Welcome To Your Local Pub!
This all began a long time ago, when I was twenty-two. I’d been married a year, and was living in London, but that winter I had a call from my parents, asking me to go home. Home was a village in Cheshire, where I’d had a wonderful childhood. I owed my parents so much, and now they needed me. They were both ill with flu, and completely incapacitated, unable to shop or cook. What could I do? I did what any loving daughter would do, packed my bags, kissed my husband goodbye, and got the train north.
Gradually my parents began to get better, though they were still very wobbly. When the ‘incident’ happened, my dad, at least, was getting up, sitting downstairs, and watching television. I felt it would be OK to go out for the evening with a couple of my old girlfriends who still lived nearby, and Dad said to go. So I went.
We met at The Huntsman pub, and had a great evening, with lots of laughs – more like giggles, really. When a few young women get together, they can have uproarious fun just being there; and that is what we did. We reminisced about going dancing at the Assembly Hall, just a few years ago, and laughed about some of the jerks we’d met, and the lies we’d told them in order to get away. This was in the days when it was almost unforgivable to refuse someone who asked you to dance, and we’d had a ready list of reasons to turn down boys – men - who asked to walk us home, when we just didn’t want anything to do with them, once the dance had finished. There was one in particular, the most ugly man I’d ever seen. He was only about my height – just over five feet – and probably measured the same round his waist as his height. He had a thick neck, a florid face, and stinky breath. I’d cringed when he’d asked me to dance, but like the well-brought-up girl I was, I’d got up onto the dance floor. He’s promptly put his hand across my bra at the back and pinged it, and seemed to be rubbing himself against me in the waltz. Next minute he was asking to walk me home. “Actually, I’m engaged,” I’d lied – at which point he let go, stepped back, and said, “There’s no point going on then,” and walked off the dancefloor, leaving me alone in the middle of a moving crowd. Thinking about it, I remembered the creepy feeling he’d given me, and the relief I’d felt when he went off.
When we’d left the Assembly Hall, I’d been frightened the creepy man would be hanging around. I was so relieved when I saw one of my neighbours, Trevor, who hadn’t ‘got off’ with anyone, so we’d walked home together. The girls and I could laugh about it now, but it had been anything but funny at the time.
Manon and Pat were keen for us to meet up again soon, but I told them my mum and dad were a lot better, so I didn’t know how long I’d be staying. I couldn’t envisage being up in Cheshire again on my own, so the evening was tinged with sadness for me: the end of an era. We hugged when we said goodbye, promising to keep in touch. Promises, promises. I don’t think I saw either of them ever again, though we exchanged Christmas cards for a few years, until that petered out, too.
It was a clear evening, and I thought it might be a good idea to walk home. It was only about a mile, and the fresh air would, I hoped, get rid of some of the pub fumes, before I saw my dad.
After four or five minutes, I was wishing I’d worn lower-heeled shoes. The fashion was for pointed toed stilettos – not the best footwear for a walk, and my feet were hurting. I was on the main road, but it was very quiet, with just a few cars, and no other pedestrians. At least, there weren’t, until I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to look back, and saw a squat figure keeping step with me, about ten yards behind. I quickened my pace; and so did he. I couldn’t see the person’s face, as he had a hat pulled well down, but knew it was a man. I quickened my steps; and so did he.
Then, on the other side of the road, a policeman appeared from a side street. The relief I felt was palpable. I thought about stopping him to tell him I thought I was being followed, but when I glanced back again, there was no-one there, and the footsteps had stopped. It must have been just a co-incidence, I thought, and I’d feel a fool telling the policeman about a non–existent stalker. I just carried on walking, and soon the policeman was out of sight.
I was about two minutes from home, when I was grabbed. The man who’d followed me earlier came out of an alley, and held me with one arm, while covering my mouth with the other. He started to drag me back towards the alley. My arms were pinioned, and I was no match in strength. I kicked out with my stiletto heel, and he yelped, and let go. I hit out at his face, trying to connect with his eyes, but only succeeded in knocking off his hat. Utter horror hit me. It was the man from the Assembly Hall, the one we’d been talking about. It was as if I’d conjured up my worst nightmare. I tried to scream, but my mouth was so dry I could only whisper.
