Chapter 3 of 'The Quay'

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Having discovered his stunning new love interest and an aggressive adversary keen to oust him from his pub all in the space of a single afternoon (see 1&2!), Ken attempts to find out more about his enemy whilst he continues to embrace his new life. (Full novel available in all Kindle stores).

CHAPTER 3

When I think about what its achieved, I'm convinced evolution deserves way more credit than it gets, because mankind really has come a long way since we got bored of the tadpole lifestyle and decided to sprout a few limbs and escape the ooze. Some would be swift to debunk that theory I appreciate, preferring to believe we were brought into being by some Creator type entity that planted all the fossils for a lark to mislead the scientists. But whether you're rooting for Darwin, Jesus or Hubbard, you'd have to admit that decent progress has been made. And yet, the process has fallen short in a few areas — why do we still have to suffer hangovers? And why do we sometimes bite the insides of our mouths when we chew? The former was uppermost in my mind after draining a lake of red wine the previous evening. I'd been emotionally jangly after such an eventful day and I was torn between celebrating "meeting" the goddess or purging the memory of my later exchange with Boat Bitch. In the end, I had a serious crack at both and rather overdid the self-medication. As a result, I hadn't moved far from the bathroom that morning. I wasn't ill as such, rather trying to sate a seemingly unquenchable thirst brought on by drinking from a Merlot hydrant and putting too much salt on my chips. God I love water; what a magnificent fluid. It just modestly gets on with keeping the planet alive without bells and whistles (apart from the odd flashy self-indulgence like Niagra Falls). I for one had never taken it for granted and felt blessed to live somewhere in the world where it was freely available on tap. And that particular morning, the love affair continued unabated. I must have gulped down gallons of the stuff whilst perched on the end of the bath, sharing my time between dunking my head in the basin to drink from the tap, and trying to find an angle at which I could hold my head that alleviated the throbbing. Why hadn't modern medicine succeeded where evolution had failed? Surely they must be able to engineer some sort of pre-emptive pharmaceutical solution that would mean never having to endure this tortuous condition? All too busy trying to find a cure for cancer or Parkinson's I suppose. I couldn't really fault their priorities, regardless of how hurty my head was.

Yesterday, Janine had shot home as soon as Boat Bitch and her goons had exited the pub. She clearly wanted to be gone so I didn't press her for details of what had transpired before I'd turned up: I would catch up with her next shift. She'd managed a weak smile when I handed her the Twix but I think the afternoon's events had rather taken the shine off that treat. I had wanted to get J.D.'s reaction too but just as I went to quiz him, a cold blast and a gaggle of energetic voices from the front door heralded the arrival of our first customers of the evening, so that chat would have to keep also. After all the excitement, I'd fancied a change of scene.

'Unless you need me to lend a hand down here, I'll pop up to The Crow's Nest for a bit J.D.'

'The what?'

'The Crow's Nest. It's what I've christened the flat.'

'Oh right.' He seemed to find this hugely amusing and chuckled to himself as he moved off to serve the punters. At least he was clearly unruffled by this afternoon's brush with the neighbours. 'Oh and no, you're fine; Jeff should be here any minute.'

Shopping in hand, I headed upstairs and set about weather-proofing my abode. Much newspaper scrunching and stuffing later, I was pleased to feel only the faintest of drafts when I ran my hand around the window frames. Peering out, I couldn't see much of what lay beyond as my view mostly just comprised a reflection of the interior but I couldn't miss the bright lights burning in the SharpCrest yard. What the hell had Boat Bitch's visit really been about? The episode was still fresh in my memory but had now taken on a rather surreal feel. She wanted the pub, I got that; but why the passive-aggression and the men in black? Maybe they'd wiped my memory of what really transpired using one of those shiny brain-zapper things like in the films. What was that gadget called... a NutriBullet? Apart from the ridiculous episode with the cigarette, everything else was really just spirited conversation wasn't it? Whatever; I'd dwell on that some more later. Right now I needed to be all about curtains. Having unpackaged my purchase, I held one over the window and was both surprised and pleased to see it was a reasonable fit. Something I'd also forgotten to think about before I went shopping was a curtain rail but fortunately there was one already installed, albeit rather crookedly with just a handful of hooks dangling aimlessly from it. But that was sufficient for now: the curtains hung rather awkwardly and were a bit gappy at the top but my privacy was restored. With that improvement and with the icy draft now mostly kept at bay, The Crow's Nest had taken a major leap upward on the livability scale. Content with my accomplishments, I headed back down to the bar. Christ those stairs really did creak like a bastard.

