Hugh and I and …The Pint of No Return
by Samson Steel.
Work was done for the day, and my meandering path to Darkest Surrey via the railway just happened to meander past a watering-hole of recent discovery, namely “The Neck”. That is a nom de booze, you understand, and not the real name of the establishment. I mean, a hostelry named “The Neck”? Utterly ridiculous! It is actually named … ah, no, we’ll save that for another time. Press on, Samson, press on.
Pressing on, then, my meandering path did not simply meander past The Neck, it took me inside. Shameful, you might think, with the sun barely above the yardarm, but after a whole day of slaving away at the beck and call of Her Majesty’s Right Horrible Government, a chap needs to – um, let’s say – keep hydrated. So I popped in for a hydration.
I called out a jovial “hail fellow, well met” to mine host, Barry the Bar. He looked up from gloomily picking at a scratch on a pint glass and enquired after my preference.
“A pint of black, Barry, if you please,” I replied. As Barry set about the painstaking artisanal task of pouring a pint of black, his good lady wife, Betty the Brain, looked out from the kitchen. We named her thus because, let’s face it, she really is the brains of outfit. She caught sight of me, gave me a playful scowl, and closed her serving hatch rather firmly.
We were joined at the bar by Barry’s occasional assistant bar staffer, Wendy. “Hey, Samson,” she enquired affectionately, “How’s it hanging?” Or at least I choose to interpret her manner as affectionate. My friend Hugh has his doubts.
“And how is the lovely Wendy on this fine evening?” I asked.
“Well,” she replied, “You know.” I suspected that whatever she thought I knew, she did not. Wendy has no nick-name, you see. Barry is a wizard behind the bar, Betty is far and away the biggest brain in the bar, but Wendy? We have yet to identify her unique talent; in its absence she defaults to merely being Wendy.
To my delight, Hugh joined us. He pushed open the door and, as always, announced, “Just too late for the 5:07 from platform 12. Got to fill the time somehow. Barry, you might as well pour me a pint of yellow, if you please. Samson’s paying.”
Hugh, too, is an underpaid, over-worked servant of Her Majesty’s Uncivil Service, and we got to swapping Whitehall gossip. Important affairs of State, in the sense of who’s sleeping with whom, who’s sucking up worst to those ghastly hatchet-men in the Cabinet Orifice, whose cat dug up the Chancellor’s begonias (bless its little whiskers) and who trained it to carry out the nefarious task (Me? Never!)
We steadily worked away at our – er – hydration, until a mere half-inch of liquid remained in each glass. At this point, Hugh started to twitch a little, then a lot, and excused himself to pay homage to the man with the proverbial dog.
I drained my half-inch, and Wendy instantly appeared at my elbow. “Another?” she asked.
“Ah, Wendy. I could cheerfully dispose of some more of Barry’s finest, but sadly, Hugh has reached The Pint Of No Return.”
“The pint at which, should Hugh venture another, he will never return home unaided,” I explained.
“You have to be kidding me!” she exclaimed, incredulous.
“I do not kid, kiddo,” I said. “Let me demonstrate. Pour me another pint of black, and a pint of yellow for Hugh. Watch and learn young lady.”
Betty the Brain opened her hatch, and glared out at me in her cheerful way. “Samson Steel!” she admonished me. “Are you really going to take that nice man past The Pint Of No Return?”
“Wendy was curious,” I tried.
“Don’t give me that!” she snapped affectionately. “Evil, is what you are! Well, you better be prepared for the consequences!” Her serving hatch closed even more firmly than before.
Wendy looked mildly shocked. “Consequences?” she asked,
“Do you know what a taxi to Richmond costs at midnight?”
She gasped in horror. “THOSE consequences!” She looked slightly stunned. Actually, she usually looked slightly stunned, hence having no nickname.
Hugh returned from scrying the porcelain. “What ho, time to – oh!” he broke off his ritual farewell, spying a further glass of cold, tempting yellow on the bar. “You bought me another?”
“Indeed I did, my friend, so sup up!” I replied. And he did. Oh, he did!
Over the next few hours, we were joined by a variety of other regular visitors to The Neck. Hugh bought, and in return was bought, copious quantities of coloured liquid as the Pint Of No Return overwhelmed his natural disinclination to take his wallet out of his pocket. He exchanged toasts with, amongst others, Inspector Gadget, Luke the Drifter, Shug the Bug, Waterloo Lily, Willy the Pimp, Renee the Docker’s Delight, … well, the list goes on and on. He told jokes and sang little ditties of rapidly increasing earthiness, crossed the border into sheer vulgarity and launched an offensive into the heart of offensiveness.
Barry the Bar tugged at my sleeve. I was expecting him round about now; he would have to close, after all, so he would need me to get rid of Hugh for him. I was slightly taken aback, then, to hear him inform me that my pocket was ringing. After a little fumbling (I had been neck-and-neck with Hugh in the refreshment stakes after all) I found my mobile phone and laughed out loud as I read the caller identity: “HUGH – HOME”.
“This is Samson,” I purred suavely into the phone. “How may I help you?”
“You know damn well how you can help me,” said Hugh’s wife’s voice. “You’ve done it again, you evil sod, you’ve taken him past The Pint Of No Return. I can hear him singing in the background!”
“I’m sorry, Janice,” I replied. “I can’t hear you because of Hugh, singing in the background.”
“Don’t try to be bloody funny, Samson, just get him in a taxi for home. Now!”
“At once, my sweet, at once.”
For some reason she hung up.
I called a taxi, and explained what it was all about. After assuring the dispatcher that his driver would be paid in advance, and, yes, I’d chip in an extra tenner to cover vomit removal, I hung up and gave Barry the nod.
Five minutes later, the door opened and a man stepped in. “Mister Janus!” he called out. “Taxi for Mister Janus!”
Yes, friends, there is a slight problem with Hugh’s name. It’s Janus. The rowdiness died away as Hugh made sense of what the man said. “Aha! My carriage awaits! Yes, sir, I’m Mister Janus, all set to go!”
I helped him to the door, handed over more money that I was happy to hand over, and told the driver to get him safety home to Janice. As the two of them left, we all became aware of Wendy, laughing away to herself. Silence fell over the bar. This was unusual – normally, Wendy didn’t get jokes, so everyone waited, breathless, to see what she was laughing at.
“Oh, that’s so funny!” she laughed. “Your friend Hugh? Samson, I never knew his last name until now.”
Betty the Brain emerged from the kitchen and took Barry the Bar by the hand. Shug the Bug wrapped an arm round Waterloo Lily, ready to explain because English was not her first language. Mind, I don’t think it was Shug’s first language either. And Wendy chortled on.
“His last name is Janus? My goodness, didn’t his wife see that coming?” She looked, wide-eyed, round the bar. “Do you get it? Her name’s JANICE JANUS!!” She almost collapsed laughing.
Barry and Brenda looked at me, and I looked back at Brenda and Barry.
Well,” was all I could say. “Now, THAT was unexpected.”