‘Darlings, will you look after this for me while I’m gone? Won’t be long.’
Sweetly slurps the ale in the pint glass and shuffles out. We look on and nod. Leaving behind a book on dramaturgy, the pint glass, and one blue plastic bag. As time crawls on – we’ll have to leave soon – she’ll still not be back; unnoticeably.
I’ve gone up to the ancient bartend for some grub.
‘Bangers and mash please.’
‘Steak and liver pie please.’
‘Ale battered cod and chips?’
‘No fish.’ Has more gums than teeth and shaking elbows but with an indomitable stare. ‘It’s been a busy week in the kitchens’, he says by way of no apology. That’s fine I mean I didn’t know places stocked up on food for a week, does that still happen in London establishments, it is the capital after all, but then again I am in a Swiss Cottage.
‘How old’s this pub?’
‘Two-hundred-and-forty years.’ Might explain the kitchen stasis.
‘Steak and kidney pudding please.’
‘Chips or mash with that?’
‘Chips.’ Reading the talent on display in the menu I ask a question (though I have asked plenty already), ‘What’s suet pastry?’
‘That’s fine I’ll have that.’
Wonder back and sit down and the old woman is still not there but we discuss the game plan for tomorrow where we’ll be boarding a train and seeing some countryside flicker past a carriage window. Trying to get some money to fund a theatre show, it’s going to be a minor adventure. If only we could get in to the locked rehearsal rooms at the drama school Twig has managed to hijack for us. But we don’t have the key or the code or the access card, whatever let’s modern things in to buildings.
‘Did you know this pub is 240 years old? Apparently the whole town was built around this pub.’
Twig enters blasted by the wind and strides over to us in the inn. The steak and kidney pudding arrives on cue but no time to ruminate must shovel-in-mouth as precious rehearsal time dissipates. I won’t finish my pint but I don’t want to let it go. The others are ready to leave and I’ve almost eaten my last boiled carrot in gravy when scholarly Tennet notices:
‘Oh no. The lady isn’t back yet.’
‘The old woman. No you're right.’ Continue to gorge.
She goes and braves it in the hurricane outside but no sign of bobble hat or specs. Can’t believe innocent people leave behind an unfinished pint and book in a tavern like this, vagabonds trail this path. Twig downs an orange Juice. I grab my helmet.
‘They don’t have plastic glasses. Can one of you smuggle this glass out with you?’
‘I have a flask.’
‘No I’m not putting beer in a tea flask.’
As we venture out in to the westerly winds Tennet’s bulbous bags crash against one another and the helmet made of brass clangs in to walls and flakes off their plaster. Blustery.
Gale’s a blowin’, the ship’s mast is a creakin’.
Wet leaves layer the pavement. Orange, yellow, fire.
A cat crosses our path like a shadow. Flicks her tail. Peers strangely at us.
‘How long have we been walking?’
‘Have we turned a left bend yet?’
‘Yes we turned it a while ago at the bend!’ Must raise our voices against the wind.
‘Oh god. 12 minutes!’ Twig scrabbles around on her phone, ‘it must be wrong we’ve already been walking for about 20.’
The lady at the door who gave us the directions said it was right by a church: St. Peter’s Place. No street lamps just big houses, they give off enough street level lighting as it is. Impossibly large living rooms and double-breasted front doors. White crystal interiors looking more like art galleries than homes.
‘What's it look like?’ asks Tennet.
‘A church’ replies Twig.
We spot a church and scramble over to it. Maybe the drama school owns the church? What’s religion without a bit of performance anyway.
‘Yes this is it. How the hell do we get in?’
I’ve climbed over and trudging through a graveyard, Tennet’s looking for an entrance, Twig tries to pull apart a door. It’s very dark in this churchyard in Swiss Cottage. The branches swing about me and I think one will break off and kill me: “man under tree”. You know the abbreviation for “man under train” is MUT. Like a dead dog. A man lain to bury must be “man under ground”: MUG. No by all means, make it more poetic, “man under grass”, that’s more pleasant and English. I take a swig of the flask. Give some to Tennet.
‘I’ve found a door!’