The Haunted Pub Tour

The haunted pub tour was a disappointment. I really should have known better, but, I was bored. The tour itself was just like every tour you’ve ever been on. You take a disparate group of people most, if not all, of whom are strangers to you. You are all herded into a bus like cattle. Once in the bus you get treated to random mumbling announcements over a public address system that specializes in static.

When you arrive at the tour’s destination, you are again herded out of the bus and rushed into the place you have come to see. But you get no time to really see anything. Time is of the essence and there must be enough time to buy souvenirs from this tourist hotspot. The tour guide is aware that he or she must get this group out before the next group arrives. After you have bought your baubles and trinkets, you are once again herded up and shoved onto the bus. You then speed off to the next place of interest where you repeat the rushed ritual.

I can safely say that no matter where I have travelled in the world, tours are all the same. I do not enjoy them. I would not have even gone if it had not been for Gloria and the chance to possibly see an English ghost. I mean I might never get a chance to be in the UK again. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Years ago when I was much younger, and some say much more gullible, I went to the United Kingdom as a representative of our growing company. My boss had started his business as a competitor to the old five and dime stores. The company grew phenomenally fast. So fast, in fact, that he had his eyes on creating “overseas” outlets. My job was to research the possibilities of competing with the many USAF bases and their Base Exchanges while setting up branches in the villages closest to the bases.

“I need you to see if it’s feasible to set up some outlets near the Air Force bases, Fred. See if we can expand our horizons, so to speak.” My boss looked intently at his Filofax. “I’ve set you up in a hotel in Suffolk. That is where most of the bases are located. Use that as your base of operations.” He chuckled at his little joke and I chuckled right along with him. I didn’t get to be the leading sales representative on just my good looks and sales record. We then settled down to the nitty-gritty of what I would actually be doing when I got there. While he was explaining his war plans, I had the feeling that my whole trip was just a tax write off. It was not unknown for big companies to engage in this practice and I really did not care. I had never been to England before and I was really looking forward to the trip.

I was living in the New Mexico desert at the time. I loved it. The heat and the cold were dry and the desert itself was hauntingly beautiful. My flight began at the Alamogordo Airport in the morning. The sun was already hot and the temperature was in the mid nineties. I settled into the relative comfort of the airy Cessna that would take me to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, once there I rode the subway system to my departure terminal. Flying first class meant I got to board first. This allowed me to get settled in and to discover who else I would be sharing first class with.

Apart from the attendant, I was the only occupant of the section. Despite the fact that this initially kind of “creeped” me out, I eventually got used to the solitude and watched the in-flight movie with a steady supply of drinks and fancy peanuts. After the in-flight meal I went to sleep with a full stomach and slightly tipsy head. I woke up, teeth chattering and body shivering, while we were taxiing down the runway at London/Heathrow International Airport. The air conditioning which had been so comfortable in Dallas/Fort Worth was suddenly like sitting in a meat freezer. When the plane finally stopped I checked my watch and saw it was early evening in New Mexico but the middle of the night in England.

My first class flight attendant was handing out the forms that we needed to fill in before the customs officials would allow us to enter their cold, wet country. With sleep and left over alcohol still ruling my head, I needed to ask for another form twice before I finally filled it out correctly. After clearing customs and collecting my baggage I went to the main terminal to sort out a taxi.

The “taxi” turned out to be an American style van. I shared it with a young female airman who was on her way to the airbase RAF Mildenhall. We piled our luggage in a communal heap and settled down for the long drive to Suffolk. Normally when I am confronted by a young pretty female, I become very chatty. I am by nature a natural conversationalist. It is sort of a requirement for my job as a Sales Representative. But I was so cold that all I wanted to do was tug my light coat tighter to my body. Shivering and shaking, I somehow managed to drift off to sleep again. I was hoping that I would be warmer and a bit more sober when we reached our destination.

I woke up when the van pulled up outside of my hotel in the village next to the Air Force base. Mildenhall village boasted three hotels and I had reservations at The Anchor. I was lying with my head in the young airman’s lap.

“Sorry.” I said sitting up. I was blushing furiously while trying sort my wrinkled clothes out. She smiled at me. “No problem. It was more comfortable than when you were sleeping with your head on my shoulder.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Judy Jones. My friends call me J.J.” While shaking her hand, I said, “Fred Wilson. I am very pleased to meet the owner of the lap I have been sleeping on for God knows how long.” She laughed and I figured that I’d made a friend.