Help came unexpectedly. Round the bend in the road, a few yards away, came a young man in a bus conductor’s uniform, walking home from the bus station after his shift.
Somehow I got my voice back. “Help me! Help me!” I said as he got level with us.
“What’s up, me duck?” he asked.
“None of your business,” my attacker said. “Just a little tiff with my wife.”
“No!” I cried. “I don’t know him! He just grabbed me, and was trying to drag me down that alley! Please help me!”
The bus conductor looked at me, then at him. “Hop it,” he said, “or I’ll get the police.”
The horrible man stood still for a few seconds, and then hurried off, back the way we’d come. “Right, me duck”, my saviour said. “Where do you live? We’d better get you back home.”
It was only a minute or so to my parents’ house. I banged on the door, too shaken to get out my key. When Dad came, I fell into his arms, and burst into tears.
“Whatever’s the matter, love?” he said, and glared at my hero, thinking he was the cause of my tears.
“He’s just saved me, Dad,” I said, and I told him what had happened.
“I think you need to get the police. I’ll back her up,” said my new friend.
My dad offered him a glass of Drambuie, but he said he just wanted to get home. He scribbled his name and address on a bit of paper, and left. Then my dad rang the police.
Two of them came quite quickly. I told them what had happened, and they asked if I knew my attacker. When I said I didn’t, but had seen him before, and explained where and when I’d seen him, they just exchanged glances, as if it was significant. They said they’d be in touch if there were ‘further developments’. Neither Dad nor I ever heard from them again. I’ve wondered since if they thought I’d made it all up. They took the piece of paper the bus conductor had written on, and neither Dad nor I could remember what it had said, so we weren’t able later to find out if the police had been to see him about it, or if they’d dismissed my story as a silly fabrication by a silly girl.
There will seem to be a lull in my story here, but I need to set the scene for what happened later, so just bear with me.
Time went by, and life moved on. My husband and I carried on living in our London suburb, and I only went up to Cheshire once more, briefly, to collect my few remaining possessions, just before my parents moved to Llandudno, where they spent the rest of their lives. My two children were born, first a girl, Jennifer, and then a boy, Jeremy. It was when Jeremy was found to have asthma, and it seemed to be exacerbated by all the car fumes and general pollution, that Philip and I started to think about moving somewhere else, somewhere in the countryside. Phil began to look for jobs outside the capital, and eventually found what he was looking for in Sheffield. Obviously we didn’t want to swap living in one city for living in another, if we were moving for health reasons, so we embarked on a search for somewhere within easy commuting distance of Sheffield, and it wasn’t long before we found just what we wanted, a lovely old former vicarage in a beautiful Derbyshire village. We were astounded by just how much our London house fetched. We’d got it very cheaply, but over the last few years the area had been ‘gentrified’, and now we were sitting on a small fortune.
There was a lot to do when we moved. Fortunately, Jennifer and Jeremy settled in well at the village primary school, and the local secondary school had a good reputation, so we were happy they’d be able to make the transition there when the time came. Of course, we didn’t have carpets or curtains to fit the large rooms we’d now got, and our bits of furniture were dwarfed by the rooms’ proportions. We spent most weekends scouring antiques fairs and shops, to try to find pieces which would be in keeping with the age and style of the property. Although we’d met our immediate neighbours, we had little time for socialising, so it was a pleasant surprise when one of the mothers I’d seen at the school gate called round to introduce herself as Pauline Thomas, and to invite us all round one Sunday afternoon for a barbecue. We had a really good time, and met Pauline’s husband Geoff, and their children, Abi and Jay. Men seem to find it harder to make friends that women do, but Phil and Geoff hit it off, and Geoff invited Phil to go along to the village Cricket Club, to get to know some other men, and possibly to join. Phil was delighted. The children played well together, and Pauline and I found we were able to chat freely. I had found a new friend. WE had found new friends.
The two families met up regularly, and it wasn’t long before we were able to help each other out with babysitting. When Pauline and Geoff went out for the occasional evening, I would go to babysit, while Phil stayed at home. When we went out, Pauline came here, and Geoff stayed with Abi and Jay. Not that we went out much. We were happy where we were, and there was still a lot to do, to get our lovely house just as we wanted it.
