The Scottish Ale – A Nick Allen Mystery 21 Sep 2020
The Scottish Ale
A Nick Allen Mystery
Part of the ‘Tales from the Mermaid Collection’, From the bonny bells of heather, They brewed a drink langsyn, Was sweeter far from homey,Was stronger far than wine.
Marian McNeil, 1956
Back in Scotland and demoralized, many of Charles’ men returned to their homes, and the Government army, now led by the King’s son the Duke of Cumberland, caught up with the Jacobite forces at Culloden on 16 April 1746. Charles’ forces, by now hungry and exhausted, were massacred. Cumberland ordered his men to give no quarter to their opponents, and for the merciless treatment given to wounded and fleeing men, he is still referred to in the Highlands as Butcher Cumberland.
Charles himself escaped from the battlefield and his subsequent flight around the Highlands and Islands, pursued by Government troops and aided by many Highlanders despite the huge price on his head has become the stuff of many legends. It was his flight through the Isle of Skye, however, aided by Flora MacDonald, which is best remembered.
Flora was born on South Uist though she was raised at Armadale in Sleat. In 1746 she was living in Benbecula when the fleeing Prince arrived, seeking refuge and a safe hiding place. She disguised the Prince as her maid Betty Burke, and they were rowed across the Minch with a crew of six, landing at what is now known as Prince Charles’ Point in Trotternish, a couple of miles north of Uig.
They hid there in a cottage before making a clandestine overland journey to Portree together. They stayed overnight in an Inn, now known as ‘The Isle Inn’ before they parted. Charles gave Flora a locket with his portrait and promised they would meet again. Charles hid for a time on Raasaybut his flight continued with a grueling march from Portee to Egol, undertaken by night. They crossed the moors to Sligachan before passing over the Red Hills just north of Marsco before going on to through the Strath Mor and eventually reaching Egol where Charles stayed overnight in a cave before taking another boat for the mainland. He eventually made it back to France, sailing from Arisaig on 20 September.
It is a warm Thursday evening late May and I have just returned home after an exciting cricket match in which my team Garden Fields Parents CC (known as Men of Fields) has just defeated Manland School Parents CC by seven runs. We always take great delight in beating any team from Harpenden, especially Manland. Our team is under the impression that all men from Harpenden are in-bred, have no chins and called Julian. Tonight’s victory is even more impressive because we batted first and after the allotted twenty overs we had scored a less than impressive 86 runs. At this level in a Twenty20 match one would expect a score in the region of 120 runs. In normal circumstances one would be thinking of an early bath, but as there are no changing facilities in the middle of Verulamium Park, then it would be an early beer. But Garden Fields CC is no ordinary team. A mixture of players, gentlemen and good chaps, losing is not an option. Now cricket is not my main sport, but I’m always available, can hit a few runs and turn my arm when necessary. But I do stand out in one particular field; I am the team’s motivator. It was my late wife Jane’s idea, after driving passed a cricket match she saw one team in a huddle and suggested that I do the same thing. So, at some point in our matches we have, what is now known affectionately as ‘Ol’ Nicks huddle’. It does seem amazing but we have never lost a match after a huddle. I was going to need something really special if were to rescue this match. I like to vary the huddles, sometimes a raucous chant or a witty poem but luckily I had something special planned for tonight’s game.
We assembled on the edge of the square and formed the usual circle. I lit a joss stick and stuck it the ground. I took the match ball out of my pocket and said ‘I call to the spirit of St Alban to bless this ball, may it stick in our hands and never cross the boundary,’ I then kissed the ball and said ‘bless this ball’. I passed the ball to my left and each player in turn kissed and blessed the ball. We then bowled them all out for 79 runs. It was a game to remember and the London Pride flowed as we celebrated our win with our usual sausage and chips at the Six Bells public house.
It’s been a year now since my wife Jane passed away and things haven’t been easy. I was recently suspended from my position as a lecturer in mathematics at the St Albans Regional College. After a farcical disciplinary hearing I was found guilty of threatening behaviour towards students, but the charge of Gross Misconduct was reduced to Serious Misconduct and I was given a final warning. Tomorrow is the last day before we break up for half-term. I have survived the last six weeks, they have taken the offending class in question off my timetable and things seem to be improving. By the way my name is Nick Allen.
