Tales from the Cut

The Trap

By Anthony Jones

When I was a schoolboy at Marling, across from the lower corner of the playing fields by the lock, stood the Victoria pub.  During lunch break, having hidden school blazers and ties in the shrubbery, some of us would scramble across the rotting lock gates to buy cider and lemonade there.

 

The pub was kept by an ancient lady, Mrs Clark, and had few customers, mainly employees from the gas works and a handful of old canal workers and former boatmen.  On sunny days the old men would sit on the bench by the door with their pints, generally in long companionable silences, but sometimes talking of past times on the cut.  Having heard the pub referred to as The Trap I one day asked them why it was so called.  The question set the old gentlemen grinning and nudging each other.

 

‘Ah well, boy,’ said one, ‘you see, way back afore you were born and the cut was busy, Annie there (jerking his thumb to the pub door) was a fine handsome wench.  All the young fellers off the boats, and a fair few from the gas-house, would be round her like wasps round a jam pot!’

 

‘Oh aye!’ said another, ‘There’d be a gang up at the wharf waiting for coal, and when the gaffer sent someone down to see where the boat had got to, it’s be sitting in the lock, half a dozen more waiting around while you and the rest of ‘em was a-drinking and mooning over her!  Yes, the old Vic was a trap alright, and wasn’t she lovely bait?’

 

The sharp voice of Mrs Clark broke in.  ‘What’s this, you wicked old devils?  Telling such tales to the lad!  What will he think?’

 

Chuckles were stifled; the old men ducked their heads and shuffled their feet sheepishly.

 

‘And you young man, isn’t that the bell I heard?  You’d better be getting back to school quick!’

 

For all her brusque tone, there was a faint suspicion of a twinkle in her eyes.  Looking at her and the old men, their eyes bright with memories, I had a glimpse of the pretty publican’s daughter and the smart young boatmen of yesteryear she brought to The Trap.

 

Anthony Jones

Trow: No 60 Spring 1968

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