 

On entering the bar, I was pleasantly surprised by the sizeable throng in the room — the early crowd had been joined by what looked like more of their office colleagues. Some sort of celebration it appeared; maybe a birthday, as most of the group's attention seemed to be focused on a senior-looking guy with cheeks of a colour that suggested he'd started celebrating at lunchtime. He appeared to be in the middle of a joke or anecdote and was gesticulating dramatically to add a visual element to his tale, whilst dispensing a fair amount of drink over his small captive audience in the process. None of them acted as if they'd even noticed being splashed; another sign that they were in the presence of a big cheese. J.D. was behind the bar talking to a young lad the other side of it who was loading empty glasses into a crate. I assumed that must be Jeff.

J.D. wandered over when he saw me. 'Welcome back. Settling into The Wank Pad okay?'

'The Crow's Nest, yes.' I smiled; rather stiffly.

He smiled too, still clearly tickled by the notion I'd named my accommodation. 'So: fancy a drink to celebrate your declaration of war on the rich and powerful?'

This was the first of several drinks that I worked my way through whilst we discussed the afternoon's drama. According to J.D., Boat Bitch had made some overtures to Aunt Maddy over the last several months regarding selling the pub but had done nothing more than make a couple of phone calls along those lines. As far as he was aware, neither she nor her henchmen had ever set foot in the bar before today. It turned out that not only were she and Aunt Maddy unable to 'agree terms' but more specifically, Maddy had told her to 'shove her deal up her bony arse'; a phrase that J.D. repeated several times with great relish. The wine was flowing well and J.D. helped himself to a couple of glasses too and we spent a very sociable couple of hours chatting away whilst Jeff serviced the customers. J.D. was growing on me more and more. It turned out he'd spent most of his youth growing up overseas and had travelled widely since, with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anecdotes to share as a result. His sense of humour seemed to be founded on taking the piss out of everyone and anything but he did so without malice. Whilst I was refilling my glass for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me that I'd not got around to introducing myself to Jeff. He wasn't busy at that point, instead just standing there surveying the room so I went to address my oversight.

'Hi Jeff! I'm Ken. Good to meet you.'

This met with no reaction whatsoever, so I repeated my welcome whilst leaning in to put myself squarely in his line of sight. This did the trick and he smiled broadly and reached out his hand.

'Hi, I'm Simon.'

I shook his hand but just before I got to respond, J.D. spoke softly into my ear.

'His name is Simon but he's hard of hearing in one ear so we call him Jeff. You know; Mutton Jeff? Never to his face though. It's just that there's another Simon who works the odd shift and it helps to err, you know; differentiate.' He sounded sheepish.

'Hi Simon; I'm Ken. Good to know you.' This aimed at Jeff's good ear with some elevation in volume.

'Hi Ken. J.D. says you live upstairs in The Wank Bank.' Behind me I heard what sounded like a lawn sprinkler coming to life which could only be J.D. forcefully venting a mouthful of his wine across the bar.

'Well; actually it's called The Crow's Nest but yes, it's home. Sorry I didn't say hi earlier; J.D. has a rash he's more concerned about than usual and he needed some moral support.' I then pointed towards my crotch whilst silently mouthing 'Down there.'

'Oh right!' he said, grinning over my shoulder at J.D., clearly getting the gag. 'Look on the bright side J.D.; if everything drops off, you can wear women's underwear all the time. Not just those quiet evenings in, like you do now.' Then he was off to serve a customer. I liked Jeff. Sorry; Simon. He was medium height, probably late twenties with a mess of ginger hair and a matching beard of sorts that seemed to be having trouble really taking hold. There was an easy way about him and the customers seemed to respond well to his banter. I took him to be a local boy, saying 'Ello' rather than 'Hello', thrown in with a few other snippets of the Dorset dialect like 'Ax' in lieu of 'Ask'.

My wine intake had pushed hunger to the background for the last few hours but all of a sudden I was ravenous. And really quite sozzled. I turned to J.D. who had just finished cleaning up the counter after his involuntary outpouring. 'I need food J.D. — where's good round here?'

'Depends what you're after. Most of the bars on the quay are pretty decent if you're happy with tarted up pub grub or want something a bit more gourmet. Or you might just catch the chippy if you want quick and easy.' he said pulling up his sleeve and looking at a watch he wasn't wearing. 'Or take a walk into town. There's a few good restaurants that might be open — Italian, Indian, Aztec, Martian....'