- ‘Not on holiday again?’ remarked Rodney Black, a close friend of mine.
I’m relaxing with friends in the beer garden of the Mermaid Public House; it is Friday, early evening
- ‘I wouldn’t call it a holiday, more like convalescence,’ I replied.
- ‘Aye laddie, it has only been six weeks since yer last break’ said Angus Gold another friend of mine. ‘Yer must be exhausted.’
- ‘Leave him alone,’ interrupted Diana, an attractive sixty year old sitting at the next table. ‘He’s had a hard time recently,’
- ‘Thank you Di,’ I said smiling across to her. ‘It’s nice to see that someone cares.’
- ‘My pleasure’.’
- ‘So Nick back to the question in hand,’ stated Mick, a quiet man in his forties, ‘what is your favourite all time joke?’
- ‘Let me think,’ stroking my chin as if in deep thought, ‘ah yes. A young American walks into the office of a famous talent agent. He says ‘I’ve come for an interview; I can sing, dance, act and tell jokes.’
- ‘Okay,’ said the talent agent, ‘show me what you can do.’
After going through a twenty minute routine the agent says ‘kid, you’re great, I’ll sign you up straight away. In six months you’ll have you’re own TV series and I’ll get you in films, maybe even on Broadway.’
- ‘That’s great, thank you.’
- ‘No problem, I’ll just get a contract for you to sign. Now what’s your name?’
- ‘Penis Van Lesbian.’
- ‘Penis Van Lesbian.’
- ‘You can’t have a name like that; you’ll have to change it’.
- ‘I’m can’t change it, it’s my family name. I’ll go to another agency if I have to’.
- ‘Fine; but no one will hire you with that name.’
- ‘We’ll see.’
- ‘If you change your mind the offer’s still open.’
With that he walked out of the door.
Three months later he reappeared.
- ‘You were right, no one with hire me, so I’ve done as you suggested, I’ve changed my name’.
- ‘That’s great kid, so what have you called yourself?’
- ‘Dick Van Dyke.’
- ‘That’s awful’ said Rodney
- ‘No it’s clever,’ I replied.
Just then we were interrupted by Ken the Landlord. He was carrying a tray full of half pint glasses of beer. Ken, in his early thirties, always wears jeans and a brewery t-shirt and brews his own beer at a local brewery.
- ‘I want you to try this new beer I’ve brewed. I’m thinking of entering it for the St Albans Beer festival, I think it’s a winner.’
He placed the tray on the table and we all took a glass.
- ‘What do you think?’ he asked expectantly.
- ‘It’s okay,’ said Mick.
- ‘Quite nice.’ said Rodney.
- ‘Not quite my thing laddie, but it seems okay.’ was Angus’s reply.
- ‘Nick, what do you think,’ Ken said despondently.
- ‘It’s to hoppy for my taste; you know I prefer malty beers.’
Looking disappointed Ken says ‘I really need to win a prize this year; I need to get my beers on the map.’
- ‘Maybe I can help ye laddie. I have a secret recipe for a Scottish beer. Been handed down from generation to generation, it’s a real winner.’ Angus gave a sly smile. ‘Leave it with me, I’ll dig it out.’
- ‘Thanks a lot Angus,’ smiled Ken. ‘But bring it in soon, we’ll need to try it and time’s running out’.
Ken retreated to the bar and we all looked at Angus.
- ‘What?’ he said looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
- ‘Since when have you had secret recipes for Scottish beer, lager boy?’ I said mockingly
- ‘I canna say where it comes from, but mark my words it’s a winner.’
- ‘Well you better not let him down, it means a lot him.’ piped in Rodney
- ‘Aye, ye can trust me laddie.’
