Tales from the Vault

Telling Tales

My brother has inherited my father's ability to captivate an audience with comic tales about pub life. In “Tales from the Vault”, John shares some of those richly comic moments.

The first two stories come from a period slightly later when our family had moved into our second pub, “The Church Inn”.

The tale of "Sticky" Edwards

After a couple of years,  it was decided that we were to move  three miles to the “Church Inn” at 110 Love Lane, on the Lancashire side of the Mersey, in Heaton Norris. This was another Wilsons tenancy and for the second time we were adjacent to yet another rival pub, this time the “Lord Nelson” on the other side of Church Lane which ran into Love Lane.

Love Lane was an amazing microcosm of life with its cellar dwellings and I’ll return to this theme shortly; first I want to recount the experience that confronted my father and mother on the very first day that they opened up, this being his initiation to the ritual “toperage” regime of Mr George “Sticky” Edwards.

On that first Saturday morning, as the clock ticked its final seconds to opening time (probably 10-30 am) their ears were assaulted by a loud, staccato hammering on the pub’s front door.

“Good God”, said my mother, “what the bloody hell’s that?”

Dad (looking grim) at the prospect of a raid by H.M. Customs and Excise or the local constabulary moved with alacrity to fling open the still banging door and was confronted by the desperate figure of “Sticky”, implement poised for another assault, on the stoop.

“You’re late” he growled (it was seconds past the half hour) and he tapped his way past Dad into the Vault. He stood (pathetically leaning on the bar) and as Mother moved into position next to the pumps, he said pleadingly “Pint of bitter please”. This she produced and this is where the story gets interesting, because as he picked it up his hand shook so much that literally half of it spilled onto the floor. The balance he downed in one long quaff.

“Another two pints please”

By the time the full third pot hit the bar, the second empty one was back on the counter. As the second one disappeared, only a third of it dripped to the deck and the shaking had abated somewhat. Again as the last of the trio was downed the ratio of shake to spillage was improving appreciably. Finally as a fourth pint was moved to lips the shaking had gone and the pace of “slurpage” became normal;  “Sticky” looked up and said (as if this was perfectly normal procedure)  “Looks like rain later”.

My parents looked on astonished.

The point about this episode, is that the whole sequence from tap on door to fourth pint being pulled lasted less than four minutes! This was quite remarkable, bearing in mind that four pots had to be pulled and paid for and three drunk.

Gradually the day-time regulars drifted in to assess the new landlord and “Sticky” added several more flagons to his tally. He departed as the afternoon session concluded; cheerful, loquacious and apparently stone cold sober; the shake was gone and he bid farewell with a cheery wave and a happy swing of his stick.

At 5.30 as Dad opened the door, waiting on the step was - yes you’ve guessed it - none other than “Sticky”. The morning’s ritual unfolded again, but this time the initial time-span to fourth pint phase was about 12 minutes. He then stayed till closing time drinking steadily.

Every day subsequently the pattern was repeated; failure to open the door after the appointed time would result in a drumfire pattern of blows on the door. Gradually Dad evolved a system that reduced the 4 minutes to around one and a half: at 10.28 he would pull three pints of bitter and line them up on the bar. “Sticky” would have the exact money counted and ready so that he could demolish them in super-quick time.

He became one of the stalwarts of the pub often personally consuming in a day more than all other customers put together. The Church did not have the daytime trade that had flowed in from the railway yards and apart from “Sticky” and other dedicated topers the pub was quiet during the day, except weekends when it was packed.

There is one final story concerning “Sticky”: Dad felt a bit sorry for him (and he was such a good customer) because he had no visible means of support apart from perhaps a modest pension. As most of his wealth gravitated into the Church Inn anyway Dad decided, as he needed some help at weekends, to offer him a part-time job as an auxiliary cellar-man. This suited Dad who could take a bit of a breather from the punishing weekend regime, and suited George because he could spend all day at the pub and not bother going home at lunchtime!

 He would have been in his late sixties and still had a fine head of white hair and what appeared to be a sturdy rotund physique. Although he needed his stick for walking he must have been fairly mobile because he had to be able to descend to the cellar down the ladder through the trapdoor at the back of the bar. His appointment lasted exactly one week or put another way two Saturdays and one Sunday!

On the final fateful Sunday afternoon, the last of the customers had left and Dad had instructed “Sticky” to carry out certain jobs and he had duly descended into the cellar to carry them out. These included the final draining of near empty barrels of their thick, yellowy residue of finings - a noxious sludge that was drained into a bucket and then tipped away, prior to the draymen taking away the “empties”. A little time passed and there was an ominous silence emanating from the cellar. Dad, suspecting something, moved to investigate. He was confronted by a sight that had overtones of Hogarth. As he peered into the dimly lit corner where the barrels were ranged on their wooden supports he espied “Sticky”. He was sat on the cold stone floor, his back resting against a barrel, taking a long pull from a half empty bucket of the beery swill. He was paralytic, having quaffed the equivalent of half a gallon of the disgusting brew. In Dad’s words, “I fired him on the spot”.

The finale to this tale is that “Sticky” was back again at 7pm opening, although he had to leave early that night due to a minor attack of the trots! He and Dad remained friends and we have two photos of George as a proud member of the prize winning pub darts team. Presumably he must only have been able to throw whilst inebriated (shades of the Canadian snooker player who could only play after multiple pints of lager). These photos will be published a little later on as we move into “Love Lane Tales” (stories of the Church Inn).

A travelling salesman enjoys a pint

Unlike the Railway Inn, which at lunch-time was vibrant,due to the proximity of the the railway yards, (see the forums and the blog), the atmosphere in the Church was almost sepulchral, and it was an opportunity to catch up with every day bar houskeeping tasks such as cleaning the pumps.

One day, my mother, Olive, was in sole charge of the bar when one of the weekly regulars arrived. He was a travelling salesmen and only appeared on a Friday. He stood at the bar in the vault, and asked for his usual: a “black and tan” in other words, a Wilson’s Stout and a half of mild.

Olive dispensed this automatically, hardly looking at the contents. The customer, tucking into his pork pie saw only the bottle poured, the waiting half empty glass into which the mild was being pumped being below eye level. He duly drank up and left.

Shortly after, Dad returned from the bank. Mum was about to pump another pint of mild from the same spigot; Dad said, “Use the other one, that one's being cleaned. I put a tea towel over it, it must have slipped off.”

I was in the bar when this happened and remember Mum grabbing Dad and ushering him (out of earshot) into the corridor to explain what had happened. The implications were pretty horrible: Mum had just served half a pint of industrial heavy-duty super strength cleaning fluid to a customer!

All week they expected a call to say the man was in hospital or worse.

The following Friday lunch, who should waltz in but the same chap. Mum and Dad eyed him speculatively. Did he look ill? How was his complexion? Were his lips burned?

He said, “usual please and two pies as well.”

They watched as he took a bite and then took a hearty pull from his pint after which he ventured,“Lovely that”, and then diffidently, “er... I hope you don't mind me saying so...” (tension mounts), “but my pint last week tasted a little bit off.”

Absolutely true, word for word. Dad told that story so many times in later life that I could repeat it almost verbatim. It just goes to show that you can never underestimate the importance of customer loyalty!


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Copyright © Janet A Nicholson 2011 © John A Nicholson 2011