I wasn’t particularly looking for Janner when I wandered into the Trevelyan Arms for a pint of Geoffrey’s old and filthy. I was actually having a hard time with the Telegraph crossword, not an unusual occurrence. In fact three or four of us would gather early doors in the ‘Trev’, ostensibly for a symposium on clues but in reality an excuse to swallow a few ‘heart starters’ and get out of the house quickly before our respective wives or bosses found us something to do.
‘Morning Janner’, I said, spying him propping up the bar, half perched on his favourite barstool.
‘Mornin’ my bird,’ he replied, swinging round and getting his size twelve sea boots caught under the brass foot rail. ‘‘T’is a bit quiet ‘ere this mornin’’ he spluttered, through a bushy black beard, compacted in beer froth.
‘Well it’s only half ten’, I said, ‘in half an hour you won’t be able to move’.
I knew what Janner was up to. He was short of money again. The tourist season was just starting down here in West Cornwall and tourists were the lifeblood of the community, in more ways than one.
‘Morning Kit’ panted the Landlord, wheezing with exertion as he appeared head first out of the cellar, blue veins bursting out of his forehead like a map of London’s underground. ‘…Won’t be a minute, just changed the barrels over’.
‘Don’t worry Geoffrey’, I said, ‘just escaped from Lara, she thinks I’m gardening.’
‘’scaped have ee’, mumbled Janner ‘I got my Elsie down Brent’s farm sortin’ bulbs. Keeps ‘er out o’ harm’s way’,
I knew what he meant. He could stay in the pub all day, spinning tales of Cornish folklore to any tourist that would buy him a drink while his long-suffering Elsie provided the wherewithal to live. Janner was a local institution, a kinder soul you couldn’t wish to meet; he’d do anything for you, especially if it involved the price of a pint or two. You could hire Janner for a days odd jobbing or to make up the crew on a fishing boat for the promise of a nights supping.
‘Usual Kit?’ asked Geoffrey, his face returning to a more normal, all over red ochre luridness.
‘Thanks, and put one in for Janner.’
Janner raised his glass in recognition. It was normal to buy him a drink…well why not? He’d provided us with years of entertainment. Perched up there on his stool, resplendent in a pair of tatty jeans, an old fishing smock covered in paint and yesterday’s breakfast, he was a tourists dream of a Penzance Pirate, which is what he is… a latter day one anyway.
‘Not a bad year for the daffs Janner’ I said, thinking of the tons of daffodils that Cornwall exported every year. ‘You done any pickin’ lately?’
‘Getting’ too old for that game my bird,’ he took a huge swig of ale,’ Plays ‘avoc with me ‘artheritits’’
‘Only thing what plays havoc with your arthritis is when you ‘ave to put your ‘and in yer pocket for a pint,’ quipped Geoffrey. This was true enough. Rumour had it that Janner did buy a round of drinks on his stag night, but that was lost in the mists of time.
The door opened and Janner looked round, sensing a victim. His hawk like nose ravaged by wind and sun, not to mention beer and rum, sniffed the air. It stuck out of a froth-encrusted beard that could have housed a flock of seagulls. The black Celtic eyes twinkled with anticipation.
Two girls in their early twenties gingerly walked in. They were obviously cyclists, mini lycra shorts and plastic head guards gave the game away. Un- hooking two enormous backpacks they both showed a remarkable amount of tanned thigh.
‘Can we ‘ave two cokes please?’ asked the taller and blonder of the two, in what was obviously a Germanic accent.
‘Of course my pretty,’ said Geoffrey, a normal Cornish greeting for anything on two legs… and sometimes four. ‘Would you like ice?’
‘Sank you’ said the other.
‘Now where is it?’ said Geoffrey after opening two bottles of Coke and pretending to look for the ice bucket. He knew there wasn’t any. There never was. ‘I’ll just get some from the kitchen . Won’t keep you waiting my lovers.’ …another old Cornish cordiality.
‘I’ll get it’ exploded Janner jumping of his stool, sensing an opening, ‘I’m going for a slash anyway.’
‘Don’t bother, I’m on me way.’ said Godfrey, walking through to the kitchen to look for the non-existent ice.