The evening continued with light-hearted banter; we were joined by Blind Bill. Bill, mid-fifties was blinded following a car crash thirty years ago. He was accompanied by his guide dog, Cadbury, a chocolate Labrador. I always carry a few dog chews in my pocket and he always looks me out when he’s in the pub. I spent a few minutes making a fuss of him. I remember once, Cadbury got so excited seeing he pulled Bill off his stool. Next to join us was Annie Castle, a colleague of mine from the college; she was head of the Art department. Annie was about fifty, slim, attractive, and very arty with a good sense of humour. She was accompanied by a lady I hadn’t seen before. She was introduced as Mary McGregor, who would be joining the college next term. Mary, I guess would be about forty, jet black hair, very pale skin, reminded me of Snow White. She spoke with a broad Scottish accent. This would please Angus I thought; and I was right.
- ‘Let me find yer a seat lassie and come and join us. It will make a change to have some decent conversation.’
Angus and Mary hit it off straight away. It was nice to see Angus with a woman. In all the years I have known him I don’t think he has ever had a girlfriend. Will I ever find love again; it’s been a year since my Jane died. Not yet, its way to soon, I’m still grieving.
Wednesday, the following week
I spent the half term week relaxing, catching up with old friends, gardening and the like. On Wednesday I met my daughter Sarah for lunch, she works in London as a Chartered Accountant and we spent a pleasant hour in the All Bar One where I enjoyed a steak sandwich and a glass of Leffe. After that I decided to visit a couple of interesting pubs. First was the Cittie of Yorke in High Holborn. This Samuel Smith’s pub is like no other. You enter a mighty ‘olde Englishe’ hall with a high roof, massive wine vats and a high-level window where the lord of the manor might once have presided over the proceedings. I enjoyed a pint of Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter at 4.0% it has a good head, fruity aroma, and very nice bitter taste. My next stop was the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell; this fantastic little pub is a recent re-creation, bought and restored by St. Peter’s Brewery, Suffolk. Formerly a town house built in 1720, it was converted into a watchmaker’s shop a hundred years later and a shop front was added. It became a pub in 1996, but the job has been done so well it’s hard to believe it’s not original. All the Real Ales are served straight from the casks which are mounted on the wall, I went for the Organic Best Bitter at 4.1%.This pale bronze beer has a biscuity malt and peppery hops aroma, followed by an explosion of spicy, bitter hop resins on the tongue with a good balance of sappy malt and tart fruit. As it was mid-afternoon the pub was relatively quiet and I spent a pleasant hour talking to the attractive Irish barmaid about interesting London pubs. The pub is just a few minutes’ walk from Farringdon station, so my journey home was quick and uneventful.
One evening in July
Angus was true to his word and produced a recipe for a Scottish Ale. It consisted of roast barley, rolled Scottish oatmeal and Scottish heather honey. He used his connections back in Scotland to supply the ingredients at a reasonable cost. So for the next few weeks Angus and Ken were busy trying out different proportions of the ingredients until they were satisfied that they had found the perfect blend. I’ve never seen Ken looking so happy and Angus had an extra spring in his step. Could there be romance in the air.
It takes about three weeks to brew a beer from scratch; they tried a few variations of the quantities, but in the end settled for the original recipe. When the brew was finally ready Ken organized a special tasting evening. He invited all the regulars, put on a small buffet and we waited in anticipation. I was sitting at a table with Angus, Rodney, Mary and Annie. We were not disappointed; it was delicious, smooth, and distinctively dark with a Stout-like bitterness and an ABV of 4.5%. Ken was ecstatic and he kept refilling our glasses and making toasts to Angus, Mary and everyone else there.
- ‘So Angus,’ I slurred ‘what is the secret of your recipe?’
- ‘Aye laddie,’ he replied. ‘I wondered when ye were gonna ask me that. Well I’m gonna tell yer, but it must be kept a secret. There are people out there that would kill to get there hands on this recipe.’
We tried not to laugh and all promised and closed in to hear his tale.
- ‘It goes back to 1746.’
- ‘It always does’ I thought.
- ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie was on the run from those dammed English. With the help of Flora Macdonald he managed to get to the Isle of Skye. They made there way to Portree
where they stayed in an Inn overnight. Charlie was exhausted so the landlady Janet Cornfoot gave him a pint of beer. He was so impressed by it, that he asked her for the recipe, stating that when he became King he would give this beer to all his troops on his coronation day. So she copied the recipe out on a piece of parchment; on the back she wrote ‘To Charlie, our one true Prince. May the force be with you’ and signed it Janet Cornfoot. Don’t you see that this parchment is worth a fortune; it should really be in a museum. It is an actual piece of history.’
- ‘So how come you have it, Angus?’ asked Rodney, not totally convinced.
- ‘Well, when Charlie and Flora left the Inn the next morning they parted and went they separate ways. Charlie gave Flora the parchment for safe keeping. Anyway one of my distant relatives was a minister in Trotternish and she told him the story on her death bed and gave him the parchment for safe keeping and it has been in the family ever since.’
Well, I thought, true or not it’s a bloody good story and Angus is pretty clued up on his Scottish history. Mary stood up and said she had a headache and was going home. Angus offered to phone for a taxi but she said no, the walk might help. She pecked him on the cheek and said goodbye to the rest of us. I might be half cut, but that was definitely a strange look that Mary gave Angus as she walked out of the door.
- ‘May the force be with you? You’re having a laugh Angus,’ said Rodney.
- ‘No laddie, what I didn’t tell ye, that Janet was a witch and she practiced the old ways. It is a common term in pagan talk. That’s where they got it from. Look it up if ye don’t believe me’.
At this point Kate, our local alcoholic staggered past.
- ‘How’s it going boys?’ she slurred, ‘having a nice evening?
- ‘Fine thanks,’ I said, ‘what’s new with you?’
- ‘Just booked a weekend in Rome,’ she replied, ‘gonna take in a bit of culture.’
- ‘Thanks nice,’ I said trying to look interested. How she manages to stay upright on those high heels I’ll never know.
- ‘Did you know that Michelangelo painted sixteen chapels?’
- ‘Amazing’ I thought as she disappeared into the ladies toilet. This evening is getting stranger by the minute. Then Ken appeared, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
- ‘I’ve had a brilliant idea.’ he exclaimed, ‘listen; I’m going to hire a Dray and a horse to pull it. I’m going to dress up in Highland gear, you know, kilt, sporran, all the gear and I’ll be a Highland Laird or whatever they call them. And Angus, well you’ve got the outfit already, you can lead the Dray playing the bagpipes and Annie and Mary can accompany me on the Dray. I’ll get costumes for you too and, I know, Nick and Rodney can walk behind, like a guard. I’ll get costumes for you as well. It’ll be great and we can take the beer to the festival. We’ll start at the pub then go down the St. Peters Street and back then to the Arena. Think how much publicity it will generate; everyone will want to taste it.…but we haven’t got a name…we’ve got to have a name’
- ‘Calm down,’ said Annie. ‘We can soon think of a name. What about Angus Gold? After all it was his recipe’
- ‘But it’s not a Golden Ale, look at it, it’s almost Black,’ I informed her
- ‘That’s it,’ shouted Ken, ‘we’ll call it Black Angus.’
The St Albans Beer Festival is held over 4 days at the end of September at the St Albans Arena. Two beers from each of the seven breweries in Hertfordshire are put forward for the ‘Hertfordshire Beer of the Year’. These beers are chosen by the Brewery Liaison Officer nominated by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). Ken has good connections with CAMRA, so getting Black Angus nominated shouldn’t be a problem. The beers are delivered on the Monday and the tasting for the ‘Best Beer’ takes place on the first day (Wednesday). A new rule was introduced this year that all beers being judged must be in place by 2:00pm on the Monday.
It was agreed that the Dray should arrive at 1:00pm which would give us enough time to parade down the St. Peters Street before delivering the beer. The costumes would be delivered in the morning and we would meet at 11.00am which would give us enough time to get ready. Annie and I both stated that we would throw a sickie that day. Angus would take a day’s holiday; Rodney is still looking for work and Mary was free that day.
