The Ups and Downs of Peter Bartlett
It was on one of our family ventures out for Saturday lunch at our favourite country inn, The Three Salmon, that I first set eyes on Peter Bartlett. He was the publican landlord of an attractive coaching house of old, so-called because of its proximity to the confluence of three powerful and rather large fast-flowing rivers,
An impressive and good-looking man, blond and tall, although not quite six foot I reckoned, Peter’s presence completely dominated the pub, especially the area behind the bar. He was laughing and joking – and smoking – with his cronies, regulars who came to the place as much for his jovial banter as for the excellent food and not-too-cheap drink.
As an observant eighteen-year-old, sipping sherry from a schooner at the bar, the first thing I noticed about him was how his vital blue twinkling eyes would disappear into the crinkles and creases of his near-forty-year-old face and how his mouth opened wide to reveal off-white teeth as he threw back his head in raucous laughter at some witticism or other from his little clique. Since Ronnie, one of this in-crowd, happened to be a close friend of ours we were soon included with the elite chosen few who frequented the establishment.
It was not a romantic attraction, nor ever would be, but more the sort of fascination that a snake behind a glass cage might hold to an interested reptile-lover. Time after time I watched as this jovial man would good-heartedly pull a pint or offer his cigarette packet to a well-known pal, yet surprisingly would turn away potential customers simply for wearing jeans which were definitely, in his opinion, not the sort of clothing one would wear to such a prestigious public house as the ‘Salmon’. And woe betide anyone who dared to try to enter the sacred hallows adorned in motor cycle gear! It seemed he could well afford their loss.
He was both sides of the coin: Mr Popular and the-No-Nonsense-Landlord.
My curiosity continued with Peter when, in need of some interim cash during a university break, I helped out in the kitchen alongside Peter’s pretty long-suffering wife, Maria, who daily slaved long and hard to provide delicious hot or cold sustenance, while her sociable husband played mine host out front. Whilst Maria was creating her meat and potato pie with mushy peas and onion rings to die for, succulent melt-in-the-mouth apple pie and custard, blissfully thin steak and fried onion sandwich, all of which could never taste as heavenly as when she had cooked them – straight from Mount Olympus it seemed, Peter would remain the entertainer – lord of all he surveyed. His hands remained as soft and clean as the day he was born…
Nevertheless, when Peter and Maria decided to leave the pub to pursue their career, it was a sad day: friends and regulars were bereft; the place never would return to those heady days of yore. Peter and Maria’s departure left an immense gap in the lives of the customers as, one by one, we drifted away…
Years later, twenty or more, my husband and I met up again with Peter. He was single now, having extra-maritally ‘blotted his copy-book’ several years before and as a consequence having been kicked out of house and home by the lovely Maria, who by now had suffered long enough. Our friendship was rekindled, albeit long-distance since he had purchased a house in Spain and intended moving out there.
We visited him on a couple of occasions at his beautiful Spanish villa which, amongst other attractive features, sported a sparkling azure pool, cool and inviting. On the final occasion we were pleased to see that Peter had found himself a new lady friend: Portuguese, stunning. We were happy for him. She was a superb cook and was only too ready to show off her culinary skills by preparing for us a wonderful fish supper, cooked to perfection.
“This is lovely, Jacinta! Delicious.” I told her between mouthfuls. Although communication between Portuguese Jacinta and English Peter appeared to be hugely difficult, she and I had managed to reach a mutual linguistic understanding with our comparable language abilities. “Muchísimas gracias.”
“Where did you two meet then, Pete?” I asked thoughtfully, placing my knife and fork neatly together to show appreciation of the meal.
“At the club,” Peter replied, giving Jacinta a loving pat.
“Oh, that was good luck.” I said. Very convenient, I thought, since Peter’s villa was built right on the edges of his golf course. But it was not until we returned home to England that we learned from another mutual friend that the club was definitely not the sort of club to which one goes to play golf.
It didn’t take long for us to realise that, while she had appeared to be the prefect hostess, she was actually in the process of taking Peter for every penny he had and he was too crazed to see it.
After five years of keeping Jacinta, in the manner to which she had become accustomed – and her family in the manner to which they had never before been accustomed – Peter was a broken man. He ran out of money and was forced to sell his gorgeous villa to buy a flat, in which they both continued to live. After a while, Jacinta began to take the odd trip up to Barcelona to see ‘the girls’ and it was not until the third occasion that Peter finally saw sense. He had realised long ago that he had made a mistake with Jacinta and had paid a very high price – having lost everything, including his self-respect. With no other choice, he grabbed the next opportunity that presented itself to free himself from the burden of her, once and for all.
As soon as Jacinta had left the flat, Peter moved out his belongings lock stock and barrel into another vacant flat – and lay low. When she eventually returned to the empty flat, her angry shrieks could be heard reverberating throughout the building. But although Peter felt liberated, he could not help but wonder if he had done the right thing. Much later, however, despite the antagonism and the thousand-euro-fine he had been ordered to pay for ‘crimes against women’, he realised he had.
Although time and folly have ravaged their inevitable changes on this once handsome and roguish man, Peter continues to be easily amused, to throw back his head in huge enjoyment, his face splitting frequently into its cavernous guffaw and his pale-blue eyes still vanishing into its creases. His sense of humour pervades and his outlook on life is much more laissez-faire.
Sadly, however, even in the face of massive support from his friends, the bottle and cigarettes are now his closest allies. But his oldest and dearest will continue to support the shell of the man he once was, to the very end.
* Likeness to the name of any living person coincidental and unintentional