I gathered up my suitcases and paid the cabbie. I turned to say goodbye to my new friend. “Well,” I said, “We’ll have to get together sometime and have a coffee or something.” J.J. smiled and said “That would be great. As soon as I’ve finished in-processing, I’ll come look you up.” She gestured toward the hotel sign. “Will you be staying here long?”

“I’ll be here for as long as the job lasts.”

“Great! I’ll see you later then.”

As the van headed towards the base I gathered my bags and went up stone steps to the hotel entrance. Trying the door handle I discovered it was locked. “Oh great,” I said, “I’m locked out.” As I turned away from the door to look for a phone box I noticed a small sign on the door. ‘After twelve o’clock, please press the buzzer.’ So I did.

The door opened so fast, that I got the impression that the young girl who answered the buzzer had sat poised over the handle just waiting to use it. The girl, it turned out, was the owner’s daughter and she was a bit older than she looked. She was in her mid twenties, blond hair, crisp blue eyes and a dynamite figure. I was beginning to think I was going to like this business trip.

I got checked in and the girl showed me up to my room. Handing me my two keys, one for the room and the other for the hotel’s front door, she said, “My name is Gloria. If you need anything just dial 0 on the phone. We offer a full English breakfast from half seven to eleven o’clock. The restaurant is closed now, but if you’re hungry, I can rustle you up a sandwich or something.” Gloria looked expectantly at me, waiting to see if she was going to have to make me something to eat. I smiled and said I was fine. Gloria then said, “The bar is closed, all Pubs close at eleven o’clock or twenty-three hundred hours as you yanks say, but as we are a hotel and not a Pub, I can also get you a drink or two. Otherwise, the bar has the same hours as a Public House, seven to eleven, last orders at half ten.” She waited for me to respond.

I thought for a moment. “You know, I could really use a pot of coffee. Is that possible?”

She smiled and said, “You have a kettle in your room with tea and instant coffee.” She wrinkled her nose. “If you need more packets of coffee just dial 0 and ask. All right?” She turned to leave and I started to give her a two pound tip. “Oh no sir, we don’t tip in this country. Thank you.” She closed the door behind her and I was left on my own.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was now wide awake. I filled the kettle and turned it on. I checked out the coffee supply. Four sachets, two of real coffee and two decaffeinated. I was definitely going to need more. While waiting for the kettle to boil I switched on the television. I was immediately horrified. My God! These people only had four channels! And two of those had gone off the air already! Oh well, I thought, I can see I’ll be spending a lot of time in the bar. I sat sipping my instant coffee. Putting the cup down I went to the phone and dialled 0. A familiar voice answered. “Desk.”

“Hi,” I said, “Um, could you sent up some more coffee please? I don’t think two sachets are going to be enough.”

“Oh, it’s you,” Gloria replied, “Certainly sir I’ll have those sent right up. Will there be anything else?” “No, I think that pretty much covers it,” I said.

“Well, if you think of anything else…”

“I’ll just dial 0,” I said.

I could hear her giggle on the other end of the phone. “Yes sir, that’s right. My you are a quick one, aren’t you?” I decided the problem of only four television channels was not going to be an issue. I had a feeling that Gloria might just be able to keep me entertained.

I had been in England for two weeks and it was starting to look more like a tax write-off as each day passed. I had so many doors closed in my face that I started checking my nose for breakage. I rang my boss. He pretty much confirmed my suspicions.

“Well, Fred don’t you worry about the lack of enthusiasm at your end. This is really just a ‘fact-finding’ trip. You take your time and leave no stone unturned.” My boss paused for a moment. “And don’t forget to put everything that you spend on the expense account. Right now I’ve got a barn load of meetings to chair, so I’m going to love you and leave you. Call me in about a week or so. You’ve got an open return ticket, so that’s not a problem. Just let me know when you’ll be coming back and we’ll sort out a limo to pick you up at the airport. Try to get back in time for the Ruidoso horse sale. I want to see about getting another quarter horse.”

I could hear the sound of pages being turned quickly. He must have been checking his appointment book. “That way I’ve got an excuse to head over there. You know what the missus is like. Well, like I said, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you when you get back.” I relaxed. If this was just a tax write off, I was going to kick back and enjoy myself for the next two weeks.

