The Five HorseshoesDavid McDine / Humor / Horror
The Five Horseshoes
By David McDine
Copyright 2016 David McDine
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This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Imagine a time when beer was two shillings – ten pence – a pint and you could buy a house for three thousand pounds. There were no mobile phones and there was nothing personal about computers. The few that existed were the size of the average bungalow. The pace of life was slower. Stress had not been discovered, at least, not in Nether Snuffingham. And nothing much happened to the people who lived there. Most of the time...
Nothing much happened at the Five Horseshoes. Nothing much had ever happened there, if you discount times when the beer was off or there was an outbreak of food poisoning attributed by some to the landlady’s homemade pies.
The Romans had bypassed the village, literally. They chose to build their long, straight road a few miles to the north.
Anglo-Saxon warrior tribes had left little mark, apart from inserting some pretty fierce Brünnhilde types into the local female gene pool. The landlady, Gladys, was a case in point.
One of the few significant events was back in 1085 when a Norman surveyor turned up to check out what to record in the Domesday Book. He didn’t find much and the village rated merely a brief mention as being worth forty shillings, inhabited by a few peasants, serfs and a handful of cattle and swine, and to be taxed at one yoke, whatever that meant.
And, as late as the early 1960s, those peasants and serfs were still pretty much in evidence. Witness the public bar of an evening. Even now few of them bother about paying taxes. Most prefer cash in hand.
The village had pretty much slumbered through the centuries. Unfortunately its inhabitants did not hear about the Peasants’ Revolt until it was all over, otherwise some would almost certainly have had a go.
A couple of local farmhands had set off to join the Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War, but couldn’t find them, so returned to the village unscathed – if a little sheepish.
There was a brief flurry of excitement back in 1943 when a shot-down German airman who had parachuted into the churchyard was captured by two pitchfork-toting landgirls and brought into the public bar. ‘For you, sunshine,’ the village bobby was alleged to have told the startled prisoner, ‘the war is over. Fancy a pint?’
The swinging sixties had not even begun to swing locally. There were regulars there who knew little of life outside and had not yet heard of the Beatles, never seen a miniskirt, and thought drainpipes were the things rainwater ran down.
One of the few exceptions was Norman Butcher, who occasionally dropped in for a pint on his way home from work. He had seen or heard of all of the above through commuting by train from the nearby market town to his civil service job in London. But he didn’t rabbit on about it – or anything else, come to that.
Of course there was the local newspaper reporter, Des Crow, from the Mercury, who usually popped in once a week. He claimed to know just about everything. But he was more interested in extracting information from the locals than educating them about the fashions and fads of the day.
The pub, known to its regulars as the Shoes, stood at one end of the small green overlooking the village pond, its Virginia creeper-clad walls and olde-worlde charm marred only by signs of neglect such as peeling paintwork and loose peg tiles.
Inside, it was cosy if scruffy. There was no plastic or chrome anywhere to be seen and its main features were its aged wood-wormed oak beams and the handsome inglenook fireplace decorated with a few genuine horse brasses in the snug.
At first glance you would think the ceilings were painted yellowy-brown, but they had once been white and were now stained with nicotine from generations of smokers, whose lungs were probably the same colour.
Gladys, known as Glad – a misnomer if ever there was one – and her husband Horace had run the pub for many a year.
She was a ginger-haired gin-swilling bossy-boots, whose interrogation techniques would have been the envy of the Gestapo.
No customer could ever stay tight-lipped when she was in cross-examination mode. And as a result she knew everything about everybody who ventured into the Shoes. Apart, perhaps, from Norman the commuter, as he was known, being the only local who ventured far away from the village to work. Norman never volunteered any information about himself – not even number, rank, name.
Although he was nominally the landlord, with his name above the entrance, Horace, a multi-chinned roly-poly, and otherwise matey sort of chap, knew his place. It was Glad who ran the pub with an iron fist, dealt with the brewery, made out the orders for peanuts, crisps and the like, controlled the till, served up doorstep sandwiches – and cooked her infamous pies.
Horace was a bit of a comedian, always ready with a quip, but he was ever careful of overstepping the mark when Glad was in one of her moods, which was pretty much most of the time.
The large, brick-floored public bar was inhabited during opening hours by a small band of regulars. There was old Frank and his Penguin-eating terrier – chocolate biscuits, that is, not real penguins.
There was the major, who had spent far more time selling insurance than he had in harm’s way, and a First World War veteran from somewhere to the far north known only as Yorky.
Then there were two other old codgers, Will and George, who had spent all of their working lives together labouring on local farms, and now in retirement spent more time together playing cribbage, draughts and darts in the Shoes than they did at home with their wives.
Old Mabel, who knitted, drank stout, and cackled a lot, and a few nondescripts made up the rest of the regular clientele. Little Jimmy, a former merchant navy man who had fallen on hard times after swallowing the anchor and now lived in a hut he had made himself in the nearby woods, was often to be found in the public bar, leaving his precious First World War medals with Horace as security for beer when he was out of funds.
Various others popped in on a regular basis. They included the man whose company owned the bar billiards table and shared the takings from it with the landlord. The bar billiards man had not yet twigged that Glad had found a way of extracting some of the sixpences before his weekly visits.
Regular as clockwork, every lunch-time, the village baker would appear. He was a tiny, chipper man, never seen without his cloth cap, who brought his newly-baked loaves in a large basket and stayed only long enough to resupply Glad’s sandwich-making operation and consume his usual half pint, never more.
The Shoes did better trade at the weekends, but there were days during the week, especially if the weather was bad, when even the regulars stayed away. At times like that the pub resembled those scenes in the film Whisky Galore when there was no whisky.
This state of affairs usually brought on one of Glad’s moods, and Horace would find tasks that kept him down in the cellar. He would stay there among the crates, barrels, cobwebs and a notice left over from wartime that urged soldiers ‘Please do not bring your rifles into the bar!’ for as long as possible.
When a call of nature or hunger forced him to surface like some tubby depth-charged submariner, Glad was there waiting to pound his ears with alarming statistics of falling takings and rising bills.
‘I don’t know why I bother, really I don’t!’ she would moan. ‘Work, work, work and nothing to show for it! At this rate we’ll never get that package holiday you promised me on the Costa Brava.’ And she would fix Horace with a baleful stare and tell him acidly, ‘It’s about time you came up with something to attract more customers.’ As Horace had often reflected, it was never us when things weren’t going well, but you...
Horace would wince and put on his thinking cap. But, sadly, no great brainwave had struck him so far.