Late September, two’s day before the festival
I arrived on time for the big day; Rodney and Annie were already there. There was no sign of Angus or Mary. The pub was still closed; the costumes were left on the door step. There was no sign of Ken or June, her shift started at 11.00am.
- ‘How’s Angus getting here?’ I asked Rodney.
- ‘Taxi,’ he replied.
- ‘Give him a ring Rodney, see where he is.’
- ‘No reply.’
- ‘What taxi firm does he use?’
- ‘The usual one.’
- ‘Well give them a ring; see if they know anything.’
- We waited a few moments.
- ‘They haven’t heard from him today.’
- I was getting worried. ‘I don’t like this, and where the hell is Ken.’
- ‘Do you think something has happened?’ enquired Annie.
- ‘ ‘I’m not sure, but I’ve got a horrible feeling about this.’
- ‘I think we should do something,’ said Annie.
- ‘Okay this is what we’ll do, Rodney, you come with me, Annie you stay here and wait for June. Ring me if you find Ken but we’ll get back as soon as possible.’
We jumped into the car and fled towards Angus’s bungalow. It wasn’t far and we were there in a couple of minutes. I drove slowly passed the bungalow and noticed a large blue Volvo parked on the drive. It had a Scottish sticker on the back window. I parked the car about 20 yards further down, we got out and walked casually back to the bungalow. We walked past slowly and discreetly observed the frontage. The curtains were drawn in the lounge which would make our approach unobserved. Quietly we crept to the bungalow, I noticed a small gap in the curtains, just enough to survey the situation. I didn’t like what I saw. Angus was tied to a chair; he was naked except for a sporran covering his manhood. Standing above him was a large bearded man in a kilt brandishing a large sword. He looked like the actor Brian Blessed. I summoned Rodney to have a look. He started laughing, so I clipped him round the head and dragged him back to the car.
- ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘I want you to phone the police and wait here for them.’
- ‘What are you going to do?’ he replied in a worried voice.
- ‘I’m going to rescue Angus.’
- ‘Don’t be silly Nick, that bloke’s got a sword.’
- ‘Angus is in danger,’ I said, as I took my golfing umbrella out of the boot. ‘A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.’
I quietly ran down the drive and found a side door that led to the kitchen. I was in luck the door was not locked. I carefully opened the door and crept in. So far so good but what do I do now? I’ve got my umbella but would that be enough? I looked around and found a block of kitchen knives, pulled one out and slid it in my trouser belt towards my back so it couldn’t be seen. There was another door that led to the hall, it was open. From the door to the hall I could see the door that led to the lounge, it was ajar. Here goes, I thought, kicked the door open and walked in, umbrella at the ready.
- ‘Well, well, what have we here?’ said the bearded man in the kilt. ‘Planning a little rescue are we?’
I looked over to Angus; he has a large red mark around his eye and small cuts all over his body. He was looking very worried.
- ‘Well that’s the general plan,’ I replied with a smirk on my face.
He laughed. ‘How typical, an Englishman with an umbrella, I’m surprised you’re not wearing a bowler hat. Who do you think you are John Steed?’
- ‘The names Allen, Nick Allen and I not afraid of some bearded lady in a skirt; so tell me before I whip you arse, who are you and what do you want?’
- ‘Okay,’ he replied, ‘before I cut you in two, I’ll tell you. My name is Rory and I belong to an ancient Scottish order called the Beggars Bennison. We are the keepers of all the artifacts relating to the Jacobite Revolution, and our friend here has something that doesn’t belong to him.’
I laughed, ‘you mean the recipe, that’s not real; he made that story up. God almighty, you are as thick as you look.’
I think that was one insult to many as he raised his sword and took a downward swipe. It’s funny what you think at times like this, but I recognized his sword as a ‘Basket-hilted Claymore’ with a 35 inch blade. The attack was telegraphed and I easily stepped aside. He stumbled a little and I gave him a good prod in the ribs with my umbrella. He was now really incensed and lunged at me with his Claymore. Even at 53 years old my reflexes are finely tuned and I just managed to avoid the deadly blade. As it flew passed me I pulled out the kitchen knife with my left hand and plunged it into his upper arm. He screamed, grabbed the knife handle, but before he could remove it I dropped my umbrella and hit him with a right hook. It landed perfectly on the chin and he was out cold before he hit the floor. I stood over him like a victorious gladiator when Angus screamed, ‘look behind yer.’
