As a student a long time ago I used to work the bar of a south London pub named ‘The Bricklayers Arms.’ The pub had both a saloon (for the posher clientele) and a public bar (for the riff-raff). Also, it had a small ‘snug.’ This had a small seating area and was where ‘off sales’ were purchased.
There was only ever one customer who frequented the ‘snug’ to drink in. That customer, the one whose domain it was, was one Mr Clarke, a director of Watney’s brewery. The Bricklayers Arms was a Watney’s house. This man was probably in his late fifties, although, in truth it was difficult to tell. His nose was his distinguishing feature. It was an uncommonly large snotter, all pock marked, each crater supporting a worthwhile blackhead and both astoundingly and dazzlingly crimson. The fact that he was bald as a coot, of slight build and dressed in smart suits was easy to overlook simply because of his amazing beak. I found it most difficult not to gawp at this facial appendage when serving him I can tell you!
‘Charlie the Bastard’ fat bastard landlord used to tell anyone else who dared enter the snug, albeit to have a quiet drink or even get some take home booze to “fuck off”. The snug, you see, was where Mr Clarke drank, and Mr Clarke liked to drink alone. The very private person who was Mr Clarke spent each and every evening in the ‘snug’ on his way home from work at said brewery. The reason for Charlie being ever so protective of his only ‘snug’ client was that old ‘Clarkey’ spent a small fortune every week. His chosen tipple was a drink named Export Gold which was sold in a small bottle known as a ‘nip’ – although, a little confused, I once checked the bottle and found that it was actually a third of a pint. Export Gold was a barley wine and just about as strong as fermented alcohol could get – advertised as “Strong as a double scotch, less than half the price.” The one time I took a sip it tasted akin to what I imagine sickly sweet nail varnish would be like. I hazarded a guess that you could get off just sniffing it yet when I attempt to prove the point the wretched pong almost made me throw up.
When I first started working for Charlie he warned me about Mr Clarke. When he had first moved to the area with his widowed mother Clarke had called Charlie aside and advised him that he should ensure he always had an adequate stock of Export Gold. More importantly, and as an ex-military man, on a ‘no names, no pack drill’ basis he pointed out that, every evening he would be drinking twenty three (yes twenty three – that’s nearly eight pints!) of Export Gold’s and that under no circumstances was he ever to be served a twenty-fourth – even if he asked. He had given Charlie no reason for his unusual request. Each crate held twenty-four bottles. Charlie reckoned that if Mr Clarke was only served from a full crate each night – as opposed to the shelf – and that if he himself had the last bottle in the crate at closing time then we should get the tally right. True to his word, twenty-three bottles were consumed every night between the hours of precisely 6.30pm until 9pm, whereon ‘Clarkey’ would arise, not, I might add, ever having to go for a piss during the whole of that time, and take his brisk, and for all intents and purposes, entirely sober walk home. Once when Charlie had gone off to Brighton races for the day and wasn’t due back at the pub until very late ‘Earholes’ (on account of him having elephantiasis of the lugs) Smith, the duty manager had fucked it up. On the basis of, whilst, ‘the cat’s away the mice will play’ had got a bit pissed himself and, horror of all horrors, had served Mr Clarke his twenty-fourth Export Gold. The poor old chap apparently fell off his barstool, landing like a sack of shit out of an aeroplane onto the stone floor where he promptly pissed himself whilst in an unconscious state. ‘Earholes’ had to get one of his mates from the public bar to drive Mr Clarke home to his now fretting aged mother who was concerned that he was precisely thirty-three minutes behind schedule that evening. Of course, Charlie went spare when he got back. He had it in his mind to sack ‘Earholes’ then thought better of it. It didn’t matter as it turned out, as, the very next day Mr Clarke was back, roosting on his usual perch. He didn’t speak much at the best of times; yet, he never once then or thereafter mentioned the incident of the twenty-fourth bottle of Export Gold. It was as though it never happened.