Two days before Christmas. 1994. Still no present for my sister.
The Sussex Brewery in Emsworth is one of those pubs that lays sawdust on the floor and keeps a fire going throughout the whole year as if burning the evidence of some terrible arboreal crime. The regulars, easy going refugees from the outside world, who drift in and out like the daily tides, look upon life with the sort of unhurried cosy benevolence found within the hardy men who work on the land and sea.
I was drinking with a farrier called Steve whose expertise with the hoof was matched only by his phenomenal capacity for ale. Never a man to let work get in the way of the far more serious pursuit of drinking he’d start work before sun up in order to get in the pub by lunch. The unusual upshot of this was that most of his clients had never seen him work and some had never even met him, finding their horses mystically and perfectly shod in time for their early morning ride. Around the time we’d shared the first gallon, in walked Alan Loader the fisherman. “Anyone want to buy some crab?” he shouted.
I peered into the writhing bucket of monstrous crustaceans and made the sort of decision that is only made in a pub; that I’d come eye to stalky eye with the obvious choice for my sister’s Christmas present. Of course! What do 26 year old girls want? A huge live five pound crab! I paid Alan, borrowed a cardboard box from Malcolm the landlord, put the crab in and placed it next to my barstool while Steve and I got on with the vital job we’d awarded ourselves, of solving enormously complex global problems. An hour later my memory was jogged by the arrival of a notoriously vicious Jack Russell known aptly as “Biter” and his tipsy owner Terry, a length of bind-a-twine their umbilical link. On attempting to show him my new acquisition I looked down to see a cardboard box, empty on its side. A panicked and chaotic search posse was quickly thrown together and, after much knocking into furniture, barking and at least one spilled pint we found the crab under a deep fitted corner seat. We tried all the tools at hand to dislodge him to no avail. A bar stool was too big, legs of chairs were too short and bare hands were out of the question as the pincers that he had held up in a boxer’s defence looked as if they’d snip through a bike lock.
Then Terry decided to send in Biter. Biter, unafraid of ominously armed unknown sea creatures scrabbled under, let out a loud yelp and as a clear act of annoyance turned around and bit his owner. They both left to the other side of the pub so quickly it was unclear as to whose blood was whose. A secondary crowd layer materialised and suggestions came flooding in from newly qualified crab-prising experts. Ropes covered in super-glue, starve him out, smoke, an air rifle and a newly baited lobster pot were some of them. Steve wanted to do something with a horseshoe. The suggestion to “find its natural predator” was countered by the fact that Biter was everything’s natural predator and therefore we’d already tried it. A tweed clad stranger put in the most compelling argument. In order to pacify lobsters and crabs before cooking them one puts them in the freezer. If you can’t bring the crab to the freezer, bring the freezer to the crab.
“Malcolm? Can we borrow your dry ice fire extinguisher?”
The noise of a dry ice fire extinguisher going off in confined spaces is similar to standing next to a jet afterburner. The young barman who’d agreed, with the cloudless enthusiasm of youth, to cover the crab in dry ice hadn’t reckoned on the sheer power of the blast. Most of the dry ice shot round the corner straight back at him burning his bare arms and neck in icy spots. Slushy lumps of ice went pink soaking up the blood on the floor. The frost covered crab, meanwhile, had been blown out into the middle of the pub. Exposed but dazed he waved his claws about like a horribly disfigured conductor.
Biter bit Terry again, this time in sheer exuberance, someone managed to put the cardboard box on top of the crab and we quickly wound packing tape around it. Another round was bought and we soon relaxed into conversations based mainly about regretting having a video camera on us, sympathising with various injuries and crab serving suggestions.
Christmas morning 1994.“There’s something moving inside my present from Guy! Has he got me a puppy?”