View from the Bridge: 22

by John Morrison


22: Talk of the Devil

It's Halloween Night, and the children of Milltown are dressing up as witches and wizards, and demanding money with menaces from unsuspecting householders. The vicar looks on in frustration, wishing there was a way to include devil-worship into the church's calendar of sacraments, without alienating the more traditional members of his congregation.

The landlord of the Grievous Bodily Arms is boiling up a cauldron of oil in case any 'trick or treaters' have the temerity to knock on the door. This is not one of those pubs where businessmen go for lunch, with their braying voices, over-loud laughter and mobile phones. It's where strange, violent men with eyebrows that meet in the middle go to plan bank heists. While some pubs have guest beers, the Grievous Bodily Arms has guest bouncers.

What Milltown lacks, according to the drinkers propping up the bar, is a reputable brothel and an all-night pawnbroker. While you'd be unwise to ask for credit here, the barmaid can be quite obliging if a regular customer tips her the wink and rustles a fiver meaningfully between finger and thumb. So she often makes a little money on the side by taking one of her regular punters home after closing-time. She specialises in the things that women won't let their husbands do - like putting their elbows on the table and cutting their toenails in bed.

Best not try to catch the barmaid's eye over at the Stoic for anything other than a glass of warm beer. An expectant cry of "A loose woman, please, and a side-order of floosies" is likely to fall on deaf ears here at this most genteel of pubs. The landlord prides himself on keeping an orderly house. For example, he only stocks ready-salted crisps, fearing that more exotic flavours might over-excite his customers. He's decided, with no logic whatsoever, that tonight is 'Hawaiian Night' at the Stoic: an occasion that merely demands that chef opens up an extra can of pineapple chunks. Chef's ability to twist a thin slice of cucumber through ninety degrees has made his garnishes renowned for miles around.

Town Drunk is on his best behaviour. Having lined his stomach with cleaning fluids, he is enjoying a small aperitif at the Stoic, prior to returning home for that rarest of treats: a home-cooked meal. Attempts to follow a more balanced diet have led him to choose a different pizza topping every day. On the menu tonight is the contents of a full grill-pan - warmed up, spread thickly on toast and accompanied by a colourful selection of cheese stalactites, harvested from the racks in his oven.

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