I got myself comfortably ensconced onto a bar stool and awaited what promised to be an entertaining half hour or so. I’d seen Janner perform before; his line of chatting up the opposite sex was always a masterpiece of pure theatre. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
‘You bin by-cyclin’ then’, he said, upon re-entering the arena. He was still battling with his fly buttons, which was a good start.
‘Sorry’, said the taller girl.
Janner reached into his fishing smock pocket and pulled out an enormous pipe, we called it a blast furnace. He wriggled onto his stool and started filling the thing with what looked like bits of old rope and ripe seaweed. ‘Nice bit of shag this.’
I swore one of the girls blushed.
Our Lothario lit the thing and engulfed himself in sparks and a cloud of satanic smoke. Nearly a minute passed before Janner’s nose appeared through the vortex. It was somewhat purplish. When his eyes had gained a semblance of control over their revolving, weeping balls, he spluttered ‘I see you got them new fangled ridin’ knickers and crash ‘ats on, so I sez to meself they two ladies be by-cyclin’.
The two girls looked at each other in bewilderment, a very pregnant pause and glazed eyes ensued. It was a regular occurrence for Janner’s victims, and typified a first encounter with this example of Cornish manhood. Janner watched intently searching his mind for the next gambit, bits of smouldering old rope hanging out of his pipe.
‘Don’t you take no notice of ‘im’ said Geoffrey, walking back into the bar empty handed, ‘’es an idiot.’
The would be Romeo sat back on his stool and scowled at the Landlord. He knew better than to argue, his credit would have been stopped.
‘Just you make yourselves comfortable my pretties and I’ll bring the drinks over when the wife’s located the ice.’
The two girls got the drift of this and sat down.
‘When she’s bin round old Trevor the fishmongers an’ got some off the bloody slab,’ mumbled Janner through a thick cloud of evil smelling smoke.
That was probably true I thought. Any drink requiring ice at the Trevelyan tasted of fish.
‘What was that?’ said Geoffrey.
‘I said can we have a drink on my tab’ replied Janner, quick as lightening.
Geoffrey knew when he was beaten and pulled two a pints of bitter.
‘Cheers Janner,’ I said, thinking this is one for the record books. I turned and looked at the girls. Janner’s smoke had crept across the floor and attacked them from below. The Kaiser would have been delighted to have had this weapon at his disposal on the Somme.
‘Geoffrey’, shouted the Landlady from the kitchen.
‘’Ah that’ll be the ice, won’t be a tick,’ said Geoffrey.
Janner heaved himself off the stool again and girded his loins for another frontal attack on the visitors. Taking his pipe out of his mouth, he crossed over to the girl’s table and poked his head through the smoke screen. He must have looked like a monster emerging from the deep. ‘Would you like a glass of water my birds’ he said.
The girls stopped coughing and rubbed their eyes, trying to focus.
‘Nasty old cough you be ‘avin…‘spect it be the sea mist.’ He swung his arms about to dispel the ‘sea mist’ and showered the girls with burning hot embers of old rope ends.
Janner walked behind the bar and filled two glasses with water from the tap and started back. ‘Where they gone?’ he exclaimed peering through the smoke.
‘Out through the door,’ I told him. ‘They were on fire’
‘Hell… just when we was getting friendly.’
‘Here we are girls,’ said a jovial Geoffrey, emerging from the kitchen, holding an old biscuit tin full of ice. ‘Where are they?’
‘Left,’ I said, ‘In something of a hurry’
‘What did you say to em?’ asked Geoffrey, glowering at Janner.
‘Nothin’ my ‘ansome. Think they got fed up waitin’ for the ice’.
‘Just seen an extraordinary sight,’ said a familiar voice.
We looked round, it was the Major, a retired old boy with a giant walrus moustache who lived in a delightful if somewhat derelict cottage almost opposite the pub.
‘What was that Major?’ asked Geoffrey holding a glass up to the ‘Famous Grouse’ whisky optic.
‘Two young ladies jumping up and down outside in the road doing some sort of Bavarian dance…you know, thigh slapping and all that.’ He took an appreciative slurp of whisky. ‘Thought they were on fire for a moment or two.’
