East of the M60’s third short story for All Hallow’s Eve
Any reference to persons, local businesses, public houses or cultural references, living or dead are purely coincidental. Thank you.
Many of you may have come across the mystery of the ghost pub, a public house whose opening times are less straightforward. As a rule of thumb, most English pubs are open from 12 midday to 11 pm, even with liberalised opening hours.
We look at the story of a Mr. Jack Rutledge whose pub crawl took a surprising turn. After three pints with four friends, they notice a strange pub lit in the distance. Under the premise of ‘you only live once’ they decided to chance it.
“You know Sarah, that pint of Nickelfrack was a bit smoky and treacly” said Jack.
Sarah looked surprised. She said:
“With your experience of real ale and visiting the camp in Barton Moss, I’m surprised the beer didn’t twig.”
“I tend not to go for dark beers, prefer a golden ale myself.”
“Perhaps it was a bad pint” said Naseem.
Donna checked her smartphone: “Right, Nickelfrack (6.6%)” she said, “Challenger hops… hints of treacle, preserved in Islay malt casks.”
“Ah-ha” exclaimed Jack “that’s why it tasted smoky. Still a good beer though.”
The foursome continued to the next pub. Checking the map, their next pub was quite a distance – Luzley Road and just off the A670.
“You know what we should have done?” said Jack “We should have started at the one on the top of the hill”.
“We could have got the bus” said Donna.
“At that time” replied Naseem “The next bus is 45 minutes off. We could walk to Ashton or Stalybridge in this time”.
“Too true” said Sarah “Bloody evenin’ services. No wonder folk stay at home. We must be the stupid ones.”
Jack pointed to a dwelling with a set of lights in the distance. There was a neon sign as well as the light from four windows.
“Hey Sarah, does this look like a pub to you?”
Sarah looked at the building: “Hey, looks like a new pub. Shall we go?”
“Aye, go on then” said Donna.
From Mossley Road, they turned right onto Broadcarr Lane.
“Sarah” said Jack “You know this ‘new pub’? There used to be an old one on the same site.”
“Absolutely rubbish!” she replied “looks like a farmhouse to me.”
“Well, legend has it that they used to sit in what was their front room, and that beer was served through a hatch.”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll be telling me Raja Bros started off selling toffees in that tower nearby.”
Donna and Naseem walked behind Jack and Sarah. Both of them checked their smartphones in search of this ‘mythical pub’.
“Mythical pub my arse!” shouted Donna “It only closed recently.”
All four continued the upward trudge towards the building. The bright lights loomed large, both from the windows and the sign. On closer examination, the sign read “To Let”.
“How random is this?” asked Naseem “Why would you call a pub ‘The To Let’?”
“Suppose it’s more common than Red Lion these days” said Sarah.
“Perhaps it’s a shit hole and someone missed the letter ‘I’,” replied Donna.
“Wash you mouth out with soapy water, Donna” said Jack “This is probably a splendid spot at daytime. A nice pint and a pulled pork sandwich looking out to Fiddlers Ferry power station, Manchester Arndale and Winter Hill.”
As the group neared the pub, they could hear loud music, mostly of a 1980s heavy rock variety. Then they caught a glimpse of somebody singing Living on a Prayer. Through the windows, they found the place was well and truly rammed.
“Shall we chance it?” asked Sarah.
All four raised their hands.
“Go on then, here we go.”
* * *
The foursome bagged a table, nicely placed for the bar and the exit door. Instead of rural chic, the public house’s interior was inspired by Ben Kelly’s design for The Haçienda. There was road cones – possibly from the nearby skip yard. Flashing lights, often seen beside road works doubled as lamps.
“Who’s round is it” asked Jack.
“Mine” answered Naseem.
Naseem walked to the bar. Unlike most public houses, The To Let had a queueing system.
“Hi, two pints of lager and two bitters please” said Naseem.
“Sorry boss, but you need to fill in a form” said the bar person.
“What? Every other pub allows me to ask for a pint, and I get a pint straight away.”
“But we’re different here” replied the barperson, who gave him an A6 sheet of paper and a pencil. Naseem returned to his table, slightly mortified.
“Did you hear that?” said Naseem “I have to fill in a form before I buy a beer. Out-bloomin’-rageous.”
A distant automated voice was heard from the bar.
“Dipso 343 to your Collection Point, please…”
Meekly, a male customer collected a tray load of drinks. He murmured to himself, “Not calling in here again. I go to the pub to get out of shopping. That’s what the internet’s for these days.”
