Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Uncle Eric And The "Sweet" Beer.

Let me begin by giving a little background. Uncle Eric had more than a passing resemblance to the elder Steptoe, of Steptoe and son. For you folks residing in the yewess and other exotic parts of the world this translates as follows. Approximately 5'4" tall, 140 pounds, 50 million years old, 49 million of which were spent in a fish smoker. Face all wrinkled and rather than an impish grin, an evil leer. Exactly the sort of person that you have told your young children to avoid.

Wilfred Bramble - Steptoe

Uncle Eric was the owner of the "Horse and Harrow" a fine drinking establishment in darkest Oxfordshire. The pub being located on the main road between Didcot and Wallingford assured a steady supply of unsuspecting victims. After a close encounter of the Uncle Eric kind few would venture back. The local's on the other hand flocked to watch the antics. For the most part the regulars were spared special treatment.

One fine Saturday lunchtime Uncle Eric is tending bar and holding court on the subject of 'them bloody commies' , 'or 'hem bloody tories' , or whichever group was currently annoying him. This could be homosexuals, the local Didicoy population, (yes I know, whats a didicoy?, its an old Berkshire slang term for a gypsy) who he was formally convinced were stealing his livestock, or some other minority that had caught his fancy.

Anyway a car pulls into the parking lot, and out emerges a sour looking gentleman. This dour creature shuffles into the bar scowling at all and sundry (there were about 7 or 8 other patrons). He takes a stool at the bar and demands a pint of bitter (type of beer for you
merkins). Uncle Eric has taken an instant dislike to this guy. The tension begins to mount, the locals can smell blood. It has taken no more than a minute for this interloper to annoy Uncle Eric.The guy takes a couple of slugs from the glass, puts the glass down,slowly scans the bar, stands up and then declares, "I'm going to the toilet, no one drink my beer because I've spat in it". And off he goes to relieve himself.

He comes back after a couple of minutes, sits back down and resumes scowling at the audience. Long minutes pass,he picks up his glass and takes a long pull of finest Morlands bitter. Puts the glass down, and declares to Uncle Eric that the beer has a sweet after taste to it. The fun begins. Uncle Eric explains patiently that while the guy was out taking a leak everyone in the bar had also spat in his beer. The scowl changed to worry, to a look of shock and horror. The victim races to the door, barely making it out into the parking lot before throwing up. That needless to say was the last time that victim was seen in the "Horse and Harrow".

Ahh, how I miss him, a star indeed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Introduction To Uncle Eric

It is not unusual for a family to have a 'black sheep'. For the Barrett's it was without doubt my glorious Uncle Eric. Oh he never robbed banks or committed acts of violence, he just skirted the law a little bit, maybe played in the dark side on occasion, he was what most would call a lovable rogue. His base of operations was a county pub The Horse And Harrow. It was from here that he launched his master plans.

Oh don't get me wrong, he was not aiming for world domination, he merely was eking out an existence. A visit to Uncle Eric's was always an adventure. One day I dropped by and he said Simon I have something to show you, hop in the car. The journey was short and very off the beaten track. My good uncle showed me his new project. Pheasant farming was not something that I knew a lot about, and discretion told me not to inquire. “these are real pheasants” he explained, “they taste like wild ones”. There is little doubt in my mind that Uncle Eric and some of the local poachers had been hard at work to collect this wonderful selection.

On another occasion, a Sunday in the early 70's my father discovered that a neon strip light in the bar was not working. Back in those days there were no Home Depot's or WalMarts, in fact the only places open on a Sunday were pubs and churches. My father asked me if I would take a spin over to Uncle Eric and see if he had a 4 foot fluorescent we could borrow. Uncle Eric listened to my request, grabbed his set of keys and took me to the rear part of his property. He did not have one or two sheds, but rather something akin to a small industrial park. “it's in here” he pronounced, and with that a nameless and featureless shed was unlocked.

Inside were hundreds of florescent strip lights, complete with fixtures and fittings. Youth got the better of me and I asked where he had got them from. Not missing a beat he explained that they had been salvaged from an office tower undergoing renovations. Even by Uncle Eric standards this story seemed a little unlikely. The units must have been taken down with great care, cleaned meticulously and the original installer had had the foresight to keep all of the original packaging material. Also in what can only be viewed as amazing this installer had used the same tape as the manufacturing company to reseal the boxes! Of course I put the entire episode down to pure coincidence.

Uncle Eric was small in stature, in fact in the family some called him Jockey Barrett, although I doubt that the reference had much do do with horsemanship.

One thing that I am sure about is that he was not much of a womanizer. A story brought out at drunken Barrett family get together's involved Uncle Eric's wedding day to Florence, or Aunty Flo as we called her. Dressed in his Sunday best, Uncle Eric survived the actual wedding ceremony, but the reception got the better of him. Two days later he was found still wearing his suit and sleeping peacefully on the top of a hay stack. Now thats what I call a hangover!
My suspicion is that it was the glass of champaign after the toast that caused it.

Uncle Eric finally gave up The Horse And Harrow at West Hagbourne. Age and failing health caught up with him. What shocked me most was the rapid decline following his retirement. I know that this is unscientific, but it was as if he had lost the will to live. All he needed was just one more con, one more opportunity to stick it to the man and I know that he would be with us today. Sure he would be in his 90's, but he would still be terrorizing the local police and unwitting travelers!

No one could doubt his great business acumen. I think I was around ten or eleven years old, my father was talking to Uncle Eric about the pub business. Mini skirts were all the rage, Uncle Eric had found the perfect way to capitalize on the trend. It was only at the weekend that he could justify having a barmaid, but to maximize profits he put the most expensive beers on the bottom shelf!

I will say this, of all of my uncles and aunts, cousins, and other family members Uncle Eric was always my favorite. It is with reverence and true love that I offer these quick glimpses into the world of Uncle Eric.

I heft my glass to a great man!