I wandered down to the hotel bar for a pint of bitter. Bitter was considered proper beer. It was dark coloured and did taste a little bitter. What we Americans referred to as beer the English called lager. Both of these beverages were a lot stronger than our beer. But I decided that as my trip was now more or less a vacation, I was going to enjoy it, starting now.

The bar at the Anchor opened into the reception area of the hotel by way of two huge openings in the wall either side of a giant fireplace. The actual reception desk was positioned right behind the fireplace in order to take advantage of the heat it generated in the winter, Even though it was technically spring, the heat was still needed as it was still cold. The front of the reception room featured a huge red door, the one that was locked after midnight. The back of the room led you to the kitchen and the restaurant; you did not have to eat in the restaurant though.

You could get food at the bar that was just as good as the restaurant food; they served a mean rump steak with onion rings. On the opposite side of the room from the back of the fireplace was the stairway that took you to the rooms. As I came down the stairs I looked for Gloria. Not seeing her in the reception area I headed for the bar.

I spotted Gloria working behind the bar. She was taking glasses out of the dishwasher and giving them a final wipe before she stowed them under the counter. Gloria I found out was the, “Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer” at the Anchor Hotel. That meant she could pretty much do everyone’s job in the hotel. I said she was a good “all rounder.” That almost got me in trouble because Gloria thought that was another way of saying she was fat. Gloria was definitely slender with curves, as they say, in all the right places. Gloria was also a Spiritualist.

A spiritualist, in case you didn’t know, is a person who believes that you can contact the dead and vice versa. They attend a Spiritualist Church. The church has a “Pastor” of sorts and they welcome guest speakers from the Spiritualist world. Various mediums and other folks who claim to have contact with the recent and not so recent departed all come to speak at the Church. I attended one session with Gloria. I was not impressed. The chap that spoke that week specialized in “spirit drawings,” in other words drawings of dead folks who had relatives in the congregation. I will admit the guy could really draw and sketch well. His quick pen and pencil sketches looked great. They also did not look like any of the congregation’s relatives. Nobody recognised any names or faces that the spirit passed on to the medium. It was, in baseball terms, a wash out.

I plunked myself onto a stool in front of Gloria. She immediately put a pint of beer in front of me as well as a pamphlet. I took a sip from my glass and asked, “What’s this?” Gloria was excited. “It’s the haunted pub tour! They have one once a fortnight.” This I found out meant every two weeks. “If you like, I’ll book us a couple of seats on the bus. We’re the last hotel they pick up from so I’ll have to book early or there won’t be any seats left.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “It’s not going to be like the church thing is it?” Gloria giggled. “No silly! You get on a bus and you go to all the haunted pubs around the local area. I’ve been loads of times. You have a pub with a screaming skull and one with a headless horseman and loads more. Oh come on. It’s good fun and you can try all the local beers at the different pubs. Beside’s if we do see a ghost, it’ll be more exciting if there are two of us.” I didn’t quite get the last part of her argument, but I agreed to go. I told her to pay for the tickets on my room tab so I could claim it on my expenses. Gloria trotted off to the wooden phone booth by the bar and booked our tickets.

Gloria came back and made herself a port and lemon to drink. She settled onto the stool next to mine and gave me a hug. “You’ll like this, Fred. Most yanks seem to.” I took another drink of my beer and idly wondered how many “Yanks” Gloria had taken on this tour. “How much was it?” I didn’t really care as I would be claiming the cost back from the company. “Fifty quid,” she replied.

I choked on my beer. “What? Fifty pounds!” I was shocked. The pound is worth more than the dollar so that meant I, well the company, was forking out over a hundred dollars for this ghost trip. “Doesn’t seem that expensive to me.” Gloria’s eyes darkened, “I can always cancel it, if you think it’s too dear.” I looked at her blankly. “Expensive love, if it’s too expensive, I can cancel it.” I choked down my beer and said, “That won’t be necessary. I mean, after all, the company is paying for it.” Gloria cheered up immediately and gave me a quick hug and a kiss. All we had to do was figure out how to entertain ourselves before the bus arrived.

We thought something up without too much trouble.

After we freshened up we went down to the lounge to wait for the bus. Looking out the window I noticed that the weather had changed. Fog was moving in at an alarming rate. “Will they cancel the tour because of the weather?” I asked. “Because of the fog?” Gloria laughed. “No they won’t, it just adds to the atmosphere.”