To be honest I hadn't heard much after 'chippy' — from that moment, no other food existed, only fish and chips; and they would be mine, oh yes. 'Okay — back in a bit!'

A few minutes and many wobbly strides later, I was basking in the bright lights and welcoming smells of "Yardley's Fish 'n' Chips". I walked through the door and for a moment just stood and soaked up the warmth whilst trying to get sufficient focus on the menu boards to make a selection. After the coldness and darkness of the outside it was quite an assault on my intoxicated senses and I felt the need to sit down as my attempts to multi-task were making little headway. Standing up whilst also looking at things was just too much to handle right now, especially with the gentle swaying I couldn't seem to keep in check. Picking a table inside the front window, I took off my coat and dropped heavily into a seat facing the counter, then resumed the challenge of choosing my dinner.

'I'm terribly sorry Sir, but we're just about to close up for the evening.' A guy who I assumed was the manager materialised from out back, wiping his hands on a blue and white striped towel that mirrored the decor. He was smiling in a way that indicated he'd already clocked that I was a bit the worse for wear.

Deciding honesty was the best policy, and doing my very best not to slur my words, I answered. 'Shit I didn't realise it was that late.' Before he could respond, I continued. 'I'm the new owner of “The Pulton Arms”. Today's my first day in the job and it's been a rare one pal.' (I thought I'd venture a 'pal' — it seemed appropriate; if a little forward). 'I'm happy to go with whatever you've got left: I just really need to eat something (hic!).'

'Well, seeing as I'm in the presence of a fellow service-business professional who looks as if he's not had the best day at the office, I will see what I can do.' He bowed then turned and disappeared from whence he'd appeared; presumably the kitchen. I remained in my seat; rocking gently and humming tunelessly.

A few minutes later he returned, bearing a large plate which he placed on the table in front of me. I leaned forward and shoved my face into the steam and smells rising from it. Oh my God; it was a banquet. A sizeable mound of chips was accompanied by a large hunk of battered fish and a saveloy, all crammed together with a Styrofoam tub of baked beans. I surveyed this bounty with great reverence and heartfelt desire. And probably some drooling. I looked up at my saviour. 'You sir, are a steely-eyed missile man.'

He grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. 'No problem Sir — us locals must look after one another. And there's no charge; the resident cat wouldn't have paid had she got to it first. Oh and worry not — she didn't.'

I was genuinely taken aback by such an act of unprompted generosity. 'Thank you so much. Drop into the pub anytime and I'll (hic!), buy you a drink.'

'Thank you Sir, I shall. Now, please do eat up before it goes cold. Also, some of us have homes to go to.' With that he dropped salt, vinegar and ketchup dispensers onto my table, handed me a small wooden fork, said 'Bon Appetit', grinned, then disappeared back behind the scenes. Blimey – what a splendid chap!

With what little I'd eaten that day, my stomach must have shrunk as in the end, I could only fit about half of what was on offer into it. But God it was good; soooooo good!

Needing a break after the first wave of gorging, I just sat for a while and took in a bit more of "Yardley's". The place must be a gold mine during the holiday season, enticing locals and tourists alike as they wandered the quay. We so needed to start serving food at the Arms — we were missing out on serious revenue there I was sure. Looking down at my partly-cleared plate, I decided I was beaten. Also, why should the cat miss out entirely? Keen to do the decent thing, I cleared my table and placed everything on the counter. There were no signs of life out back so I shouted a ‘Hello?’ but got no answer. Not wanting to leave without some sort of closing gratitude, I spied a pad and pen sitting on the till so reached over and grabbed them, all the while hoping nobody would burst into the room and go to town on me thinking I was after the takings. I left a note simply saying 'Thanks again to my Good Samaritan. Hope to see you at the pub soon. Ken.' At least that's what I hoped it said: I was still a bit fuzzy in the head. I decided to make sure to find out who that guy was so I could send him a ham at Christmas — I was sure people still did that.

 

What a day that had been. Day 2 was going to be much less eventful, hopefully. For a moment, I toyed with the idea of going back to bed and sleeping off the hangover but decided instead to man up and get on with life. I completed my morning routine, all at a rather slow pace as I tried to move my aching head as little as possible. The several minutes spent in the shower with the water spraying solely on the back of my neck went some way to ease the thumping and by the time I was dressed, I felt a little perkier, if still short of being match fit.