Entering the room from another door was Mary. Her eyes were bulging, her hair was standing on end like she had been electrocuted and her teeth were bared. She was holding a Sgian Dubh (a black dagger). Then screaming like a banshee she leapt at me; a straight right took care of her.
- ‘Well done laddie, now come and untie me,’ said Angus looking a little relieved.
As I approached him I heard the sound of police cars pulling up outside.
- ‘Sorry Angus, I’ve got to go, there’s another person missing. Tell the police I’ll give them a statement latter.’
As I left the bungalow I met DS Blakely walking down the drive.
- ‘And where do you think you are going?’ he asked grabbing my arm.
- ‘Sorry mate got to go, catch you later. It’s all sorted in there, but you will need an ambulance.
I pulled away from him, called to Rodney; we both jumped in my car and fled towards the Mermaid.
June had arrived, she had overslept; she had opened up the pub but no sign of Ken.
- ‘It looks like there has been a struggle,’ said Jane as she started tidying the lounge ‘but Ken is so untidy you can’t tell the difference,’
- ‘Let’s keep looking, we might find a clue to his whereabouts.’ I said in desperation.
- ‘Look,’ gasped June, ‘there’s a message on the answer-phone. Shall I play it?’
- ‘Of course,’ I replied, ‘it can’t do any harm.’
A man’s voice on the answer-phone said ‘Listen carefully; I shall say this only once. If you want to see your landlord again do not, I repeat, do not enter your Scottish Ale for the Beer Festival.’
Annie and Rodney had joined us, Rodney started to panic. ‘What shall we do, what shall we do’ he screamed.
I clipped him round the head again and said, ‘Listen, I think I recognize that voice but we need to know where he is. I have an idea; I want us all to listen to the message again with our eyes shut. Try to cut out his voice and concentrate on the sounds in the background. We might be able to tell where he is phoning from.’
So we all closed our eyes and played the tape back. After the third play Rodney said, ‘There is a lot of activity and background noise but I’m sure I heard the sound of barrels being moved.’
- ‘That’s right.’ exclaimed June. ‘I bet he’s calling from the festival.’
- ‘But we still don’t know who he is,’ said Annie.
- ‘It’s a long shot,’ I said, ‘but try ringing 1471.’
June picked up the phone and dialed and then smiling she said, ‘we’ve got his mobile number.’
- ‘Excellent,’ I replied, ‘and I have a cunning plan. June you stay here just in case. Rodney and Annie come with me.’
It was only a short walk to the Arena; we managed to sneak in without any trouble as there was lots of activity with all the brewers delivering their beers. We went upstairs to the balcony where we had a good view of all the people.
- ‘Okay,’ I said, looking a little concerned. ‘Rodney, if you go about 10 yards to my right and Annie you go 10 yards to my left. I’ll ring the number. Keep your eyes peeled for anyone answering a mobile. I try to keep him talking to give you more time.’
I dialed the number; it rang for a while before someone answered. I signaled to Rodney and Annie and they started scrutinizing the crowd.
- ‘Hello,’ the voice said.
- ‘Hi there,’ I replied. ‘Can I speak to Dean please?’
- ‘I think you have the wrong number.’
- ‘Sorry, what was that? I can’t hear you very well. There is a lot of noise.’
- ‘I said you have the wrong number.’
- ‘What number is this?’
- ‘You should know, you’ve just rung it,’ he sounded irritated.
I looked to my left and saw Annie pointing to the crowd. Excellent I thought what a great girl Annie is.
- ‘Sorry,’ I said and hung up.
I ran over to Annie.
- ‘Who is it?’ I asked.
- ‘That one there, the one with the beard; he’s wearing a black t-shirt. He’s talking to that woman in the red dress.’
