Do you remember the first time

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I remember mine well; I was really nervous. She asked me how old I was; I lied and told her I was 18. It was over really quickly and afterwards she breathlessly asked me if I would like another one. I replied “Yes please love and can I have a bag of cheese and onion crisps as well?”

Well I have no idea what you filthy lot thought I was writing about, but I am referring to my first time buying a beer in a pub. The reason the barmaid was breathless was that she had just hauled a crate of ale Holsten Pils up from the cellar. My friend and I soon found out the barmaid’s name was Babs. Had we been more observant we would have noticed the name crudely tattooed onto her forearm just underneath the tattoo of the anchor. 
Most drinkers in pubs often joke about ugly barmaids and how they knew they had had enough when they began to fancy her. In Babs’ case I knew that when I began to fancy her I was going to be sick. I did not know it at the time but Babs would reappear once again in my life, but more about that and her later.

Clutching our second pints of lager my friend and I went and sat at a vacant table. The table was dangerously close to the dance floor. I say dangerous because like all pubs the White Hart in Bletchley had its own rules fiercely observed by the locals. Now I know the mean streets of Bletchley are not exactly the Bronx but looking back Dale and I were brave to be in this particular pub on a Friday night dressed like punks at the age of 17. The man dancing on the dance floor was clearly oblivious to the pub rules too; the first rule being “No men dancing on the dance floor”. As he walked towards the bar to quench his thirst after his not-too-shabby John Travolta impression one of the regulars tapped him on the shoulder; as Travolta turned he punched him in the face sending him sprawling into our table and completely flattening it. We sat table-less holding our pints of lager, terrified.  We quickly left but the lure of the White Hart was too great. We may get beaten up, but at least we were getting served. 

The next time we were there another fight broke out, this time outside. Somebody ran in and said “there’s a fight outside”. We were unsure whom he was addressing but quickly found out as Babs threw down her glass cloth, rolled up her sleeves and barched outside. We followed in time to see her grab the two scrapping Herberts by the scruffs of the neck and hold them apart before shouting at them to stop, which they duly did.
As we ourselves turned into regulars the rest of the drinkers in the pub came to accept us despite our admittedly awful messy clothing and spiky hair. One night a man at the bar asked me what I did for a living; “I’m an electronics engineer” I replied before he comically choked on his pint. The lesson being of course is not to judge a book by its (ripped) cover.

I do not want to give the impression that there were lots of fights at the White Hart; the two described above are the only ones that spring to mind. In fact most of the time we had good times there. I recall one night we were in the bar that had a pool table in, (I always get confused about lounge bars, public bars saloons etc) there was also a jukebox and one night somebody put on It’s not unusual by Tom Jones; spontaneously what felt like the whole bar was on a table or on the pool table gyrating around Tom Jones style. What a great night.

A few years later I had moved and the White Hart was no longer my local pub. The company I worked for as an electronics engineer occasionally took on contract staff during busy periods. One day I was introduced to a new contractor; it was Babs. Obviously a woman with hidden talents and it turned out she was a dab-hand with a soldering iron. As with a lot of people, as you get to know them you realise the way they present themselves to the world is just a front. Working with Babs on a daily basis it became clear she was a caring, intelligent person – I still would not have wanted to cross her though! It just goes to show you should not judge a book…..oh, we’ve already done that haven’t we?   

The White Hart no longer exists; it became part of the Hungry Horse chain before being burned down in 2009 by arsonists (the mean street of Bletchley again). In February of this year planning permission was granted to turn the site into a mental health unit. It is probably best I do not visit. They would probably not let me out.  
I just feel the need to say that all of the above is true. I did consider changing Babs’ name but it just would not have been the same. Fans of the comedy show The League of Gentlemen may see a similarity between my Babs and their tattooed character that drives Babs’ Cabs. I can only presume this is purely coincidental; either that or Mark Gatiss or one of his co-writers of the show were in Bletchley on a table dancing to Tom Jones in the early 1980s.

Andy Wilkes

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