Opening the curtains (very gently so as not to wrench them from their precarious fixings), I looked out at my estate. Another battleship grey day alas. However, I was rather pleased to see condensation on the window panes rather than the ice patches of yesterday; my newspaper sausages seemed to be doing a grand job of keeping the cold out and the warmth in. Acknowledging this minor victory lifted my mood somewhat, a mood that thus far had matched the lacklustre weather. That was the hangover's doing and I needed to undo it. After all, this was a far cry from my miserable Tuesday mornings of just a few months ago, waking up in the spare bedroom while my soon to be ex-wife slept in the next room as I waxed miserable before heading off for ten plus hours of doing a job I'd grown to loathe. 'Get into financial services!' they said. 'Where there's money, there's money to be made!' they said. "They" being the school's career officer; a seemingly all-knowing but very pale and nervous lady called Helen who did her very best to avoid eye contact for some reason. And so, after a few years working my way up the ladder at a local bank, I ended up as the Senior Analyst for a leading financial services company; this promotion prompting my relocation to West Sussex. Senior Analyst — one of those job titles that unless you know, gives you no clue as to what it's about other than it probably involving a lot of data and copious frowning. And very probably being monumentally dull. I dreaded the question cropping up in social conversation:

'So what do you do Ken?'

'I'm a Senior Analyst for a leading financial services company.'

'Oh right! Sounds interesting.'

'It isn't.'

'...'

'...'

'Right well, must just go and grab a top-up.'

Sometimes, I'd make up other roles in an effort to come across as colourful and interesting. 'I'm Chief Product Tester for Ann Summers.' 'I design bouncy castles for NASA.' 'I'm lead dragon wrangler on Game of Thrones.' This would typically backfire as once I revealed my true occupation, it came across as even more crashingly dull, me having piqued the audience's interest early on with my opening lie. In fairness, I couldn't blame all of that on Helen. Another reason I chose finance as a career was to piss off my Economics teacher who proclaimed I'd never amount to anything, in front of the entire giggling class. I'd nodded off mid-lecture as a result of a very late session of "Dungeons and Dragons" the night before. Toby was Dungeon Master and during my Mage's heated scrap with a Mind Flayer, he'd enthusiastically and cack-handedly thrown the four-sided dice into a cage occupied by his rabbit who immediately gobbled it down. We then spent a couple of hours waiting for "Toby 2" to yack it back up or pass it via another route. With no result, Toby 1 suggested fudging the rules and using a different dice. No way Toby; I'd rather get arrested for heroin possession in Singapore than break the rules that governed our polyhedral D&D universe. Still, having fallen asleep in class and having bucked the system in such an overt fashion, I was awarded folk hero status for a short time. Even better, a few weeks later, I achieved the much-coveted rank of 'Legend' after throwing up in History.

Thankfully, the day I had in prospect was delightfully free of all the management bullshit, number shuffling and endless meetings that I'd come to dread in my last job. As would all my days be from now on I hoped. My only real challenges were keeping up with J.D.'s endless ribbing and evolving the pub to be the best it could be, whilst possibly fending off the occasional hostile takeover attempt by a local business owner. I might even buy a new duvet. And possibly drop into "Coasters". But first — tea.

On opening the door into the kitchen, I found Janine sitting at the picnic table studying a laptop. She looked up and smiled. 'Oi Oi! You look well rough.'

'Thank you. I'm trying a new look. I call it "Red Wine Regret”.’

'It's very you, for sure. J.D. said you'd had a few last night. How you feelin’?'

'A bit iffy, but on the up.' At that point Halo came snuffling into the room so I leaned down and gave her the statutory fussing after which she wandered over and sat on Janine's feet. Janine reached down and gave her a stroke then returned her attention to her screen. I went over to the kettle which was about half full so I flicked it on. 'Fancy a brew?'

'Yes please. Just normal variety thanks.' She pointed at a red caddy on the worktop without looking up. 'I filled it up this morning. Milk's in the fridge; so's the sugar.' This time pointing behind her, still glued to her screen. 'Just one for me ta.'

'Mugs?'

'Utility room.' No pointing this time.

There were two doors in the kitchen that I wasn't familiar with, so I moved to the nearest one which was just to the right of the stairwell entrance.

'Nope. Other one.'

I turned through ninety degrees and opened the second door to find a smallish room housing a double sink and a host of appliances and cupboards. Surprisingly, and rather pleasingly, everything looked like it was relatively new.

