“It’s a crate of bloody cauliflower,” I shouted.
“A what?” said Laura, my Russian wife as she pulled her dressing gown cord tight and walked into the hall.
I pointed downwards towards the open front door step.
“Cheort pobiri!” she muttered and took a step into the front garden, screwed up her eyes and tried to peer through the early morning mist towards the road that ran through our village.
“Did you order it?” I said, following her gaze, not bothering about translations.
Neither had I. We had only been living in the village for a week and hardly knew anyone. In fact we had only been living in Cornwall for a month or two before we found this dream cottage and decided to end our roamings around the oceans of the world. We settled down to another sort of life, this time one of domesticity, between four solid Cornish granite walls.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’ and with a last guilty glance up and down the road, pulled the wooden slatted box into the hall.
Laura started mumbling away in Russian again, she often mumbled away in her native language when she was worried or agitated. Swore like a Red army latrine digger as well, when the mood took her.
‘I’ll go and have a pint at the local when they open,’ I said, giving her a sideways glance and waiting for that Russian trait she had of blowing raspberries when she could see through my ploy…I wasn’t disappointed.
‘Open!’ she said after her lips had stopped reverberating, ‘They never close.’
‘Just to see if I can find out where it came from.’ I replied quickly, and departed just as quickly into the kitchen
Now, it is one of life’s’ unwritten laws, that when buying a house or settling down into a new community, one must, before settling on the residence of your
loved ones dreams, pop into the local pub and see what is what. After all, village
life revolves around the local. The focal point of activity and gossip is to be found
not, as in days of old, around the pulpit of the parish church, listening to
sermons of hell and damnation but leaning up against the font of mild and bitter eve- dropping on the drunken ramblings of local imbibers. After all, if one is going to fit into village life, especially in the far west of Cornwall, large proportion of ones waking hours are going to be spent leaning up against the bar, and some unwaking hours come to that, so a decent beer and a genial landlord are prime requirements.
It was with this in mind that, at about ten thirty, I bade Laura farewell and beat a hasty exit out of the back door and sauntered up to the Trevelyan Arms, a walk of five minutes uphill, which turned out to be a blessing when coming down, as it was then down hill and aided the bodily parts that Geoffrey’s, the excellent landlord’s, beer had done adequate justice to.
‘Mornin’ me ‘ansome’, he said, by way of greeting as I strode over the Trevelyan’s threshold. He called out that greeting to everybody. It is a time honored way in Cornwall; everybody uses it to greet any man, or woman, come to that.
‘Morning Geoffrey,’ I said, not wishing at this stage in the proceedings to lapse into the vernacular.
‘Usual?’ he said, plucking a sparkling tankard from a hook above the bar and not bothering to await a reply, started to pull a pint of froth, spit and spume into the proffered glass. ’Bugger it…It’s that bugger Neptune, ‘e’s not connected the buggering barrel.’
‘The bugger’, I agreed. Neptune being the cellar-man and rumour had it had been the cellar man since Lyonesse; the Cornish name for Atlantis disappeared beneath the waves. Looking at him I tended to agree, a long white beard, hair reminiscent of a virulent form of Japanese seaweed; all he needed was the customary trident. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’ll wait.’
Geoffrey bent down behind the bar and lifted a trap door, the entrance to the cellar. There followed a spouting of invective from our landlord into the bowels of the earth such as would have bought a blush to the cheeks of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by an equally informed reply as to what Geoffrey could do with his barrels, his pipes, his cellar, his pub and not least, the part of his anatomy that would accommodate the said fixtures and fittings.
Not at all put out, Geoffrey closed the trap door, filled his pipe with half a ton of shag and set about the laborious task of setting fire to it. ‘Geoffrey,’ I said, ‘I found a crate of broccoli on the doorstep this morning…don’t know how it got there?’
He struck another match, at least the fifth in as many minutes and gave me
a hard look. ‘‘ave to ask Canute ’bout that,’ he said, ‘‘es the bugger to ask ’bout that.’
I was reflecting on these matters when a car pulled up outside. Geoffrey and I both looked out of the window. ‘Tourists,’ I said.
‘Hell,’ said Geoffrey, and tried the beer pull again. Nothing happened for a second or two, then, as he was about to burst forth with another broadside a torrent of beer shot out, rebounded off the bottom of the glass and drenched Geoffrey from head to toe. ‘Bastard!’ he shouted, just as the first of a family of four innocent holiday makers wended their way into the bar.
He was, we found out later, a retired grocer from Wolverhampton and was down in Cornwall looking for a retirement home for himself and his wife. At any rate he was well used to the saltier language of life and could give as good as he got. ‘And bollocks to you mate!’ he shouted across the bar, turned round and hustled the rest of his family out before they had even got over the threshold. I could hear him muttering something about Cornish hospitality as he frog-marched his bewildered family to the car.
