A Critic Calls

It was a sunny June morning, and the Hangman’s Noose was almost as it was just over a year ago before the pandemic hit.

John Granger quietly cleaned glasses and served customers beer whilst his patrons calmly had their lunch at various tables. All was blissful.

But then, a short bald man with glasses in his early sixties wearing sky blue jeans, a light grey hoody, and white trainers slowly entered the pub and sat at a table by the window that was free.

John Granger looked at the man for a moment, and his heart rate rose significantly. He knew who the man was; Nigel Fisher, resident food critic for the Guardian.

John saw Nigel discreetly get out a notebook and pen and subtly look round the pub before jotting some things down.

John quickly grabbed a menu and rushed over to Nigel.

He looked down, and saw that Nigel had already written his signature opening gambit, they say a village is not a village without a pub.

“Mr Fisher,” John said, “it’s a pleasure to have you here.”

“Oh, the pleasures all mine,” Nigel said in his soft New York accent, “it’s so nice being in a pub again. It’s almost enough to bring a tear to my eye.”

“I hope everything is to your satisfaction.” John said.

“So far so good.” Nigel said. “I’m probably going to give you five stars purely because everything seems normal here.”

“Ok,” John said. “Would you like a drink to start?”

“Yes, please,” Nigel said, looking at the drinks menu. “I’ll have a Throckmorton Ale, please.”

“Draught or bottled?” John asked.

“Oh, draught. Definitely draught.” Nigel said.

“One Throckmorton Ale coming right up,” John said, before walking back to the bar to pour Nigel his beer.

Nigel looked around the pub once more, and began to write.

I sit on a quiet table next to the window with an excellent view of the village’s church; St Gerald the Damned, standing high and mighty on it’s grassy island surrounded by a sea of tarmac.

I look around at the other patrons in the pub; the young couple having a quiet lunch together, the business man in his sharp suit looking at his Mac with a cup of coffee in hand, the vicar sitting alone at a table, looking down at his bible in between writing what I assume is his next sermon in his little red notebook.

A solitary tear escapes from my tear ducts. I am home.

“Here you go,” John said, giving Nigel a pint of Throckmorton Ale.

“Thank you,” Nigel said as John walked back to the bar.

Nigel took a sip of his beer. It was like receiving a warm embrace from an old friend he hadn’t seen in decades.

Just then, Sarah Peterson, Nigel’s colleague and friend from the Guardian, walked into the pub for her lunch.

Nigel leaped out of his seat to greet her.

“Sarah!” He said.

“Nigel! How nice to see you!” Sarah said.

They hugged, then Nigel invited Sarah to sit at his table.

“I told you I would be paying a visit to your village sometime soon.” Nigel said.

“Yes, you certainly did,” Sarah replied.

Nigel sipped his beer as John gave Sarah her pint, knowing exactly what she wanted without her asking because she was a regular.

“So, how are Dave and the kids?” Nigel asked Sarah.

“They’re doing well. Dave’s got used to working from home and Will and Eleanor have just one month of school left. Eleanor’s a little nervous about going to secondary school in September, bless her.” Sarah said.

“Well, I’m sure we were all nervous when we moved up. I certainly was.” Nigel said.

“Yeah.” Sarah said. “So, how have you been?”

“I’ve been ok,” Nigel said. “Of course, I would much rather be living in your manor coming in here for my lunch everyday than sat in my cramped little flat in Croydon with a ready meal but you know.” Nigel said. “It’s been fine.”

“Good to hear,” Sarah said before taking another sip of her pint.

Nigel looked out of the window for a moment.

“You know what’s so weird about this village?” Nigel asked Sarah.

“No,” Sarah replied.

“It’s normal. I’ve never known anywhere so peaceful.” Nigel said.

“Oh really?” Sarah replied.

“Yeah. You see, I’ve been travelling all over England visiting various hostelries, and they’re all just so bizarre. I went to Portwenn in Cornwall. Beautiful village, gorgeous scenery. I would move there if the locals were not so weird.” Nigel said.

“Oh yeah, I know what you mean.” Sarah said. “We have them over here in April for a ceremony. It is quite…. eventful, you could say.”

“I can well imagine,” Nigel said. “Anyway, I went to Dibley in Buckinghamshire. Again, quintessential English chocolate box village, but the locals are just extremely bizarre.”

“Ok. I have less knowledge of Dibley,” Sarah said.

“Then there’s Midwich in Hertfordshire. When I went to the Three Horseshoes I just thought ‘finally, a village that isn’t weird’.

“But then these blond children, you know, clearly privately educated, walked into the pub.

“One of the boys said ‘I would like a pint of larger’ and the publican replied ‘I’m sorry, you’re too young’ like he should.

“Then the weird stuff began. The children’s eyes began to glow, and the boy said ‘you will give us a pint.” A second later, the publican slit his throat. Those kids somehow made him commit suicide. So I got out of there as quick as a flash.” Nigel said.

“I think I heard about that on the news, yeah.” Sarah said.

“Then I went to Roytdon Vacey. Take my advice, you don’t want to visit Royston Vacey. It was too much for me. I still don’t know whether I imagined it or not. The people there, they’re not human, whatever they are. I remember they were all ganging up on me and I said “I can’t even with this place,” then they showed me to the train station.” Nigel said.

“Right,” Sarah said.

“Then I come here, and everything is blissful. Nothing weird going on here. Well, except for the slightly gruesome names.” Nigel said.

“Yeah. No idea who came up with them,” Sarah said.

“Hmm,” Nigel replied.

Just then, John walked over to Sarah and Nigel.

“Have you decided what you’re going to eat?” John asked.

“I’ll have the cod a chips,” Nigel said.

“I’ll have the same please,” Sarah said.

“No problem,” John said as he went into the kitchen to get there orders.

And so Guardian food critic Nigel Fisher looked out of the window of the Hangman’s Noose whilst he waited for his cod and chips, making a mental note to himself to check which cottages in Lower Strangling were currently on the market.

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