'Cupboard. Far right.'

I opened the cupboard to find a handful of mismatched mugs and grabbed a couple, instinctively checking the insides for cracks or spiders. One of the drawers yielded a teaspoon. Fully equipped, I returned to the kitchen.  'So everything gets washed out there?'

'Yep. We crate up the empties and take them through to the dishwasher. Bit of a pain but, you know...' at which she gestured around the dumping ground she was sat in. 'Beer towels go in the washer dryer. Ow Halo you're heavy, go see J.D.'

Having successfully engineered and delivered Janine's tea, I pulled up a chair next to her at the picnic table. She looked as polished and perky as I wasn't. Thinking about it, I couldn't recall ever seeing her look anything other than well up together. She was a petite brunette with a round, rather cherubic face which, when not holding a smile always looked to be only seconds away from doing so. She really was pretty, and with her being such a permanent live wire she was a joy to have around. Oh to be ten years younger. Oh all right; fifteen. 'So what are you busy with — coursework or Googling firemen with their shirts off?'

'Neither — I'm looking up Mrs Arse Face from across the way. And looking at dresses: I'm a shopaholic dontcha know. Speaking of which...' She pushed her chair backwards then swung her legs out from under the table and pointed her feet in my direction, sporting a huge grin and a pair of pink trainers with a multi-coloured floral pattern that was rather too busy for my currently fragile constitution. 'Just bought them!' She then waggled them in excitement which exacerbated the hectic visual effect enormously.

'Very, erm; noticeable. Oh and I call her Boat Bitch'. This seemed to go over well but inwardly I was high-fiving her choice of title. 'Look; yesterday was weird to say the least. You okay?'

'Yeah I'm fine. I was a bit jumpy at the time. They all walked in; she asked to see the owner and when I said I didn't know when you'd be back she said she'd wait. I asked but she said she didn't want anything to drink so it was all a bit fucking awkward. We all just stood there. J.D. was on his break walking Halo so I didn't know what to do next. There was only a couple of punters in and they were just finishing up. I was bloody glad when you turned up. You were good by the way: didn't take any crap from that cow.'

'Well, she pissed me off and put you in a difficult situation. Sorry you had to be part of it, but that's probably the last we'll see or hear of her. Find out much?'

She swivelled the laptop around so I could see the screen. On show were a host of pictures of Boat Bitch, pictures of boats and pictures of Boat Bitch with boats. Also a few headlines excitedly announcing which celebrity had bought which of her yachts and how much they had reportedly paid. Yawn.

'Not a fat lot. Seems she took over the business from her husband a few years ago after he popped his clogs. Can't find anything about her that goes back further than that.'

Scrolling further down, I clicked on links to a few more pages but it was all the same info (or lack of it). I did come across one article from a couple of years ago blathering on about the property Boat Bitch had just purchased in Silverbanks but there was no accompanying picture. The Silverbanks peninsula was home to a select few that possessed more money than taste. I was sure I'd read somewhere that it was one of the top five costliest places to buy property in the world. No doubt when Boat Bitch wasn't at "work", she spent her time in some ghastly gilded mansion she'd bought with hubby's inheritance, counting her cash whilst cackling wildly and punching kittens in the face. Probably. 'Well, let's not give Her Royal Arseness any more air time.' I twirled the laptop back to Janine. She closed the lid, drained the last of her tea then plonked her mug down next to mine which was still full.

'Loser washes up.' After which she scuttled off to the bar to get ready for opening.

I gulped my now tepid tea down, then dropped our mugs into the dishwasher. I was now feeling much improved after several vats of water and a brew, plus I was pleased to see Janine hadn't been too rattled by yesterday's events. The utility room and the white good delights within had also been a positive discovery. I opened the door at the far end of that room which led outside into a small, fairly sparse courtyard that housed only a clothes line, a couple of plastic chairs and two industrial wheelie bins. There was a gate through to the alleyway that ran down the side of the pub; it was wrought iron so didn't offer a great deal of privacy. It was a fair size mind: had to be to get the bins through I guessed. So this was the tradesman's entrance. Back in the utility room, I tried the other door which opened into a store room. This was stacked full of barrels, and crates of bottles and cans, all of which seemed to be fresh stock rather than empties.