This was followed by another voice:
“Sensible drinker 41 to your Collection Point, please…”
Somehow, the Argos style ordering system and queueing was a form of divide and rule for drinkers and non-drinkers. Customers would find a table, note their drinks preferences and quantities via a tick box form, hand their order to the bartender and pay for their drinks. Then s/he would wait for their drinks to be done.
Naseem ticked the boxes for himself and the rest of his peers. Then he returned to sheet to the bartender.
“Take a seat” said the bartender.
“Whose idea was it to make pub-going as enjoyable as signing-on?” said Jack.
“The proprietors maybe” replied Donna.
Sarah looked at her smartphone. On checking an article from a local website, she found that pubs could avoid the Late Night Levy by applying Kafka-esque approaches to customer service.
Ten minutes later, came the group’s order:
“Dipso 344 to your Collection Point, please…”
Naseem received the drinks. The bitter’s head was non-existent, though the advertised drink on the coupon said it was a traditional Northern ale.
Sarah picked up the pint of lager. “I’m sure they haven’t cleaned the lines for a bit” she said, “The glass seems lighter than usual.”
“I’m sending my pint back” said Naseem “This is the worst pint of J.W. Lees I have had on this side of Oldham”.
Jack sniffed his pint and placed it back on the tray. Donna did the same. Naseem would return to the bartender.
“‘Scuse Me Squire, all four of these beers are off” said Naseem.
The bartender looked and sniffed: “Utter nonsense” came the reply.
“But it smells of vinegar” said Naseem.
“Indeed it does, this is Sarsons’ Special (4.5%). That’s its normal taste.”
“You’re just condoning bad cellarmanship. This is dreadful!”
Naseem showed his CAMRA card in front of the bartender.
“Get out! You’re barred. Barred barred BARRED! Take your friends with you. They’re not welcome either. GO…!”
“How does this pub stay afloat?” asked Sarah.
“They sell the dregs from the barrels to local chippies” said Jack, “then it goes on your chips. That’s why you sometimes see a bit of froth on your fish.”
“Ew” said Donna.
The four tried to pass through the crowd. Naseem bumped into one of the customers and expected an heated exchange. Instead the person said nothing. Then he passed another person. He went right through the person, a 6 feet 10 inch tall 20 stone male. Again there was no voice nor obscenities directed to Naseem.
“Strange or what? There seemed to have been 120 punters in here. None of them were real” said Sarah.
“Perhaps they were holograms” said Naseem.
Sat outside the pub on a picnic table was four fifty-something males, enjoying a pint of Fosters each and a raspberry ripple e-cig. At face value, they were temporal beings. Donna, looking at one of them, tried to ask one out for a date.
“Hey gorgeous” she said “Would you like me to show you a good time?”
Expecting a rather seedy answer or a mild F-bomb from his fizzog, the response she received took her by surprise. He uttered:
“From transmitters of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, this is Granada…”
“How random is that?” said Donna “I expected a ‘yes please’, some swapped numbers, or a bog-standard ‘eff off’.”
“They say you get some funny people round here, wouldn’t mind a pint of what he’s on” said Jack rather tactlessly.
Donna approached the male. She squeezed his buttock firmly. Not a sound. Nothing. Not even an F-bomb or utterance of ‘pervert’. She ran back to Naseem, Sarah and Jack, shocked.
“Guess what?” Donna said in a state of shock “that dishy guy wasn’t real!”
“What makes you say that?” asked Jack.
“Well, I squeezed his arse, and the one thing I didn’t feel was his bum cheeks. All I squeezed was fresh air.”
“Gasp!” said Jack “So, that explains why I could move freely with 120 people crammed in to a little taproom?”
“Sure does” said Naseem.
Just as they walked away from the pub, they saw what seemed to have been a light show. They returned to the pub. In The To Let, the lights were down and the curtains were closed. Then they found the quartet on the picnic table had vanished. They peered through one of the windows: for some reason, there was still 120 customers, vertically drinking.
Jack tried to break an entry. No joy, though the pub was swinging. At face value, at five to eleven on a Tuesday night, it seemed to have been the busiest pub in Tameside. The bartender put on a special disco for the 120 friends. Friends whom on closer observation turned out to be holograms.
Within moments, a glass flew through the window and nearly hit Donna on the back of her head by six inches. Then a chair flew out of another window.