- ‘I know him,’ I gasped. ‘His name is Tony, he owns the Orchid Brewery. I’ve seen him in the Mermaid a few times recently.’
- ‘Why would he kidnap Ken?’ asked Rodney.
- ‘It’s obvious; he knows Ken’s beer stands a better chance of winning than his.’
- ‘So what are we going to do?’
- ‘First we go back to the Mermaid and try to figure out where he is holding Ken’
- We scurried back to the pub, called June and sat in the bar.
- ‘We haven’t got much time, the deadline is in two hours’ said June
- ‘It’s a long shot, but I think they are holding him at their brewery’ I said
- ‘But where is their brewery’ asked Rodney
- ‘I’m not sure, but you can look it up on your fancy mobile.’
After a minute searching Rodney exclaimed ‘Got it; the brewery is at Parsons Farm in a village called Henham, just outside Bishops Stortford’
- ‘Well done Rodders, that’s our next port of call. Okay, Rodders you come with me. Annie you stay here with June, the dray will be here at 1.00pm. Even if we don’t get back in time that beer is going to the festival. Annie get changed just in case, I think you will look good in a kilt.’
I checked the directions on my map; Henham was about 30 miles away. If I take the A414 then pick up the A10 after that it’s all B roads. It could take an hour to get there. I’ll have to put my foot down. What we need is some good music to help, some psychedelic pop should do. I put Restless Night by Octopus into the CD player as we drove off to Henham. We were lucky, the roads were clear and we made it in 45 minutes. We found the farm quite easily, it looked deserted. The brewery was situated in a barn to the left of the farm. It was surrounded by a six foot fence with a gate that was padlocked. I told Rodney to stand by the car and I scaled over the fence. I could see two doors in front of me, one was padlocked the other looked like an outside toilet. They were about 30 yards away. I was about 20 yards from the padlocked door when all of a sudden a large Alsatian dog appeared and ran towards me barking ferociously. I stood still, frozen to the spot. The dog stopped in front of me still barking. What can I do I thought, this dog is not going to let me move. I smiled, slowly slid my hand to the lower pocket in my chinos and pulled out six dog chews that I had saved for Cadbury. I threw one to the dog; he sniffed at it then ate it. I gave him another one; he quickly scoffed that one down to. The next one I threw towards the outside toilet; he ran after it and quickly consumed it. Then next one landed right outside the toilet. I walked over to the toilet opened the door and threw the next dog chew inside. The dog followed it in; I shut the door behind it; job done. I ran to the padlocked door, shouted out ‘Ken’. To my relief he answered ‘In here’.
I looked round and found an engineering brick. Ideal I thought and used it to smash the lock. Ken was tied to a pillar that supported the roof, at least he is not naked I thought. I untied him and we ran back to the fence. I easily climbed over the fence, Ken struggled.
- ‘You need to lose some weight if this is going to be a regular occurrence’ I joked
- ‘I’ll leave the adventure stuff to you, I need a pint’ he laughed as we scrambled back to the car. I checked my watch; it was now 1.00pm, only 1 hour before the deadline.
We headed back home; I put a different CD on. This time I selected Odessey & Oracle by The Zombies, my favourite band. I told Rodney to phone the Mermaid and tell them that we have found Ken. June replied saying that the Dray had just arrived and so had DS Blakley. While Rodney was on the mobile I quickly formulated another cunning plan. Rodney passed my idea to DS Blakley just in case we didn’t make it in time.
When we arrived back at the Mermaid the Dray was loaded, Annie looked cute in her Highland outfit, as did DS Blakey, who wasn’t looking too amused. It was a very hot day and as well as sweating profusely the horse had a massive erection. Annie was looking a little embarrassed.
- ‘Throw a bucket of water over that thing,’ I shouted at June. ‘Ken, Rodney and I need to get changed quickly’.