‘I’ll be buggered!’ exclaimed Geoffrey staring open mouthed at the departing Ford Granada.
I was just thinking that he would have been if the man had been twenty years younger, when a terrific explosion rocked the foundations. Geoffrey seemed to levitate six inches. He stumbled sideways and resumed his normal height. The trap doors of the cellar that he had been standing on burst open and a cloud of white spume shot out, vaguely taking on the shape of a humanoid as it came to a shuddering halt.
If Geoffrey considered himself somewhat agitated, wet and bewildered, he was as calm as a vegetating parsnip compared with the now just recognizable Neptune. He stood beside his wide eyed boss, bosom heaving and dripping from head to toe in foam and best bitter.
‘…Hell!’ he shouted, as soon as he could form the word from his wildly gyrating hole, now starting to resemble lips, in the top portion of this snowclad Yeti like figure.
‘…Hell!’ echoed a traumatized Geoffrey.
‘…Hell!’ said I, not wishing to be the odd one out.
We all stared at each other. Neptune stared through two slits in his foam at Geoffrey with death in his eyes. Geoffrey stared back with murder in his and I stared at the foam and beer covered ceiling that had started to drip best bitter on all three of us.
‘Bloody…buggerin’…bastard!’ spluttered Neptune, after a good bit of spitting.
‘I’m not accepting this,’ said a gruff voice from the door way.
We spun round, well at least Geoffrey and I did, Neptune attempted to, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed him spin instead into the open jaws of the cellar.
It was that family again, led by the erstwhile Wolverhampton grocer and backed up by his wife, a woman of undoubted strengths, none of which could be described as feminine. Anyway she was obviously made of sterner stuff than her husband… and wanted recompense.
‘He’s not accepting it,’ she squawked, ‘and we want an apology and then we want some food.’
I suppose its part of the job. Landlords meet all sorts of situations in their life behind a bar, and experience teaches them to deal with the more unexpected and traumatic ones. Geoffrey had been a landlord for thirty years, ever since he retired from the Merchant Navy. He had dealt with everything that life in the victualling trade could throw at him. And, what’s more he was the very essence of geniality whenever it hit him full in the mush.
“Certainly,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. I was very proud of him; the aplomb in the middle of all this devastation not to mention another bout of invective from the region of the cellar; it renewed my admiration of his steadfast calling. ‘Pasties suit you?’
‘Are they cold?” demanded the grocer’s wife.
“And bloody wet!’ shouted Geoffrey, picking up a handful of what was once
his wife’s pride, joy and unparalleled expertise in the art of ‘Cornish Pasty’ making, but now resembled soggy lumps of cow pat and hurled them with full force in the general direction of the potential customers.
It normally takes about four and a half hours to get from west Cornwall to Wolverhampton. All speed records were broken that day, we know that because of the solicitors letter that followed in due course, itemizing in detail, dry cleaning and petrol receipts, discrimination and loss of face …etc,etc.
I and a few of the early doors crowd that arrived shortly afterwards helped Geoffrey clear up the bar and surrounds. Neptune was told in no uncertain terms to clear his own mess up down below as it wasn’t on, ‘havin’ a buggerin’ dog and barkin’ yourself’. The best bitter was connected and sweetness and light once again descended on the Trevelyan.
Of course, as the afternoon wore on, the story circulated throughout the village and well after closing time the pub was full of well-wishers, the curious and just plain drunks all embossing the saga of Geoffrey’s excursion into diplomatic relations between the Cornish and `up country’ peoples.
Neptune naturally turned his disastrous escapade to his advantage, telling everybody that without his intervention Geoffrey and me would no doubt, have been dragged off to the wilds of Wolverhampton and hung up by the thumbs on meat hooks until Geoffrey succumbed to offering the hospitality they so richly deserved.
‘I’m tellin’ you,’ said Neptune to Laura, who had come in search of her loved one. ‘I come out o’ that cellar like a rat up a bloody drainpipe when I ‘eard boy Geoffrey havin’ a spot o ‘other with they teazy up country tossers.’
“You were magnificent,’ she said.
An effervescent sort of glow came into his bloodshot eyes. ‘Aye,’ he muttered, ‘Never accept they sort ‘o people, shoutin’ an’ cursing down ere…never ‘ave, never will.’
‘By the way,’ I said, ‘we found a crate of broccoli on the doorstep this morning…Can’t throw any light on it can you?’
Neptune grasped both Laura’s and my hands and gripped them with a surprising amount of strength. ‘Old Cornish custom,’ he said. ‘Means you bin accepted!’