete strangers. So, as we start a new year and a new decade
I can still hear the familiar sounds of
“Last orders please”
ten minutes before closing
and then the full voice of the publican saying,
"Time, Gentlemen, please".