“Bizarre” said Jack “Now I know why they had a good range of spirits.”
Through the cracked glass, Jack noticed how the 120 customers were still there. Within seconds, they moved the tables to one side with 36 of them lining up and staring at Jack. They had light sabres.
“Good grief” said Jack, ridiculing the light sabres “Did they get these from the Smithfield car boot sale?”
“Yeah, they do look a bit pathetic” said Donna “Definitely a Blue Peter job with a used tinfoil roll”.
Both Jack and Donna were proved wrong. The 36 mobilised towards them, and Naseem, and Sarah.
“We’re bloody outnumbered!” exclaimed Naseem “Absolutely no chance.”
They switched their sabres on and charged towards the quartet. Naseem phoned the police. On the ‘phone, the emergency control centre operator said a “car would be coming in 50 minutes”.
“Fifty minutes????” he asked in anger “We’re under attack by 36 customers, but they don’t exist in the usual form.”
“But Mr. Gill, this is not a job for the police. This is a job for Derek Acorah.”
“B-b-but, they’re going to kill us. They’ve already thrown chairs and tables, and they served me the worst pint of lager in living memory.”
“Sorry pal, cannot help you. If you ring this number, we can sort some supper out for you. Makes the wait less arduous.”
“O.K., thanks a lot.”
Naseem read the ‘phone number to his fellows: “0161 339 8055”.
“0161 339 8055? That sounds familiar” said Sarah “Could I swap this (untouched) bad pint for a tub of black peas and a pint of Jaipur redeemable within a 600 yard radius of Rassbottom Street?”
“No, you wally” said Jack “That’s our local takeaway in Hazelhurst. They do a mean Chicken Tikka Pizza, £10.99 for a 16 inch deep pan.”
Then, for some odd reason, the 36 – tooled up with light sabres stopped. Then came raised voices from the lounge:
“When you bought these light sabres, why oh WHY did you get the batteries from Poundland?
“We’re not going to go anywhere”.
“You could have put them on the expense account. Petty cash.” said another voice.
“Yes, but they take these strange lithium batteries. The ones you get in e-cigs.”
“And the Tecsun PL-880 portable radio…” chirruped another voice.
“Hey” said Donna “That’s that gentleman I tried to cop off with earlier.”
“That reminds me, I’m sure I left an e-cig on a picnic table”.
The creepy poltergeist ran to the picnic table. He shouted to his fellow 35 troops, “After them!”
“So, after all this, he didn’t leave his e-cig on the picnic table” said Jack “Time we weren’t here. When’s the next bus, Donna?”
“Twenty past eleven.”
“What time is now?” asked Naseem.
“Half past eleven” replied Donna.
“Oh for freak’s sake… next one’s tomorrow morning. Looks like a taxi then?” said Jack.
Just as the quartet started walking, they were being chased down Broadcarr Lane by 36 holographic customers. They kept running till they reached The Billy Goat. By then, the 36 had increased to 120 holographic figures.
Jack, panting heavily, turned to his smartphone as a last resort.
“Let’s see if this works” he said. He increased the volume to maximum level, in spite of the possibly of being done for loud music under the 1986 Public Order Act. He turned to his music player.
“Right, track one” he said to himself. On hearing a quick burst of harmonica, all 120 holographic customers stopped for a second. Then they turned back, towards Broadcarr Lane.
After the harmonica solo, came the song’s opening line:
“I can see you in the morning when you go to school…”
Jubilant, all four shouted “Yes” whilst jumping up and punching their fists in the air, in the middle of Mossley Market Place.
“They say the devil has the best tunes” said Jack, “but in this case, Beelzebub could never get Supertramp. Ever.”
“Here’s to Supertramp” shouted Donna.
“I know” said Naseem, “I knew someone who tried our approach with Bohemian Rhapsody. It didn’t work. Think it was something to do with alien activity in High Crompton. They soon fled when a YouTube clip of Mephistopheles by Stalybridge Old Band sent them packing.”
“How can anybody loathe brass bands?” said Donna “I always look forward to Whit Friday. Why inflict a perfectly good contest march on them? Plus they won the Fourth Section at a recent contest.”
“Right, what shall we do now?” asked Sarah “We’ve done enough walking today. Five pints, three kilometres – half a kilometre running – and no supper.”
“Well, you know what this means?” said Jack, pointing to The Fleece Inn.
“Follow me” he cried “It’s my round anyway. Who’s getting the taxi?”
S.V., 30 October 2015.