While we were talking, the bus arrived. I held the door open for Gloria and followed her up the bus steps. When I got to the driver I stopped and told him our names so he could check us off his list. “Thank you, sir.” He said as he put the list back under his seat. “There are a few seats at the back of the bus in the smoking section. I glanced towards the back of the bus and saw two things. The bus was packed and Gloria had already taken a seat. “Thank you.” I said and made my way back to her. Once I sat down I shrugged my jacket off and placed it on the empty seat next to me. I took my scarf off and laid it on top of my jacket. After I finished disrobing I put my arm around Gloria and sat back.

“Didn’t the driver make you think of anyone?” Gloria asked. I glanced at the front of the bus. The driver was too far away for me to make out his face in the rear view mirror.

“No,” I said. “Should he?”

Gloria giggled again. “He’s the spitting image of Peter Lorre!” “I mean he could be him,”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because Peter Lorre has been dead for a long time.”

“He looks like it suits him.”

I laughed and started looking over the other passengers on the bus. About halfway up, I spotted a familiar face peering back at us. It was J.J. my friend from the van ride. I started to lift my hand to wave hello and she turned back around in her seat. I saw she was seated next to a blonde beefy guy with a short haircut. I figured they were both from the base. It didn’t really matter, but it did explain why J.J. had never looked me up. I have to admit I wasn’t too torn up about it. Ships that pass in the night and all that crap.

The bus rumbled to life and we started off to the first pub on the itinerary. Gloria put her lips close to my ear and said, “The first pub is The Red Boar. We should get there about seven o’clock. There’s a headless lady that haunts the place. The next pub is The Red Lion we should get there about eight o’clock, screaming skull at that one.” “Wait a minute.” I said. “Did you just say we had one hour to get to the next pub?” “That’s right.” Gloria nodded. I realised that we would be hitting each pub on a dead run. I sighed and Gloria kept reading out the itinerary of the tour. I kind of blanked out everything she said after that. I wasn’t that interested to be truthful.

The bus started to slow down. I glanced out the window and what I saw didn’t fill me with confidence. The pub sign was a picture of a red boar and the spotlights that were supposed to be highlighting the sign were askew and blinking erratically. This was disturbing enough but the pub itself was worse.

The pub was set in a large plot of land. It had a huge parking lot, or car park as they say in England, that was practically empty. The parking lot was full of potholes rather than cars, and some of them looked almost big enough to lose the bus in. To the back of the pub was a lot of brush. Even in the fog you could make out the shapes of big bushes and spindly trees.

It also seemed like there were no other buildings anywhere near the pub. It was two stories high with a thatched roof and faded pink plaster walls it gave the impression that it was squatting in the back of the lot. There were two windows on either side of the front door making the entrance look like a face that seemed to glower at us through the fog. A sickly yellow glow came from each window making the light look quite ominous. While I was studying the pub, the bus ground to a halt.

At the front of the bus, a man stood up and faced the passengers. He was short and extremely round. He held an umbrella in his right hand which he raised as he started speaking. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Red Boar, home of the infamous headless lady. Now, ladies and gentlemen if you will follow me or rather, my umbrella I will lead into the pub. Mind how you go, some of pot holes are quite deep.” This was all said in a high pitched almost squeaky voice.

“Oh great,” I muttered, “I didn’t know that Mickey Mouse was the tour guide.” Gloria started giggling. “Looks like besides getting an ear job that he’s put on a bit of weight.” Gloria snorted and shot her elbow into my side. I glanced at my watch it was seven o’clock on the nose. “What time did you say we would be at the next pub?” Gloria consulted her itinerary. “Eight. Why?”

“How far would you say it is from here?”

“Oh, round about fifteen minutes. Why?”

“I was just curious.”

Great; that meant we had to listen to ‘Mickey’ give us the ghost spiel, order drinks, find a seat and then rush back out to the bus to continue on to the next pub. Of course once there, it would be a repeat of what happened at this pub. I was annoyed, but kept it to myself. As Gloria and I weaved around the craters in the car park, I noticed how quiet the pub seemed. Usually when you approach pubs you can hear the laughter and banter between the regulars. If the establishment has a jukebox, you can hear the music if nothing else. I decided that the fog was having a dampening effect on the sound. We reached the door and still no noise. I made my way to the bar to order drinks. It was if the place had been packed in cotton wool. You couldn’t even hear the bickering and teasing of the old men playing dominoes in the corner.

