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U3A Writing: Down At The Fish

The regulars at The Fish were disappointed when their "local'' was bought by a TV celebrity look-alike. But was he a look-alike, or could he be...?

Derek McQueen tells a fishy tale.

I was really upset when I found out that Fred was leaving The Fish. It ruined a beautiful summer afternoon. Fred Simmons was The Fish as far as I was concerned. Been there 15 years. He’d not told me himself either. That really hurt.

It was Arthur Bolton, of all people, down at the bowling club. Comes out with it just as Terry and me had the game sewn up.

“That’s a shocker about Fred leaving. Did you know?” he said, a sarcastic grin on his fat, red face.

We were 19 to 8 up at the time and the light was beginning to go.

Another bit of his bloody gamesmanship, I thought. It would come from Arthur Bolton. Never been able to stand him. Bad enough blowing his stinking pipe smoke all over us. Thinks he’s God’s gift to bowls.

“Fred at The Fish? Leaving?” I said. “He can’t be. He’s just had all new carpet put down in the snug.
‘I’d like you guys help me choose one,’ he said. That’s not someone thinking of leaving.”

“Let’s get this game over with - my bloody necks burning in this heat,” Bolton said. “If you don’t believe he’s going, you’d best get up there and see for yourself. Your jack I believe.”

I was thrown and Bolton knew it. My jack went scuttling over the green into the far gutter.

We usually had a pint in the club bar. Today I couldn’t get out fast enough, heat or no heat.

“I’ve heard its some television guy that’s bought it. Made Fred an offer he couldn’t refuse,” Bolton called out, as the two of us headed for the car park. Amazing you lost after being 19 to 8 up.”

*

I’d only been in the house ten minutes when the phone rang. It was Fred Simmons.

“It’s Fred at‘The Fish, Alan. Sorry to ring at this time. You’ll be shocked I know, but I think I’m leaving the pub. The guy that wants to buy it is one of these TV personality look-alikes. He’s made a killing fronting corporate events, dinners and such-like and I can’t refuse his offer Alan. It’s ridiculous but I’ll be set for life if I accept.”

“Well, I must admit, I have heard a rumour Fred,” I said. “Adam Bolton blurted it out at the match.”

“I’m ringing round to ask the snug regulars to come and meet him up here tonight,” Fred said. “It’s short notice, but I’d be grateful if you’d come up Alan. Drinks on me all night, by the way. Would you do me a favour and pass the invite on to Terry for me?”

*

There were fifteen of us in The Fish snug, all with free pints. It had the makings of a good night. I still didn’t believe Fred would go, Brilliant offer or not.

“He’s coming at half past eight,” Fred said. “You’ve just time for another before he gets here.”

A BMW soft-top pulled into the car park and before you could say ‘have another crisp,’ he was at the bar. We were all staggered. It was Jeremy Bowen. There was absolutely no doubt about it. Apart from his fancy car, he was straight from Iraq by the look of him. He turned to us smiling broadly, the familiar receding grey hair and moustache, 47, but looking 55, if he was a day. There was even the leather eye patch he had on BBC News last month.

It was a bit overwhelming to find Jeremy Bowen in The Fish, to tell you the truth, particularly in the snug.

Then he spoke. There was no doubt about who it was now. We’d heard him on the telly hundreds of times.

“Give us a large G & T Fred please!” the new man said.

He rolled his eyes, indicating he desperately needed a stiff drink.

“Thanks for coming lads,” he said. “My name’s Raymond. Raymond Wilkinson. I expect you’ve heard, I’m really keen to buy this place from Fred here.”

He raised his glass in a kind of salute of thanks that we were there to meet him.

“Before any of you say anything, I know what’s coming. No! I’m not Jeremy Bowen. I’m not that brave.”

His smile became a chuckle at his own put down.

“I know how popular Fred is and what he’s done for The Fish. That’s why I thought I’d join you for a drink tonight and maybe we could get to know each other. I’ve searched high and low for a quality pub like this and I promise I’ll be keeping things as they are. I’m just going to have a bite to eat with Fred and then I’ll be back. I’m told the fish is good, eh,” the man who said he was Raymond, said.

*

“Raymond Wilkinson my hairy backside,” Terry said, when they’d gone.

I had to agree, the likeness was just too remarkable.

Ten to five of us, said it was definitely Jeremy, but if it was Bowen, what on earth was he doing here, for Gods sake?

Everybody thought the celebrity look-alike story was complete tosh.

*

The sale went through and we were all, to a man, sorry to lose, Fred. He had been ‘one of us’ for so long.

It only lasted two months though and Raymond, or Jeremy, left as quickly and as quietly as he had arrived in June.

Stories circulated that it was in fact Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen had been receiving threats and MI5 had sent him to ground.

Ironically, we, as taxpayers, had bought our own pub.

They reckoned MI5 would have paid Fred whatever he asked. It wasn’t their money anyway and The Fish was the perfect cover.

We’ve heard Fred’s buying The Fish back and stands to make £125,000. That’s what Terry and me have heard anyway.

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