Celtic Illumination, part 252, Just call me Vesuvius.
Well; I certainly had a few things to think about, but I wouldn’t have the luxury of being able to sit around day dreaming. A plan was needed and time was perhaps the most critical factor in the equation. Barry, the triple time, court martial, ex-chairman, of the Families club had fallen in love with a local pub called The Foresters Arms. His wife didn’t mind as she loved her drink almost as much as Barry. Barry had managed to wiggle his way in with Brian, the landlord of The Foresters Arms, and was now working the odd shift for him behind the bar. Anytime Barry was working you would find his wife, Babs, propping up the bar, beside him. I can’t remember what the connection was, but I had been invited around to Bab’s and Barry’s house one evening for a few scoops when she produced some James Young albums.
James Young was a very popular comedian in the North of Ireland in the sixties. One of his songs was “I’m the only Catholic on the Shankill Road,” which always stuck with me as I always claimed that it was us he was singing about as we were the Catholic family to live furthest down the Woodvale Road, in Belfast, which was a continuation of the Shankill up into the Ardoyne. I can’t remember why she had the records but we enjoyed listening to them and had a laugh. It was a connection between us. They were a very nice couple, odd, but nice. It seems that I had often been the subject of conversation between them and Brian so I was surprised to find that myself and Irene had been invited to an exclusive party in The Foresters Arms. Of all the local landlords Brian had been the one to have given me the most work. Vic and I had made quite a few quid from the functions he had asked us to cater for him, and Brian didn’t do too badly out of it either.
I had often spoken to Brian about various aspects of the trade as I wanted to expand and improve the Families Club when I had been in charge of it. Brian had been a great help when I installed the temperature controlled cellar, so we knew each other quite well and I had often said that I might be interested in entering the trade myself, as long as I could find the right pub. It was an idea I had often toyed with, although it was something that horrified the family back in Ireland. My mother’s family had been mill owners in Lurgan and I would always be told about the evils of drink. Her father ran a huge pub, along with some mills and some farms, which they also lived in. I would be told that, when drunk, he would often sell rows of houses that were used to house the mill workers, to his brother and then gamble the money on the horses. The favourite story was the horse with one thousand pounds on its nose that dropped dead of a heart attack during a race. So there would be no moral support coming from Ireland for me to engage in such a venture, not that I needed or courted it.
I had done very well with the Families Club. During my time there I had trebled the profits and actually turned it into quite a popular venue. The local landlords liked and trusted me and as we helped each other out now and again, whether it was with stock or staff, I was able to speak to them about the industry and gather their thoughts and fears for the future. My favourite pub was the Butt & Oyster down at Pin Mill, right on the water’s edge. It was a lovely place to go to on a winters evening. During the summer it would be heaving with tourists but during the winter months it was normally empty most evenings with only a handful of people coming out. You could sit on one of the window seats and watch the water and the ships and boats bob up and down with a huge log fire roaring away behind you.
During the summer evenings we would wait and watch as the more aggressive yuppie tourists would have parked their cars as close to the pub as possible, not knowing that when the tide came in their vehicle would be sitting in two feet of water within the hour. It was a great laugh watching a city slicker enter full panic mode and then have to ask a good ol boy if they could tow him out. Chris’s barge, the Samantha, was moored about twenty yards away from the Butt & Oyster so it was a real temptation to nip in for a drink, or two, or three, any time we would be visiting Chris and Aurora. But the Foresters Arms was a different establishment altogether. Brian was one of those people with a villa in Spain, giving him a permanent suntan, and would be popping off there as often as he possibly could. The villa was always offered to our small group should any of us want to get away for a short break, I never took him up on his offer although I understand Barry and Babs did.
So on the evening of the party I wasn’t that surprised to find Barry ensconced behind the bar with Babs perched on a bar stool nipping behind the bar to help if and when she was needed. Barry refused to serve me the pint of beer that I had ordered and produced a Black Russian, informing me that he and Brian had arranged everything and I had to be on form that evening. I was to be introduced to the chairman of the Tolly Cobbold brewery who had heard all about me from Barry, Babs and Brian and who was interested in meeting me himself to gauge whether or not he would bring me on to his team and be an area manager covering some of his pubs. Rather than give me my own pub I was to give my support and advice to a number of pubs. I could see his reasoning and was quite interested in the proposition.
For those of you who have led a half decent life and stayed well away from the demon drink let me tell you that a Black Russian is a mixture of vodka and coffee liqueur, a very popular drink throughout the world. And if you walked in to almost any bar and ordered one, or two, you would be given a pleasant drink that most normal people could handle. Now can you imagine a complete eejit like Barry serving me one of those drinks? I can assure you that there was nothing normal or safe about what was being served to me. I don’t know how much of what he was putting in my glass but I kept knocking them back. Looking back now I can still see him smiling behind the bar and I have to say there seemed to be a certain amount of evil glee in his smile.
I remember that there was a small group of six of us standing at the bar. There was Brian and his wife, the chairman of the Tolly Cobbold brewery and his wife and Irene and myself. Seems that I was doing rather well and had impressed him thus far. We were all laughing and joking and we all seemed to get on quite well. Then I felt something, it was right down in the centre of my body, a sort of explosion. I really can still remember standing there, everyone laughing but suddenly I stopped and this rumble exploded and shot up through my body. I was taken by surprise, but realised that I was about to vomit. I closed my mouth, even brought my hand up to provide some more cover and was totally shocked to see two streams of vomit erupt from my nostrils.
It took a fraction of half a second for the whole episode to transpire, from the initial rumble to pebble dashing of the wife of the chairman of the Tolly Cobbold brewery. I get myself into the toilet in double quick time and began operation clean up. I knew I was a little bit tipsy and desperately tried to think what I could have eaten to make me throw up. I couldn’t think of anything out of the normal that had passed my lips so once I considered myself presentable I went back outside to begin my apologies. Brian, his wife, Barry and Babs were quietly giggling away at the bar as they had fed me a super amount of alcohol that would have kept a Russian regiment going for at least a month. There was no need for me to apologise to the Chairman of Tolly Cobbold and his wife as they had gone, they had left the building, along with any hope I had of a career in the licenced trade.