While ordering our drinks, a feeling of unease settled over me. It increased when I turned around, drinks in hand to find Gloria. The place was packed. As a rule you cannot have that many people in one place and not have some noise. Besides, where did they all come from? Surely they didn’t live within walking distance of the place. With all these thoughts swirling around in my head, I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going. I spied Gloria at a table with J.J. and her friend. I started to shout, then immediately decided that wouldn’t be appropriate in this unusually quite establishment. I took one step forward and smacked my forehead on a ceiling beam in front of the bar. The ceiling was just over six feet tall! That meant the beams were roughly eyebrow height on me. Despite almost knocking myself out, I didn’t spill a drop. Keeping a wary eye on the other dark heavy beams that criss-crossed the ceiling, I made my way to the table.

“Here you go,” I said sliding the port and lemon to Gloria. I looked at JJ and her friend. “Did you two not want any drinks?” JJ sniffed. “I didn’t think we’d have time. The bar was crowded and I thought getting a table was the higher priority.” I sat down. “Anyway, Tom and I don’t think there’s really enough time to get through a drink.” “You’re probably right. ” I said. I stuck out my hand, “Hi Tom, I’m Rick.” Tom took my hand, gave it a firm squeeze and said, “Pleased.” That pretty much ended any small talk with JJ and friend.

I looked around at the interior of the pub. The tables were all battle scarred and old looking. Ours was near a window and had a small candle on it. The walls were the same sickly yellow shade as the light that had drifted out the windows. There were a few backless stools in front of the bar area, that no one seemed to want to sit on, preferring to stand. The pub itself was separated by a fireplace with a door on the left side of it that presumably led to another room.

The guide, with his ‘brolly’ held high, looked around at the group. I thought, well at least we won’t have any trouble hearing him. I have to admit the quiet of the place was really starting to get to me. Gloria touched my arm and I almost dropped my drink. “Looks like he’s about to start.” Mickey took one last look at his captive audience and began speaking.

“The Red Boar is quite a new pub.” He chuckled, “It was built in the eighteen hundreds by a race horse trainer. He wanted somewhere for the jockeys to bend their elbows that was a bit more their size. Here after many a race, there were celebrations for the winners and commiserations for the losers. As many of you may have noticed the ceilings are quite low, which is why you have the “Mind your head” sign at the pub entrance!” Gloria reached over and gently rubbed my forehead. “Well, I didn’t see it.” I said taking a token sip of my beer.

Mickey cleared his throat and continued.”It is a sad tale. A young moneyed lady was engaged to be wed to the horse trainers son. All went according to plan until the horse drawing her carriage was spooked by something. The horse bolted and the young lady was thrown from the carriage. It was one of those horrific moments where everything comes together, like a tragic serendipity. There was a double headed axe with one end shoved in a stump. The other end, which was just as sharp, stuck straight up in the air. The young lady flew through the air and her neck landed on the upturned axe head. Pretty much decapitated her on the spot, so they say”

Mickey paused for a moment and looked at his audience. “About a fortnight later, her distraught fiancé hung himself from the first floor banister. He hadn’t tied the noose properly so he was strangled to death,” He paused for effect, “Very slowly. Right, questions anyone?”

J.J. had her hand up. Judging from the greenish hue of her face, I thought she was going to ask where the restroom was.

“Why, doesn’t he haunt the pub?” She asked. “I mean, wouldn’t they both roam around the place? Why is it just her?

Mickey shrugged eloquently, “Ah miss, if I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked that question, I’d be a rich man. That as you Yanks say is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Unfortunately no one knows. Right then! Drink up folks!” Mickey clapped his hands. “We don’t have all night! What do you think this is, a tour or something?”

I glanced at my pint and realised I was going to have to gulp it hurriedly. I made a mental note to get a half-pint at the next pub or to order a “short.” That’s a mixed drink or a cocktail if you’re a “Yank.”

We finished our drinks and quickly shrugged our coats on. I grabbed Gloria’s hand and pretty much drug her to the door. I narrowly missed getting a second knot on my forehead from the damn low beam and I grabbed the pub door and pulled Gloria through it.

The fog had thickened the short time we had been in the pub. It was now so thick that the bus looked like a darker patch of fog. It was swirling and making odd shapes even though there was no wind to move the misty smoky stuff around. I glanced behind us and the door we’d just come through was a dim orange rectangle. The other folks on the tour just looked like undefined shapes.

