Eddy Stone, Publican at The Jolly Puritan

He finished wiping the bar down and dropped the cloth into the drip-tray.  Easing it out of its well he sidled round into the other bar and swivelled immediately in the opposite direction to the back-room.

It was a kitchen, really, with the two big sinks where they washed the glasses.  On the opposite side was the narrow table where they prepared the filled roles and sandwiches and suchlike.  White utility cupboards above and next to the old green gas stove.  The rest of the room had cupboards, like wardrobes, one containing assorted brooms and cleaning equipment while the other had shelves stacked with bar-towels, ‘tea-towels, boxes of candles and a few unused table-cloths. One shelf had a large crow-bar lying at its edge and a wooden box some four inches high and almost the full length of the shelf.  It was ‘knocked up’ from an old orange box and the remains of ‘Outspan Oranges’ labels could be seen in various states of peeling in several places.

He tipped the brown mix of beers into the sink and the cloth flopped wetly on top. Switching the tap on he ran the tray under it, swilling the water out and then left the tray upturned on the draining board to dry.  He dried his hands on the towel hanging on the chair-back.

It had been a long day.  Eddy relished the silence at the end of the day.  Customers cleared out, the two staff finished and gone and his final, habitual duties of tidying completed.  He filled the kettle, lit the gas. From the cupboard at his shoulder he took down his mug and from the shelf below it grabbed the bottle of Camp Coffee and dribbled two teaspoons of its brown liquid into the mug.  The spoon leaned in the mug, the last of the syrupy coffee refusing to slide down.  Eddy went to check the outside doors of the two bars while his water boiled.  Of course they were locked.  The Lounge Bar door first.  Because of his height he could barely reach to push the bolts closed at the top of the door.  With a sort of hitch and jump he could do it but these days his girth made it even more difficult so one of his regular bar staff would usually oblige.  Maybe the last customer would do the bolts and sidle out of the back door into the gunnel. Finally he checked the Public Bar door.  Some said it was the original door, heavy oak boards cross-banded with similar oak, all aged and blacked with a lead-like layer of grime from timeless dirt and smoke.  Hand-forged bolts that originally held the planks together now just featureless juts in the ‘lead’.

As he already knew, the lock and bolts were secure.  He picked the heavy Bible off the coconut matting recessed into the floor and replaced it on the small table in the alcove next to it.  He muttered to himself, ‘Why does it fall on the floor?  Can’t be the draught when they close the door.  Maybe last one out gives it a clout!’  Eddy tutted his way round the counter to his kitchen, rescued the steaming kettle and half filled his coffee mug.  Stirred the coffee syrup and smelled the chicory in the coffee mixture.  Added plenty of milk from the bottle and stirred again then moved the mug to the small table.

As usual, in the quiet of the night his tinnitus became more insistent which in turn would make the back of his skull throb a little.  No, that was an exaggeration, more of an awareness of sensation.  The crease in his skull was the cause of both, he had been told.  The insomnia too. That had attached itself to him since his wounding in Korea.  He didn’t talk about it much.  It ended his military career.  Even fewer people want to remember the Korean War these days and he never wanted to explain that he was wounded out of the service by a tree falling on his head.  No matter that it had been exploded out of the ground by uncountable mortar rounds.

So, staff gone, last two customers gone, regular and irregular and all he had now was to while away some hours until he could grab those valuable three of sleep.

Unnecessary as he knew it was, he found it therapeutic to do some cleaning.  The one thing he had been trained to do and did, even in extremis in Arnhem and Korea, was clean his rifle and hand-gun.  So he moved the crowbar to the lower shelf of the cupboard and carried the boxwood container to the table and unclipped the lid.  Inside, cradled on its home-made felted rests were his service revolver and a dismantled Enfield rifle.  Carefully placing the brush, wadding and oil on the table he lifted out the revolver, broke it and began wiping down in a slow, gentle process.

relates to: Burnthorpe