It’s a hard life
“T’raa, Germima. Alf!’
The old dray horse gave a snort of acknowledgement. Alf gave a desultory wave.
Morris always acknowledged the horse before the driver. She was likely to be around a lot longer than Alf for one thing, and besides, if it weren’t for Germima, Morris probably wouldn’t get his delivery on time. The horse knew the delivery route like the back of her hoof. So did Alf, but he had a habit of dozing off on the wagon and many’s a time they would have ended up half way to Corlington before Alf woke up.
In the old days, people only had one name; such as Ug or Sniff.
As people acquired more skills, and a broader vocabulary they began to acquire a surname, usually in reference to whatever was their profession.
Smith being a commonplace example, derived from blacksmith. Fletcher another. In days of yore it was law for every Englishman to practice daily with a longbow. So a person who made arrows, which is where the name Fletcher derives, would have been a well-respected and vital member of every village. And of course anyone with a surname such as Sidebottom or Arsbinder, generally belonged to the Church.
Morris’s surname was Cooper. Although Morris was not a barrel maker, one might say that the profession of publican was the next best thing.
Morris was a big man. Over six feet in his socks, strong as an ox, and built like the proverbial outhouse. He could still lift one of the beer barrels if called upon. In his younger days he had. These days his sons did most of the heavy work, and fortunately there was little actual lifting required.
The last barrel rolled down the wooden drawbridge, as Morris called it, and disappeared into the pub’s cellar.
‘Righto, Michael. That’s the last one. Close up and let’s get a spot of breakfast before opening,’ Morris instructed.
‘Right, Pa,’ said his son.
The CooperInn is a pub in Wiggleswood, a small village in rural England.
It is a real pub that serves real ale. Beers with such colourful names as Bishop’s Appendage, and Bad Habits are popular local brews. Peeler’s is another. This one is considered particularly potent and has the nickname ‘Jailtime’, as this is usually what the unwary drinker will be doing after more than three pints.
Morris had just finished tapping a fresh barrel when the door opened.
It was 10:30 in the morning.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ Morris mumbled under his breath.
‘Mornin’, Morris!’ said a cheerful voice.
Harry Bradshaw was Wiggleswood’s odd-job man. Harry preferred the title Artisan. However, the only thing vaguely associated with the first three letters of this profession one might find on Harry’s resume was his attempt at painting St. Mary’s, the local church. Such was Harry’s prowess with a paintbrush, poor old Reverend Wilky had to pay him to stop.
Just because Jesus wanted every child to be His sunbeam didn’t mean the church had to be painted bright yellow.
‘Have I got somethin’ for you, Morris,’ Harry said as he shuffled onto a barstool.
One of Harry’s other professions was the ‘Acquisition of Commodities’.
‘Oh, really,’ Morris replied. ‘And I suppose whatever it is just happened to fall off the back of a lorry, right?’
‘Always said you ‘ad a highly developed instinct for a business opportunity, Morris. As a matter o’ fact, what I have in the boot of my Cortina did fall off the back of a lorry. The bleedin’ big dent in the bonnet is proof, too. These truck drivers ought to be a lot more careful when they load their goods. If it weren’t for me superior drivin’ skills the box would’ve gone right through me bleedin’ windscreen.’
‘And maybe if you weren’t tailgating the lorry on the off chance that something fell off the driver wouldn’t be short one crate either.’
‘Finders keepers, Morris. Finders keepers. Besides it would ‘ave been regarded as damaged goods. Couldn’t sell it on the open market anyhow. So’s it’s a good thing I just ‘appened to be in the right place at the right time. Imagine if some kiddies found it, eh?’
‘Kiddies? What we talking about here. Drugs?’
‘Nah, course not. Weerll, not in the strict sense, I s’pose.’
Morris drew himself up to his full height and glowered down on Harry.
‘You better not be mucking about with drugs, Harry Bradshaw or I’ll have the law out here in a flash.’
Harry leant away from the imposing figure, raising his hands in submission.
‘No, Morris, I ain’t. Honest! This ain’t like that at all.’
‘Better hadn’t be. I’m warning you.’
‘No, Morris. This is much better n’ nasty drugs. An’ I reckon much more profitable.’
Morris calmed down a bit and went back to laying out the bar.
‘This is a pub, Harry. You do know that, right?’
‘A pub. My pub. As opposed to a public library or public park where they don’t object if you just saunter in and sit down for five minutes and do nothing.’
‘Ah, sorry, Morris. I’ll ‘ave a half.’
Morris poured Harry half a bitter and because he was that type of person reached behind him, lifted a glass lid and retrieved a cheese and ham sandwich.
‘Bit short o’ change, right now, Morris, t’be honest. Just the drink’ll do me.’
Morris looked Harry up and down. When was the last time you ate you old bugger, he wondered?
‘Eat the bloody sandwich, Harry. You can owe me. If ever I need the pub painted a psychedelic colour I’ll know who to call, all right?’
‘Thanks, Morris. You’re a real gentleman,’ Harry replied around a mouthful of bread.
Morris waited until Harry finished his sandwich then removed the plate and wiped away a few crumbs.
‘Well, go on then,’
‘Aven’t finished me drink yet, Morris. ‘Ave an ‘eart.’
‘I mean, let’s hear what you’ve got in the back of your Cortina, Harry. You aren’t going to leave until you’ve told me, even if I’m not in the least bit interested in buying. Am I right?’
‘Viagra. Whole box of it.’
Morris grinned then began to shake with barely suppressed laughter.
‘S’not funny, Morris.’
Morris started to laugh out loud.
‘Are you serious, Harry?’
‘Straight up, Morris. Honest,’ he said.
Morris’s laughter attracted the attention of his wife, Natalie, who wandered out from the kitchen to see what was going on.
Her smile vanished the moment she recognised Harry Bradshaw.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ she said offering a questioning glance at her husband.
‘It’s all right, Nat. Harry, here just thought I might be in the market for some Viagra. He’s got a whole box of it in his car,’ Morris explained.
Natalie looked from Harry to her husband and her smile returned in an instant.
‘Yes, Mrs. C?’
‘How many kids have we got?’
‘Um…let me see now. There’s Michael, Simon, Anne, and little Roger. Oh, and the twins, Lizbeth and Vanessa, of course.’ Harry reeled off the children’s names, counting on his fingers.
‘And don’t forget Emily and Adrian,’ Natalie prompted.
‘Right, right. Nearly forgot. Big family you have. That’s why I reckoned you’d be interested in my wares, Mrs. C.’
‘You do know what Viagra is for, Harry, yes?’
‘Course I do, Mrs. C. I might be old but I ain’t stupid. It’s a vitamin. Good one, too, so I’ve been told.’
Morris and Natalie exchanged a look.
‘Come here, Harry,’ Natalie gestured.
Harry leant a bit further over the bar and Natalie cupped her hand to whisper in his ear.
After she finished, Harry turned a bright shade of crimson.
‘Oh, my gawd. Well I never. You’re ‘aving me on, Mrs. C. Right?’
‘No, Harry. That’s what it is. I promise.’
‘Straight up, Harry,’ Natalie confirmed with a big smile.
‘That’s naughty, Mrs. C.’
‘Yes, Harry. I know,’ Natalie agreed, her smile broadening.
‘I think, sweetheart that under the circumstances it ought to be Harry who has a stiff one, don’t you?’ Morris suggested.
Harry suddenly looked apoplectic. He leapt off the stool and bolted for the door.
‘You’re disgustin’, he shouted just before he left. ‘The pair of you!’
‘Funny that. He’s never turned down a free whisky before.’