We got to the bus slightly ahead of Mickey. The driver let us in and we headed for our seats. Amazingly someone had beaten us to the bus. He was sitting on my scarf which I’d decided I didn’t need. “Gloria. That guys sitting on my scarf.” She chortled. “I’m sure he’s not going to hurt it love.”

“That’s not the point,” I whispered, “He should sit in his own damn seat.” Gloria patted my knee, “Just ask for him to give it to you.” I seethed for a moment longer. “Okay.”

I turned to the guy, my eyes looking at the edge of my scarf peeking from under his ass. I looked and his face and he turned his head to return my gaze. I flinched and instinctively jerked back from the guy.

His face was suffused with blood. His florid features made it look as if he was burning up with fever. The whites of his eyes were full of blood red capillaries, like he hadn’t sleep in days. I heard Gloria murmur behind me about ‘piss holes in the snow.’ He smiled at me and I cleared my throat.

“Hi, uh, you’re sitting on my scarf.”

“Sorry, old bean.” He reached under himself and pulled the scarf effortlessly up and handed it to me. “Seems alright; no harm done eh?”

“No, it’s fine thanks.” I wrapped it around my neck and the guy seemed transfixed by the movement. I also noticed that his head seemed to be tilted, like one side of it was heavier than the other.

“I didn’t notice you on the bus earlier.” I said. “Late arrival or are you just catching a lift?”

He moved his eyes up from my scarf with what seemed to be a massive effort. “Oh yes, I’m just catching a lift Squire. You won’t say anything will you? I wouldn’t want to lose my ride.” His eyes looked watery and sad. “I really do have to get out of here. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sure,” I said, “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Oh I doubt that old bean, I really do.”

He turned his face to the window and seemed to be studying the dark patch in the fog that was the pub. The bus driver started the engine and we moved off to the next stop in the tour. As we pulled up, I was struck at how different this pub was from the last one. The fog did not seem as thick here and the lights blazed out from the windows and the pub’s sign, The Hound and the Hare.

The parking lot was full and we dodged cars instead of pot holes. Mickey, our guide, was pumping his umbrella up and down and calling to us. “Right peeps, The Hare and the Hound. Headless horseman inhabits this fair place. Please be quick and get your drinks from the bar.” His voice faded as he entered ahead of us.

We managed to visit about six pubs and they all began to blur together before the last bus ride home. I sat snuggling with Gloria when I noticed that the florid faced man was not on the bus any longer. I had not seen where he wound up. I’d never asked and did not really care apart from the fact that he’d sat on my scarf.

The bus pulled up in front of my hotel around midnight. I could see the receptionist getting ready to lock the front door. As we passed the driver and Mickey I paused. “Do you often get stowaways on the tour?”

Mickey raised one eyebrow. “Pardon?” ”

The guy who got on the bus after the first pub, the red faced guy, you know the one who took up the only seat left on the bus?” Mickey was slowly shaking his head. “No Squire. No one got on the bus at the Red Boar.”

“That’s it! The Red Boar! This guy sat on my scarf in the only seat left on the bus next to us.” I looked at Gloria for support. “We both talked to him.” Gloria smiled, “No love, you talked to him.”

I looked back at the driver who had not moved from his seat. “Surely you noticed him?” Like Mickey, he shook his head. “No Guv, we had an empty seat next to you all night long. No one else joined the tour, I’d have noticed, wouldn’t I? I count everyone as they come on and leave. No sir, no one joined the tour.” He paused for effect, “No one.”

Confused, I turned away and hurried to get through the hotel’s main door before the receptionist locked me out. Nothing else of any importance happened for the rest of my stay. I went out with Gloria many more times and on my last day there I took her out to eat at the Red Boar pub.

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of eating at the place. The last time we’d been there it had been pretty gloomy and downright dingy. But it was the only pub in the area that we had not eaten in and Gloria said they did a great carvery. As the taxi drove up to the pub, I could not believe my eyes.

The pub looked friendly, inviting and well lit. The hunched and almost evil appearance was gone. As we went into the pub and passed by the bar I remembered the low beam and ducked. The act of dodging the beam caused me to notice an antique painting hung over the fireplace in the middle of the room. I stood looking at the man in the painting with my jaw dropping open.

It was the man on the bus! I turned to Gloria and said, “Gloria, the painting! Look!” She glanced over at it and looked at me questioningly. “Yes?” I grabbed her by the shoulders and walked her up to the painting. “It’s him, the guy on the bus; the one who sat on my scarf!”