Our house was on the edge of the village, and looked out over the church and the churchyard. Usually, the village church is in the heart of the village, but here it wasn’t. I found out it used to be, but the local landowner had moved the whole village so he could have a ‘vista’ to look out on. This was when everyone who thought they were anyone wanted to have an outlook such as Capability Brown would have made, in the mid seventeen-hundreds. The present village looked as though it had been there forever, so it was a surprise to find it was only just over a couple of hundred years old.
The main street through the village was attractive, with different styles of cottages, all in the local stone. The village shop sold just about everything, and was very well-used by everyone. There were two pubs, the Crown, which was an old coaching inn and quite near to us, and the Red Lion, down at the far end of the village street. Phil and I had occasionally been into the Crown for a nightcap, after one of our evenings out. Usually we went into the city, where there were a lot of cultural events – and some excellent restaurants, too. So we had never been to the Red Lion in the first eighteen months we’d lived in The Old Vicarage.
Phil’s parents lived in Spain most of the year, and came back for a couple of months in the summer, when they divided their time between staying with either us, Tom’s two sisters and their families, or Auntie May, Phil’s mother’s sister. The year it happened – the event I’m going to tell you about – they came to us last, before returning home to Spain. It was towards the end of September, and the end of the cricket season. Phil had played a couple of times for the second eleven. (Cricket was very popular, and the village ran two adult teams, plus a junior side). There was supposed to be an end-of-season party in the cricket pavilion, but some idiot left taps running, and it wasn’t found until the floor was ruined, and the place unusable. The party was moved to the Red Lion, as it had what it called the ‘Function Room’. And Phil’s parents said they’d babysit, so we could go.
Pauline and Geoff got an older teenager to babysit, so for the first time we went out in the evening in a four.
We strolled down through the village, Pauline and I in front, chatting, and the men behind, discussing who had done what in the last match. As I say, I hadn’t been in the Red Lion before. Its main entrance was on the street. It was plain, with no garden in front, but with a sign to say there was one round the back. The function room was attached to the main building, and had its own entrance, and that is where we went in.
The men got us all drinks, and we sat at a table for four. Music was playing, and some of the juniors were dancing down at the other end of the room. We’d been there about an hour, when I got up to go to the Ladies. The entrance was off the main part of the pub. The saloon bar was very crowded, and I had to push my way through. Most people are taller that I am, so I couldn’t see much of anything, but when I was on my way back, a bunch of people had left, and I had a clear view of the bar. Behind it was - well, you’ll have guessed what I’m going to say. The face was even uglier, if possible, with its high colour and blotchy skin. I couldn’t see much more of him, but what I could see was a gross travesty of a man, enormously fat, his bulbous arms resting on the bar. I felt faint. I couldn’t help myself, I grabbed hold of the nearest person. “Who’s that behind the bar?” I stammered.
The chap I’d grabbed looked bemused. That’s Tom, the landlord,” he said, “and that’s his wife Elsa.” He pointed to a pale thin woman standing next to the man Tom.
I felt a release of adrenalin. Suddenly I was furiously angry. This was the creep who had given me nightmares, the one who had threatened not just my sense of seIf, but my life. I saw an empty beer bottle on a table. I picked it up, and walked up to the bar, and stood there, the bottle held like a weapon. Tom turned and saw me. I saw his face register who I was. I wasn’t the only one to remember. He gasped, and grasped his left arm. I kept looking at him as he slid down to the floor behind the bar. Nobody else was looking, except Elsa. I looked over the counter. He was on the floor, clutching his chest.
“Help me! Help me!” he whispered – and I remembered those were the same words I had used when he had me in his grip. No-one else had seen what was happening, except Elsa, and she just stood, looking down at him. Then she met my eyes, and I saw there a complicity. She was glad. Goodness knows what her life must have been like with him. I nodded at her, and she nodded back. No words were necessary. I waited a few moments, until he’d stopped breathing, and then went back to the function room. I said nothing. Not then, nor ever.
It was all round the village the next day that Tom had died behind his own bar, with a full pub, and nobody had noticed.
I didn’t often go to church, but that Sunday morning, I did. I couldn’t help but see the irony, when the first hymn was announced: ‘Now thank we all our God.’ So I did.