It was created when Noel the taxi driver, back when he wore a beard, staggered out of the Bell, his mighty staff in his hand. He wasn’t up to staggering along to the Red Lion, or this being ancient times, the Volunteer. He definitely wasn’t up to staggering to the Folly, at the edge of town, where the light ends.
Okay, so he probably could have made it to the Crown. But he didn’t. Nobody knows why.
He needed another bar. One that would understand needs he didn’t know he had.
He threw down his staff. It bounced against the wall under the Thai. And where it bounced there was seeded a bar. And then it bounced a couple more times, and we got a series of coffee shops, because his staff knew how to put things to him gently.
Noel saw the Bar, that night. And he was the first to see it. But he did not enter. Because the steps had not then been made.
But that’s another story.
Inside the Portwell Bar there’s a trophy cabinet. And in that cabinet are trophies. Not as many as the cabinet size suggests should be. There’s the Pub Six Cup, given each year to the team that can best heave hay bills over a bar, shirtless, while making the sound ‘huwwwarrrrrghhh.’ There’s a golden beaker inscribed with a squiggle, as if the engraver was suddenly distracted by, say, a flying hay bale.
And beside these is a plastic bath duck, laid carefully on its side.
And it was this that caught my attention one night.
Martin the Landlord, and Simon and Guy and I were sitting at the top table, the table that Rick would sit at in Casablanca. The others were playing Liar Dice, a game imported from Ancient Greece by Huw, who was there with the rest of his Pantheon. The purpose of the game, besides whatever ceremonial function it may have in the modern worship of Huw, is not to have to talk all night. So I wanted to distract them, because I wanted to talk, and I realised I didn’t know what the duck meant.
‘It’s funny you should ask,’ says Martin, who’s the sort of Landlord who can nod like you asking where the toilets is is the deepest philosophical question he’s ever heard. ‘And rather quick of you to have noticed it –‘
‘Martin,’ I say, ‘this is the only non-smoking bar in town. I’d come here if you threw bricks at me.’
‘And I might try that. Only joking. What are you having?’
‘The duck is from our golfing holiday,’ says Simon, in the same tone as one would say, rather than the words 'golfing holiday', the words 'tour of the world's finest beers'.
‘Yeah,’ says Guy. ‘Martin’s victim.’
‘It was on the way to the tenth. I was on eleven over par. Nice country.’
Martin once turned round and asked the armed and masked paintball team he was leading ‘now, what are we meant to be doing?’
‘And it was ten o’clock in the morning,’ adds Simon, ‘so, you know, we’d only had a couple.’
‘And I see this duck. On its back. And I have to think for a minute: are ducks like certain kinds of insect? That is, can they get themselves upright if they’re like that? And I see that its leg looks like it might have been injured. It’s at a strange angle.’
Guy sticks his arm out at a strange angle.
‘I once hit a fox with my car,’ says Martin. ‘I didn’t mean to. It was late at night, and there was a thump and I saw it roll away. I didn’t know what it was for a minute. I stopped the car. And it was lying in the road making a terrible sound. I hope I never hear that again. Like a baby crying. And it was going to die. There wasn’t any question of getting it to a vet, though I did think about that. So I got a tire iron from the back of the car, and I walked round to the side of it where it couldn’t see me, because it couldn’t move its head. No, I’ll get these, Simon. I had to psyche myself up to do it in one go, to hit hard enough once so I didn’t have to do it again. And I did that. And when I looked down at this duck, I was thinking about that. So I use my driver to just nudge it-‘
‘Slope,’ says Guy, and he and Simon fall about.
‘And there’s this… you’re making me laugh now… there’s this… slope. I just try to move it, to prop it upright. Only it rolls. Into the lake. It hits the water and goes right under. And never comes up. And so these two got me this duck.’
‘Martin,’ says Guy, ‘I’m just glad you didn’t have to hit it.’
‘Thanks mate,’ says Martin, and he shakes his hand. ‘I appreciate that.’
‘Yeah,’ says Guy, and he drains his pint. ‘The way you were playing, you’d have missed.’