Her eyes grew wider. “Oh, yeah! Oh my God love, we’ve seen a ghost! Not only that but we talked to one!” I drew back from Gloria haughtily. “I talked to him you mean.” She looked at me with a hurt expression on her face. “Well that’s what you told the driver, isn’t it?”

I turned away from her and went to a table. I pulled out her chair but instead of her coming over to sit in it, she twirled around and flounced out the front door.

I went ahead and had a meal and returned to the hotel. Gloria was nowhere to be seen; not that night nor the next morning when I caught the American style van back to Heathrow Airport. So the haunted pub tour was a big bust. I didn’t see one ghost at any of the “haunted” establishments, but I did get to talk to one on the tour bus.

As the plane taxied on the runway, I wondered if I should have asked for my money back.

Michael E. Smith copyright 12/01/13

An Arkansas Razorback in Queen Elizabeth Country

Flag of the United States of America
Flag of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My daughter and I were discussing the differences between America and England. She had read a blog or two about Brit’s abroad and living in the US. I thought that they must be interesting and then wondered why I hadn’t thought of doing something similar.

I have always enjoyed living in England. Growing up and watching Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce playing as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s great double act, Holmes and Watson made me long to tread those foggy streets of London. When I was given the opportunity to live here courtesy of Uncle Sam, I couldn’t believe my luck.

I will point out that I have actually lived in the United Kingdom longer than I lived in the country of my birth. I have thought of this castle filled country as my home for at least the last eighteen years. I got out of the USAF as part of the force downsizing drill in the nineties and not too long after applied for citizenship. Luckily for me, I did not have to ‘give up’ my status as an American citizen so I’ve always had the best of both worlds.

Despite the fact that I came to this country with a cloud over my head (that would soon be replaced by the real clouds that so frequently fill the sky in this country) I felt that just walking the streets was a great adventure. For years I would be driving somewhere and see the ruins of a castle or a picturesque thatched cottage and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m living here!”

Of course I have now lived here so long, that I don’t have many occasions where I have trouble with the local language or have to learn about traditions or quaint practises of the country. I have, though, developed a strange accent. One that is an odd blend of Arkansan,  American, and English. I live in Suffolk, one of the more rural areas of East Anglia, where you can get trapped behind a tractor for miles on a narrow, two lane road and the local populace all talk like an English version of country bumpkins.

It is a beautiful countryside that still plays havoc with my sinuses, despite having lived full-time in the county since 1990. And each year I await the rape and mustard season with dread knowing that my eyes will water and itch and my nose will steadfastly refuse to work properly until the blasted stuff is harvested.

But back in 1982, I didn’t know about rapeseed and mustard and how much it can affect you. I only knew that I really needed a change of scenery and the positive press I got from my  commander made it sound a bit like heaven. I got my orders and flew to RAF Mildenhall, the “Gateway to Europe” and arrived on the 5th of July 1982. My sponsor, a Staff Sargent from my new unit, met me and helped me get settled in my room.

I had an invite to his place later in the day for a barbecue and he left saying he would come back and pick me up later. I wandered around the wide open base. In those days RAF Mildenhall was pretty much open to the public. The only part of the base that was fenced off was the flight line area. Everything else was easily accessible by everyone.

At the edge of Mildenhall’s archaic base housing was a bus stop and a place called Mickey’s T bar. It boasted American style food and seating. I went in and ordered a double cheese burger. When the owner brought me the burger he pointed to an American style mustard bottle and said if I needed mustard on it, to help my self. I grabbed the squeezable bottle and lathered my cheese burger with mustard.

I then went to a table, sat down and took an enormous bite of instant fire. Eyes watering, I looked at the burger I’d just taken a bite out of in surprise. I hastily grabbed my can of coke and gulped the entire thing down in an effort to stop the burning in my mouth. I carefully put the cheeseburger down on my plate. I went back to the serving counter and bought another coke and asked why the burger was so damn hot.

The owner looked at me oddly and said, “Well of course it’s hot mate, I’ve only just cooked it.” I explained that I didn’t mean temperature hot, but spicy hot. He then started chuckling.

” You didn’t put mustard on did you?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Of course I did.”

“Well that’s not Yank mustard, mate. It’s English. We like our mustard a bit hotter than you lot like yours.” He continued chuckling to himself and after he sold me my second Coke stopped and thoughtfully rubbed his chin. “You know, I probably should mark the bloody thing. We get quite a few of you Yanks in here straight off the plane. Did you just get here?”