‘Thought there were something funny ‘bout they two,’ said Janner, relighting his blast furnace.’ ‘Tis them ‘ats they got on…stops the blood getting’ to the brain.’
‘I expect your right,’ I said, not wishing to drop him in the proverbial. I watched Geoffrey placing the two glasses of Coke behind the bar ready for the next two confused customers that requested Coke.
The Major finished his drink, placed the glass on the bar which was swiftly placed underneath the optic again by Godfrey and unfurled his Telegraph which was carried underneath his armpit like a swagger stick, crossword half done and carried as a badge of office from pub to pub throughout the day. ‘Certainly a fine day,’ he stated in the clipped tones of a Parade Ground. ‘Expect beaches full of sun worshipers.’
‘Well they’re not in here Major’ said Geoffrey, pulling himself half a pint of bitter.
‘Most of the locals seem to be down at that new antique dealer’s shop in Chapel Street,’ said the Major, ‘Rum sort of chappie, looks like he’s buying up half of Penzance.’
‘What’s ‘e buyin?’ asked Janner, ears starting to twitch.
‘Surprised you’re not down there,’ said Geoffrey, ‘you got so much rubbish knockin’ ‘bout your place you probably fill ‘is shop in one go.’
‘Don’t know ‘bout that, my Elsie’s a right magpie she is, if ever I’d know’d one.’
‘When was the last time you looked in your loft?’ I asked him.
‘Damn funny thing lofts,’ said the Major, ‘found a couple of valuable prints in mine a couple of years ago, forgotten all about ‘em.’
The mention of lofts seemed to galvanise Janner. Pound notes flashed before his eyes. He gulped his beer down in one messy gulp. ‘See you later my birds,’ he spluttered, jumped off his stool and showered us all with froth. ‘Just remembered a bit o’ business.’
We all looked at each other. ‘There goes Cornwall’s answer to Richard Branson’ said Geoffrey, wiping the bar.
‘Extraordinary,’ said the Major, ‘I was just about to buy the fellow a drink.’
No he wasn’t I thought, he never buys anyone a drink. ‘Well we all know where he’s gone,’ I said, looking out of the window, just in time to see two cyclists peddling furiously down the road. ‘I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that antique shop.’ I finished my beer. ‘Better be off before Lara gets suspicious.’
Lunch was on the table. I didn’t recount the morning’s antics to Lara; she would get to know soon enough. Sure enough, after an hour’s snooze, I trundled back into the kitchen and had just sat down to drink a cup of tea when Lara walked in with a bag of shopping.
‘Just seen a funny thing,’ she said, filling the fridge with butter and eggs. ‘That fool Janner, carrying a huge parcel wrapped in newspaper into that new antique dealer in Market Jew Street.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I hear he’s buying up the whole of Penzance.’
‘Won’t be room for anything else if he buys whatever Janner’s got.’
With something approaching eager anticipation I wandered down to the Trevelyan just after six to find Geoffrey talking to two holiday makers.
‘Evening Kit’ he said,’ Heard about our boy Janner?’
‘Go on, I’m all ears.’
‘Well these two gentlemen been telling me about a bloke what walked into that new Antique dealer with a big parcel.’
‘That’s right,’ said one of the visitors, ‘We were just mooching around in this shop when this scruffy sort of chap lugs a huge parcel, wrapped in newspaper and bits of string into the shop and plonks it down on the floor.’
‘We thought it was a sculpture or something’ said the other.
I paid for the pint of ‘old and filthy’ that Geoffrey had pulled, took a sip and conjured up a vision of Janner striding through the town with a priceless heirloom.
‘You listen to this,’ said Geoffrey, his eyes twinkling with glee
‘Well the Antique dealer asks him what he’s got there, and your friend says he’s not sure but it’s been in his loft all his life and his father’s before him, and it’s very old and must be worth a lot of money. So the dealer undoes the string and takes the newspaper off.’
“What do you think of that?” your friend says.
“Not a lot”, says the dealer.
“Why not?” says your friend?
“Because it’s a very rusty old bloody cold water tank!”