It wasn’t for nothing Robert was known as Bob the Bar. He spent his early years as a barrister, representing accused miscreants in court. The rest of his time he spent propping up bars in various hostelries. Now, as a magistrate, nothing had changed apart from sentencing or releasing the accused and more often than not using the other bars to prop him up. He had, as the years and gin took their toll on what was once a tallish athletic physique and developed it into a tallish gangling almost disjointed figure, with no visible means of support in the posture stakes.
His great friend, handlebar moustachioed, monocled and permanently pickled Stiffy Griffiths, on the other hand, although lacking in inches, giving the casual observer the impression he had been sawn off at the knees, possessed a military bearing. A rounded firm resolute stance always dressed in rustic tweeds was never seen without a large whisky, sometimes one in either hand. Unmarried, Stiffy had never been in the army, although, it was rumoured he had attained the rank of corporal in the Home Guard, briefly, during the unpleasantness with Herr Hitler. Now he was a gentleman gardener which meant he did a lot of tending plants from the safety of a bar with his elbow resting in a puddle of beer. Slightly impaired in the intellectual department Stiffy gave the impression of being a good listener, although the vacant look in his watery eyes, whilst listening, rather gave the game away. He had no visible means of support in the financial arena but lived with his sister Fanny, who obviously had.
On one Saturday evening some fifty years ago Bob the Bar and Stiffy were ensconced in the’ gent’s only’ as was their norm with a host of like-minded imbibers. The ‘gent’s only’ bar of some fifty years ago was a common feature in country pubs and useful for getting away from the wife, children and other distractions. It was, in essence, a self-regulating gentleman’s’ drinking club dispensing beer and spirits and sadly missed by gentlemen, in modern times, with ideas of self-preservation.
Bob the Bar was holding forth on the iniquity of the new drink and driving laws and the use of this new breathalyser device would, he maintained, completely take the burden of proof away from human beings, in the form of policemen and be given to a mechanical contrivance with all the deviations built in. Stiffy grunted. Bob swayed slightly while demonstrating the blowing into the said deviant mechanical contrivance, took a gentleman’s measure of snuff sneezed extravagantly and had a slurp of his gentleman’s measure of pink gin.
‘Bless you,’ said Spiffy, wiping his face with a silk handkerchief.
‘I get ‘em up in front of me every day,’ said Robert.
‘Do you?’ replied Spiffy and took a gulp of whisky, ‘I suppose it’s the pollen.’
A pregnant pause ensued, as well as another slight sway from Bob whilst he tried to equate pollen with… with anything. Eventually, he gave up, ‘I mean chaps charged with driving under the influence.’ he said. The fact that Bob had never driven anywhere in the last thirty years not being under the influence was immaterial.
‘Fanny found my driving licence the other day,’ said Spiffy suddenly bursting into a fit of actually saying something meaningful.
‘Didn’t know you could drive,’ said Bob, slightly askance.
‘Got me licence a month before you had to take a test. Would you like some manure?’
‘Indeed,’ said Bob, after another pregnant pause. ‘Need some for me Rhubarb.
‘Tomorrow lunchtime,’ said Stiffy, ‘have to bring it on the bus’.
‘You can’t do that, said Bob, then after a bit of thought, ‘tell you what you what, I’ll drive us back to my house, you take the car home, then in the morning put the manure in the boot and at ten to twelve sharp pick me up and we’ll go and have a snorter or two.’
An hour and a half later Bob handed his Rover75 over to Stiffy, who had forgotten to mention he hadn’t driven since nineteen thirty three. Bob’s erratic stumble via a flower bed and rhododendron bush towards his front door was nothing compared to Stiffy’s erratic course as he catapulted the car down the road in a series of kangaroo hops, grinding gears and squealing brakes. Bob didn’t notice his Rover’s leapfrogging progression, he was having enough trouble trying to line up the front door key with the keyhole.
The next morning the village policemen awoke Bob with the news that his car had been found twenty miles away in a horse paddock at five thirty that morning with a recumbent Stiffy fast asleep at the wheel. He went on to inform Bob that unfortunately the county police had found him and used this new breathalyser thing on him and later charged him with ‘being under the influence’ He added that there was nothing he could do about it, as he had on numerous occasions with his good self and that he was sorry.
In the morning, four days later, as Bob, in his room at the back of the court, looked through the list of cases up before him that day and the name of Hugh Griffiths jumped off the page. He was charged with driving at three times over the allowed alcohol limit, causing damage to a five bared gate amounting to five pounds thirteen and sixpence and further damages amounting to seven pounds ten shillings for the overtime payment to farm hands in the course of catching four mares and a stallion who were roaming the countryside.
Bob called his clerk in and explained the circumstances, withholding the fact that he, in fact, sort of aided and abetted the heinous crime and suggested that he gives the defendant the option of appearing before him. The clerk, a man of the world, told him that he knew the circumstances as indeed did the local press and as Mr Griffiths was told of this option rubbed his hands together and said, ‘I’ll stay with Bob the Bar, he’ll see me all right,’ or words to that effect.
Stiffy stood in the dock, beaming to the court and especially the press bench which was full of reporters, with pens and notebooks at the ready, sensing a gross miscarriage of justice. Bob also sensing a gross miscarriage of even worse, namely front page news, told the court he knew the defendant and had given the defendant the option of accepting his ruling.
After Stiffy was asked how he pleaded and replied ‘not guilty’ and given Bob a conspiratorial wink, the police gave their evidence and produced the documentation proving his guilt. Stiffy in his defence said he had driven into the field to collect manure for a dear friend. The prosecuting solicitor, who knew the exact details of car ownership and insurance matters, also being a drinking chum of Bob, declined to go into these affairs.
‘This case is one of the worst cases of drunken driving I have ever had to pass judgement on,’ said Bob in his best Churchillian manner.’ I find the accused guilty.’ He then fined him fifteen pounds awarded damages to the farmer and banned Stiffy from driving for two years.
Stiffy never spoke to Bob the Bar again. They drank in the same pubs passed each other in the village and there was no sign of recognition. The fact that Bob paid all Stiffy’s fines and damages didn’t matter; Stiffy, a man of resolute principals never realised the reasons for the guilty verdict and certain ravaging from the press died four years later. Bob the Bar went to the cremation and because Stiffy’s sister Fanny was already in the Almighty’s care managed to obtain Stiffy’s ashes and as due recompense for the broken promise of supplying manure, he duly spread Stiffy on his rhubarb patch