I nodded and he offered to make me another cheeseburger, no charge since I’d ‘ruined’ my first one. I said he didn’t have to do that, as I could  just scrape off the excessive amount of mustard that I had put on.  I finished my burger and wandered back to my room for a nap before the barbecue that afternoon.

My first day in England and already I’d learned two valuable  lessons. Not everything was what it seemed here and don’t put too much mustard on your burger.

English mustard.

Reborn on the Fourth of July

RAF Mildenhall
RAF Mildenhall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USAF sent me to the United Kingdom in 1982. It was not problem, I had volunteered to go. My first marriage had died a pretty messy death and the airbase I was at held too many harsh memories. My unit commander had suggested I put in a transfer request. He said that he happened to know there was still a place or two left open in England.

Alamogordo Air Force Base in New Mexico was my first assignment in the Air Force. I had just changed jobs and my new commander was a “re-tread” an officer who had been promoted from the enlisted ranks. He was one hell of a guy.

He had been stationed at RAF Mildenhall years before and had loved it. His idea was to get me away from the memories that were making my life a misery. I put in for a transfer and got it. We were a small career field  so it was a bit easier to get ‘choice’ assignments.

I drove my immediate superior’s car to Dover AFB. She was being reassigned to Germany and wanted to ship her car. On my way I stopped by and visited with my son, my parents and the rest of my family. Sad, bitter thoughts kept me from enjoying anyone’s company too much and I was anxious to “get going” and start forgetting.

I flew into England via the “Freedom Bird.” The Freedom Bird was usually a stretched commercial aircraft, stretched meant that it had moved the seats closer together so they could fit more military personnel on the flights. It was cramped and uncomfortable. This commercial aircraft was dubbed the Freedom Bird because it, or another one like it, would be the aircraft that would take us back to the USA when our assignment was over.

The minute my feet hit the tarmac in England I fell in love. Instinctively I felt that I this was the place I had always been looking for. I had conflicting emotions running through my head. I was excited, relieved, expectant, and sad all at the same time.

I was also jet lagged.

England was a welcome change for me. I got the chance to ‘live’ my life again. After a few years I fell in love with a girl from Cambridge. We tied the knot and we moved to The Netherlands for four and a half years. While we were there she gave birth to our beautiful daughter. And we made plans to move back to England when our stint in Holland was over.

Then I got out of the Air Force in 1993 (under the downsizing drill in 1992) and made England my home. I became a British citizen and my visits home had to stop due to lack of funds.

Fast forward to 2011. My second marriage was over. Thankfully for different reasons than my first one, I’d learned that much at least, but it lasted a lot longer than my first marriage. The first thing I knew I had to do was to go home and visit.

My daughter and I flew over for a two week ‘rest period’ and as luck would have it, we would be in the USA over the Fourth of July.

English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007
English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We spent the holiday at my brother’s house with his family. He went all out for my daughter’s first 4th of July in America. She saw her first baseball game and saw her first firework display at the ripe old age of 21. She fell in love with ‘live’ baseball and America. She will be coming back to live and work there.

She also saw her first Rodeo and got to see a lot of the places I’d lived and visited when I was a whole world younger. She also got to visit family she’d either never met before or she’d only met when she was too little to really remember.

Something else happened on that flight home. Something important.

It started on the flight over. I sat (watching one of the in-flight movies) and my eyes started watering and I got a lump in my throat. I was going home. I hadn’t been there since 1990. It was a little overwhelming. The culmination of this feeling came on the 4th itself.

As we sat watching the brilliant firework display put on by the town of Coppell, Texas tears ran down my face as I ‘taped’ the colourful explosions. I suddenly remembered that I was an American.

It was like being reborn.

I had spent so many years ‘overseas’ that I had forgotten what I was, where I was from, and who I was deep down. I had begun to think of myself as a citizen to of world and of course I was an British citizen as well.  I think that visit helped both my daughter and me a great deal.

We still live and work  in England but life has changed. We both discovered our ‘roots’ last year. My daughter for the first time and I got back in touch with mine. So while I’m setting here writing this, I am reliving last years 4th of July celebrations. The smell of the popcorn and other delicious foods at the ballgame and the sounds and smells of the fireworks.

So even though I was born in September, I was reborn on the 4th of July.

English: A chocolate cake during the 4th of July
English: A chocolate cake during the 4th of July (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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