Friday the 18th April 2012; a day which began like any other.
Opening the doors at 11.00 am and walking out onto the pavement, I took in the warm morning sunshine. Crowds of shoppers were going about their business and prospects looked good for a decent days trading.
There was no inkling at this stage of what was to transpire. Little did I realise that this day would long live in the memory, for all the wrong reasons.
During the course of the afternoon a number of regulars popped in for a drink and some light hearted banter. Ralph was, as usual, holding court at the bar.
Now Ralph is the sort of character you could meet in any pub; basically a great guy who just loves to talk, I mean really talk!
Prior to initiating a conversation Ralph always selects his moment with great care, judging when the time is right to make his move. “Ahh…” he will invariably proclaim in a loud voice, a carefully crafted strategy designed to publicise the fact that he has something of importance to say.
Once satisfied he has the attention of his audience, Ralph selects a tale from what appears a seemingly endless repertoire; the majority of which we have all heard countless times before.
In his absence he’s affectionately referred to as ‘lock on’; due to his tendency to engage in some serious eye contact with those around him. Many an unsuspecting punter has made the mistake of meeting Ralph’s steely gaze; only to find themselves held by some seemingly invisible tractor beam from which escape is all but impossible.
Once a victim has been ‘neutralised’, Ralph’s head will rotate a full 360° in an effort to seek out further unsuspecting prey. Occasionally his gaze will return to his hapless quarry, as if to emphasise that all attempts at escape are futile.
All manner of counter-strategies have been devised to thwart the magnetic force of the tractor beam; none have yet proved successful. On this particular occasion at least three of my regulars were held within its vice like grip; three others were desperately seeking to avoid making eye contact with Ralph.
Dave appeared to be studying a floor tile; Ron was hiding behind his newspaper whilst Geoff was showing a remarkable degree of interest in a discarded Pork Scratching packet; an exercise in futility if ever there were one.
Ralph is nothing if not patient; well versed in the art of the waiting game. He continued his recitation unperturbed, secure in the knowledge that eventually one of them would succumb and unwittingly catch his eye.
Meanwhile, down at the other end of the bar, Pete was querying the price of his drink. “How much is that?” he asked as I handed over his third pint of the day. “The same price it was ten minutes ago”, I replied, “three pounds thirty”.
This verbal exchange initiated the beginning of a well established ceremony; one that necessitated Pete removing all the loose change from his pocket and depositing it on the bar. He would then count the coins meticulously in the hope that he was not required to open his wallet.
Having witnessed this ritual on countless occasions, I have long since concluded that the best strategy is to leave Pete to it as it invariably takes him a good five minutes to complete this chore; time that can be put to good use serving other customers.
Returning from such a task, I noted the neatly piled stack of coins on the bar. “So, how are we getting on?” I enquired hopefully.
His furrowed brow suggested that the wallet would be required on this particular occasion and I was about to offer him some verbal encouragement to move things along when the door opened and in they walked.
I didn’t pay them much attention at first, momentarily distracted by Pete busily rechecking his change in the fervent hope that he’d made a miscalculation.
Eventually looking up, I was confronted by an individual who bore an uncanny resemblance to Lurch. Standing next to him stood a couple of his associates, Uncle Fester and Gomez.
Behind them stood a number of equally weird individuals; all clearly products of the same gene pool. It seemed as though the Adamms family had indeed come to town.
Lurch ordered drinks and the group proceeded to sit at a table at the far end of the room. I recall thinking that, even taking into account their strange appearance, something was not quite as it should be; I just couldn’t seem to put my finger on what it was.
Within ten minutes my worst fears were confirmed as the two females in the group got into it big time. Drinks were spilled and blows were exchanged. I went over to have a word and began my well-honed routine; “Excuse me madam …”
I got no further as one of them threw a punch which caught me on the side of the head. “Hit me!” she screamed in my face, “Hit me!”
Clearly this lady was completely out of control. “Now why don’t we just calm down?” I suggested. My plea fell upon deaf ears; in fact nothing I said appeared to have any effect. Then, for a brief second our eyes met and instinctively I knew why.
This lady was drugged up to the eyeballs, a ‘space cadet’ engaging in some serious planetary exploration; in fact she was about as far into orbit as one could possibly go. Looking around, it was clear that her friends were travelling on the same spaceship.
It was evident that I had a major problem on my hands. Whilst pondering my options, the woman was dragged outside by one of her friends; presumably in an effort to talk her down.
By this time Uncle Fester had concluded that sitting on the floor was a good idea. As I wandered over to have a word, his head slowly turned to look at me.
A manic grin etched across his face, his eyes had been transformed into two giant saucers that appeared to be rotating in opposite directions. It was obvious that any attempts at negotiation would prove fruitless.
Seizing the initiative, I grabbed his ankles and proceeded to drag him across the bar floor, eventually depositing him on the high street pavement. There he sat contentedly, seemingly oblivious to his new surroundings.
By this time, Lurch and Gomez were engaged in a competition to see who could head butt my front door the hardest. During a ‘time out’ I managed to close the door and more importantly lock it. The Adamms family were now all outside.
After several unsuccessful attempts to re-enter, they appeared to lose interest; boarding their spaceship before flying off to a new destination.
Now I rarely partake whilst on duty but on this occasion the urge for a quick half was overwhelming. Pouring myself a drink, I noticed Pete was still standing at the bar.
Beaming from ear to ear, he held up a two pence piece. “I’ve found it!” he proudly proclaimed, adding it to the rest of the coins. “That’s three pounds thirty exactly.”
“Why don’t you have this one on me?” I suggested.
As he gratefully accepted my offer and put all the carefully counted coins back into his pocket, I reflected that I’d just condemned myself to a re-run of the ‘ritual’. After all, it was inevitable that he’d return for another pint. Given what had just transpired, it didn’t seem to matter.
Taking my drink, I went and joined the lads at the far end of the bar.
“Ahh…….now then…..” said a familiar voice “where were we?”
My eyes instinctively homed in on the Pork Scratching packet; a futile gesture truth be told.
After all, it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the magnetic qualities of the tractor beam. Ralph knew it, and deep down so did I.
“Did I tell you about the time I went to…..”