A loud metallic clang nearby made me jump. Then another; coming from the other side of the wall. I went in search of the noise. The door in the kitchen I'd initially thought led to the utility room was open and inside I spied J.D. who was humping barrels around. This was of course the cellar: I'm wasn’t sure how I thought it could be anything else really seeing as there was nowhere else for the cellar to be. Like most rooms on this floor it was predominantly populated by barrels. It struck me that maybe what appeared to be a disorganised mess was actually the output of a well thought-out process designed to fit around the limitations of the ancient, inflexible accommodation. As I stood there, I was assailed by a blast of cold air as the cooler came to life to combat the inflow of warmth from the kitchen. It was actually quite refreshing, helping to shift the residual fuzz of my hangover and the slight nausea triggered earlier by Janine's multi-coloured vibrating foot show.

'Morning J.D. You should have told me there was work needing doing: I'd have stayed upstairs.'

'You're right. That probably would speed things up down here. But seeing as you're around, could you drop this in the kitchen for me?' With that he grabbed a barrel and dragged it to the doorway: a hefty load it appeared judging by the way he puffed out his cheeks and the handful of stops he made en-route. I hadn't lifted a barrel or indeed done anything that constituted serious exercise for some time but I didn't want to appear a wimp. So, bending down I gripped both handles at the top of the barrel and then heaved as hard as I could, the end result being me taking several rapid steps backwards, trying to keep my balance then clattering into the picnic table (thankfully without spilling the laptop onto the floor). I stood there flustered, still clutching what I now understood to be an empty barrel.

'Sorry; couldn't resist.' He shoved another empty towards the door with his foot. 'Could you stash that one too? Having a bit of a sort out ahead of the delivery tomorrow.'

I righted myself, put the barrel down and herded the table and chairs back to their usual location. 'Why do you keep them in the kitchen?'

'It's my rotation system: new stock gets put in the store then moved into the cellar when there's room. The empties are put in the kitchen then shifted into the yard for collection on delivery day. We could store them out there all the time but then we'd need a better gate and we'd have to keep it locked all the time so they didn't get pinched. I learnt that one the hard way.'

As I'd began to suspect, there was method to the apparent chaos. I spent another half an hour or so helping J.D. during which time he filled me in on other general workings of the pub. I took the opportunity to broach the subject of starting a food service and returning the kitchen to its intended purpose. He didn't seem over-enthused but this seemed to be based more on his desire to keep things simple rather than him being against the whole idea. I understood his reticence to some extent; I'd worked at a gastro pub before where the bar staff delivered food orders to table as well as serving the drinks. This meant leaving the security of the bar and venturing out into the public fray carrying trays of plates. It was worse during the Summer months (or 'month' more typically) as the pub had a huge garden which could seat a multitude at its many tables: tables for which we didn't have a numbering system. It was a jungle out there. When we took an order, the bar staff would add a descriptive note to the docket to help the eventual server identify who the food was intended for. Notes like "Family of five next to the rose bush in the far corner"; "Sporty looking couple in green shorts with bikes."; things like that. This procedure took on a life of its own and we'd add increasingly long-winded and (we thought) humorous descriptions. This was fine as long as whoever served the order didn’t leave the docket on the tray when they placed it in front of the customer. Well I remember the day I did just — the "Guy with dodgy wig and fake Rolex with woman who applies her make up with a trowel" were seriously under-impressed.

You see, these are the perils of getting up close and personal with the punters without a few feet of bar counter to keep them at arm's length. I've had some frightening encounters in my time when I've been forced to abandon the sanctuary behind the bar and go to "the other side", none more so than when collecting empty glasses during the interval of a "Chippendales" show during my stint at the Arts Centre. I was forced to squeeze my way through a horde of two thousand half-cut women who had spent the last forty minutes being teased into a sexual near-frenzy by a troupe of half-naked muscle men, all of whom were as well-oiled as their frothing audience. There were hands everywhere, and the arse-pinching was relentless. Don't get me wrong, I do love the ladies but these were ferocious and without regard for the towering stack of glassware I was carrying. Also, the air was so thick with perfume you'd think it had been applied en-masse using one of those crop-spraying planes. I made it back to the bar alive but feeling emotionally drained and physically violated. And smelling like a tart's knicker drawer. But: I'd decided food was the way to go for "The Pulton Arms" and I agreed with J.D. that we'd crack on with getting the kitchen cleared. We'd just have to take a risk and stash the empties outside for now. We also discussed hiring a chef and the good news was that he knew someone suitable he had worked with before and would contact them to tee up an interview. I took the action away to beef up the gate to make the yard more secure. We were making progress, and it felt grand.

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