The Bird In Hand & The Green Dragon

I don’t know why dragons are green, although the fact that they’re named green suggests that there must be other colours too, such as the red one and the black dragon that are supposed to have had a fight on the border of Essex and Suffolk, long ago. Assuming there are dragons.

Whether or not there are or were, a policeman used to ask my grandmother for a green dragon, back when she used to run a pub in rural Somerset. The Bird in Hand was in Nailsea, on the edge of the moors and when she was a girl, before the moors were drained, it was about as remote in winter when the sea came in as it had been in King Arthur’s time, or when Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury. Every few months a policeman on a motorcycle used to turn up, usually when the pub was closed and this was a time when pubs shut in the afternoon and at eleven o’clock at night, on the dot, if you didn’t want to lose your licence to sell alcohol.

A Mr Polly world, where the pub was central to the community, or at least the section of the community that had two pints a night every day on their way back from work, the men who worked with their hands in the village, the kind who got thirsty of a night. There were other reasons to drink in pubs in those days too, other than just liking beer. Beer at least made sure you wouldn’t be poisoned by the water you drank out of the pump, and a lot of houses big and small still had pumped water then. It also gave you an excuse to be out of the house, at a time when contraception was a joke or a dirty secret. My grandmother was one of eight children. She had nine. Maybe she should have gone out a bit more herself.

She never knew what it was the motorcycle policeman wanted. He visited for years. I have an idea but it seems unlikely. There never was a beer called Green Dragon. The wood floored beer smelling long bar of the Bird In Hand, where my grandmother’s favourite customer service toolkit included a bull’s penis stuffed with lead shot, applied behind the ear to gobby customers when they turned away, didn’t lend itself easily to anyone’s idea of a cocktail bar, either.

But absinthe …. maybe that’s what the policeman was after. It was illegal. I remember when it stopped being illegal, probably, and an advertising agency party where the bottle was considered almost as illicit as the coke someone lined up on the cheeseboard. Absinthe that Toulouse Luatrec liked, a little taste of la vie en rose wafted in to deepest Somerset. It hardly seems more likely, somehow, that anyone would go looking for it in Nailsea, never notably a hotbed of artistic bohemian endeavour.

The pub shut long ago. The forge was demolished and my grandmother dead more than twenty years back, so I’ll never know what she thought the policeman wanted. I have my own idea exactly what it was.

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