We were back down in five minutes; Ken got into position on the Dray accompanied by Annie and DS Blakley. Rodney and I walked behind as an escort. We went straight to the Arena, not having enough time to do the full tour. We unloaded the first barrel and put it onto the sack-barrow. There was a great round of applause as Ken accompanied by Annie and Rodney pushed the first barrel into the arena. DS Blakely and I went in search of the kidnapper Tony. I spotted him not far away and pointed him out to DS Blakley. Tony was looking decidedly uncomfortable as DS Blakley approached him.
- ‘I’m arresting you on the suspicion of kidnapping and false imprisonment, anything you say will be…..’
Before he had chance to finish reading him his rights, Tony pushed him in the chest and ran towards the exit. As he ran passed me I stuck out my foot and he went flying over it. As he landed on the floor two burly police officers appeared, handcuffed him and took him away. I turned around to look for DS Blakey, he quickly appeared, gave me a high five as we disappeared to find the nearest bar.
Ken’s beer ‘Black Angus’, won the title of ‘Hertfordshire Beer of the Year’. He arranged to hold a party to celebrate his award the following Saturday. Angus was released after an overnight stay in hospital after receiving a few stitches to the more serious cuts. Rory was now in custody after receiving treatment for a very serious knife wound. Mary was being held in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital nursing a very sore chin. It was a warm pleasant evening so we all sat outside. Ken was hosting the party, Rodney, Angus, Annie, DS Blakely, June (it was her night off), Mick, Blind Bill (without Cadbury), Colin, the pig farmer, my best mate Don Patrick, Di and a few others all sat around drinking lashings of our favourite Scottish Ale.
- ‘So,’ I asked Angus, ‘what happened to Mary?’
- ‘Well laddie, I’ll tell thee. As ye would have guessed, Mary was also a member of the Beggar’s Bennison and she informed the order about my recipe. After they had broken into the house and tied me up they tortured me. I held out as long as I could but Mary said she would castrate me if I didn’t tell them. So I told them where the recipe was. She was in the bedroom retrieving it when Nick turned up.’
- ‘You mean it actually exists?’
- ‘Of course it does, you doubting Sassenach. But what I didn’t tell them was that it comes with a curse. Anyone who tries to steal it from its rightful heir is visited by a ghost.’
- ‘That’s why Mary was shouting ‘keep the witch away,’ when she came round,’ interrupted DS Blakely. ‘And she claims the witch is still with her. That’s why she’s locked away in a padded cell.’
- ‘Do you miss her?’ asked Annie, ‘I know she was very fond of you.’
- ‘Well she obviously had good taste in men,’ he smirked. ‘But I think I’m doomed to be single. She was a lovely lass, but there’s too much heartache in falling in love, I’ll stick with Stella.’
I stood up, ‘I propose a toast, ‘Ken and Black Angus.’
The gang all stood up raised there glasses and shouted, ‘Ken and Black Angus,’
Then Angus shouted, ‘I propose a toast to Janet Cornfoot.’
Before anyone could respond all the lights started to flicker, a cold wind blew through us and a sound of ghostly laughter was heard.
We all laughed, raised our glasses and shouted, ‘Janet Cornfoot.’
The Beggars Bennison was formed in 1732; it consisted of the most influential men in 18th century Scotland. They met twice a year in secret in a ruined castle and had two things on their minds. One was treason, the other the measurement of their penises. It is said that they wore ceremonial robes and the Sovereign of the order wore a large wig made out of the pubic hair of Charles II’s mistresses. They had elaborate rituals, which included the measurement of their members on a specially commissioned pewter plate. When the treasonable politics and the measuring was over, they got stuck into supper, after which they would listen to a paper on some aspect of sex – as on St Andrews Day in 1733, when they listened to a lecture on menstruation in skate.
For all this time some local girl, paid sums ranging from five shillings to a pound, lolled stark naked in a chair, her face covered, with no member of the order allowed to touch her. The Order had their own Bible, an anthology, with illustrations, of the most prurient passages, decorated with the coats of arms of the Scottish nobility who belonged (from the Duke of Gordon to the Earl of Lauderdale). Even George IV belonged, and when one of the members made off with the wig, the King graciously presented them with a silver snuff-box containing the pubic hair of his current mistress, thus preserving, albeit in a minor mode, the Royal connection.