The summer sun was beating down, and I decided my walk had already taken enough out of me to warrant some liquid refreshment. I looked at the map, and ascertained I was between villages, or indeed hamlets. I was never sure where the cut-off point lay. The next mark of a capital “PH” for Public House showed as being approximately two miles away, and I remembered it appearing as “The King’s Head” when I had looked up my route the previous evening on the complimentary wifi at the hostel.
Imagine my surprise then, as I rounded a bend some thirty seconds later and was met by the sight of a nearly full car park adjoining what appeared to be a pub. I consulted the map. Nothing was marked. My rudimentary orienteering skills, and curiosity about whether the map was wrong, were easily out-ranked by my thirst. I looked at the sign rising above the cars; “Bogart’s Coaching Inn” would do for me.
Brushing my dusty boots off on the obligatory family of captive bristle hedgehogs by the doorway, I stepped over the threshold. The room I entered was busy, and a cursory glance from the lunchtime clientele seemed to pass without any worrying reduction in the volume of chatter taking place. I had passed the in-comer test, and did not appear to be viewed as an escaped axe-murderer.
As I approached the counter, I could see no major influence that would give the establishment a name linking it to my initial reaction to seeing the sign from the roadside. Plenty of pastoral scenes in paintings of woods, cows, waterfalls and wildfowl, but not a film noir photograph in sight.
I surveyed the choice of draught taps before me, salivated, and looked up at the landlordly figure. He smiled.
“Of all the bars, in all the world, you had to walk into mine. What’ll it be?”
His granite features betrayed not a flicker of sarcasm, irony, or satire.
I pondered my reply, as I mentally scratched my head trying to confirm if I had really heard him correctly. This was surreal. Undecided, I decided on a pint of lager. I paid, and took it with my now discarded rucksack towards an empty table in the corner.
As I wandered away, I caught my boot on one of the uneven flagstones, and stumbled into a prominently displayed seven feet tall magnificent example of taxidermy labelled “North American Grizzly, 1926”. The landlord tutted in annoyance.
“Of all the bears, in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”
I apologised sheepishly, and continued on past my ursine foe, to the table. I made it without further incident and sat down. I took a couple of slurps from the cool glass, and set about projecting my route for the rest of the day, as well as the week ahead. The map was in my rucksack, which I reached across the table to extract. I realised it was wedged in the chair opposite me, and I couldn’t lift it to get to the pocket in question. I rose from my own seat, and rounded the table. As I carefully re-positioned the rucksack to allow me the correct access, I changed my stance and succeeded in jolting the pint of the old man sat at the table next to me.
“Of all the beers, in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”
His worn light grey shirt was now a darker grey in places. I immediately resumed my new found favourite hobby of apologising, and offered to replace his drink at once. He nodded grumpily, and I went back to the now unoccupied hostelry owner. The landlord monitored my return to his immediate environment with a gaze that would have suited a bird of prey. He had watched what chaos I had caused since my arrival, and was not impressed.
Replacement pint in hand, I turned to my table. I collided with a uniformed member of staff bearing a badge showing her job title of “Pub Procurement Manager”
“Of all the buyers, in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”
The host was now becoming a bit pissed off. His demeanour was changing perceptibly from landlordly, to despotic lord of the manorly.
In my defence, I managed miraculously to not spill any of the pint during the collision, and furnished the old man with his refreshment. Better perhaps to remain near the counter and the landlord, to minimise any further mischief ensuing. The stools were sparsely populated, most people preferring tables; I soon discovered why. I chose one, and for the next twenty minutes I was forced to listen to the man on the next stool telling me why the four known alternative printing systems for producing colour illustrations on beermats should really be a question subject on University Challenge. As the man left for a toilet break, the landlord looked at me knowingly.
“Of all the bores, in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”
The man’s trip to the toilet had set me off thinking that it would be a smart move on my own part to visit the facilities before I left to continue my journey. For clarity, and not wishing to hit or upset any more people, I enquired of the landlord as to the toilets, and he pointed me in the opposite direction to that which the beermat print guru had taken. I obeyed, and found myself in a former cowshed, converted to a toilet block annex. I returned to the room, and asked why I couldn’t use the toilets inside the pub. The landlord pointed to my feet, and then to a sign with left and right arrows that said “Boots” and “No Boots”
“Of all the byres, in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”
My thirst had been slaked, and after a couple of pints and a bladder evacuation, I was ready to resume my trek. I donned my jacket, and stepped back to swing my rucksack towards my shoulders. As it passed upwards, one of the straps snagged on a rough piece of metal projecting slightly from the copper-edged counter. I looked pitifully at the landlord
“Of all the burrs, in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”
I needed to get back to the outdoors, and with a farewell nod to mein host, I passed through the exit portal.
For some reason my thoughts were split between what had just happened to me in the last hour, and my remembering the fact that my pre-booked accommodation for that night was at the “White House B&B.”