By Big M
Foodge and O’Hoo sat in the main bar trying to enjoy a couple of ‘Mugs of Chino’, as Merv liked to call a mug of tarry coffee with burnt, slightly frothy milk. They’d been hard at it since dawn, which, was around ten. It was now eleven. The Pigs Arms was abuzz with noise. Gez and the mysterious H were still helping Vivienne clean up the kitchen. Eschewing modern dishwashers (which didn’t work anyway) they’d fallen into a fascinating rhythm of washing, drying, stacking and sorting. O’Hoo, in the absence of his lover, was already onto his second, day-old sausage roll, smeared with sauce from the ever present sauce bottle. Merv refused to sell sauce in little plastic packs and continued to dodge fines from the Health Inspector by claiming that his sauce was for ‘personal use’, all twenty seven hundred litres of it.
The sound of Brkon and Dermot’s stertorous breathing resonated from the cellar. Last night they had started tasting the remnants of Trotter’s Ale, Bitter and Best to determine where the beers had gone wrong. They’d put in a sterling effort, generated copious tasting notes, and then slept it off.
The sound of footsteps on threadbare carpet broke through from above, not literally, of course, but this was quite on the cards. Last night, whilst sober, Brkon had called a mate in, Algy the mycologist, who had arrived early, and asked Granny to show him around. She was still enthusiastically showing him every aspect of the pub, highlighting nuances in her brewing technique. He’d taken bacterial and fungal swabs and plates from everywhere, which he labelled and placed into a backpack. Granny giggled like a young girl every time she was complimented on some little innovation of hers. She was quite a clever brewer!
Merv was dressed in his pink shorts and tank top. Rivulets of sweat trailed down his face and chest which he absent-mindedly wiped with a bar towel. He’d been for his ritual morning run to the boxing gym. This was ‘Merv time’, and he reckoned there was nothing like ‘punchin’ the livin’ shit outta sumpthin’ for relieving stress. He quickly gave the bar a wipe then focussed his attention on some new bottles of ouzo, which he placed on the shelves behind the bar, replacing the ‘Seven Seas Scotch’, which had been imported from Fiji at very little cost, back in 1949.
“What’s the ouzo in aid of?” O’Hoo thought himself rather clever in knowing the name of the imported liquor, then embarrassed himself by inhaling some pastry, which initiated a coughing fit.
“Greek stuff, for the Greek.” Mumbled Merv, with his back to the bar, showing off slightly more ars crack than was legal in these parts
“What Greek?” Foodge’s interest was piqued.
“The famous playwright, comin’ up from Melbourne to oversee one of his famous plays. ‘im and ‘is Missus will be stayin’ in the Bridal Suite.”
“But you don’t have a Bridal Suite.”
“He doesn’t know that”. Merv smiled to himself.
Granny and Algy appeared at the bar. “Lovely system you had here, Granny.” Granny blushed again. “It’s a great pity someone had to ruin it.” Said Algy, as he glared at Merv. “I’m sure the fungal swabs will confirm my suspicions” Merv had converted the attic into a play room for the twins by moving Granny’s lauter tun from the attic down to the basement, then lining the room with gyprock which he got from ‘some bloke’.
Merv poured another round of ‘chinos’ for the lads, and a double shot of ‘Seven Seas’ for Granny, who couldn’t drink beer, unless it was her own. They sat in silence until they were disturbed by the sound of a big Charlie, sans mufflers, followed by a loud bang from the front doors, followed by another bang, then the door swung open and the door frame was filled by an enormous shape. The shape took a couple of steps forward to reveal a young man, of enormous proportions. He looked a little bit like Merv, with shaven head, smaller eyes and ears, and a Pigs Arms T-shirt. A huge pair of leather saddlebags were slung over his shoulder, and a black, open-faced helmet was under his huge arm. “Uncle Merv, Granny, remember me!”
Granny rushed forward. “Little Wesley, your Mum rang to say you were coming. When do you start uni? Have you had breakfast? Sit yourself down. Here, I’ll get you a cappuccino. Have you met Foodge, O’Hoo and Algy? They’re helping with the brew.” Before he knew it Wesley was sat down at the bar with a coffee in hand. Granny had disappeared to cook up her trademark breakfast wedges, bacon and eggs.
“So, what are you doin’ at uni?” Foodge enquired, looking up from his coffee with a moustache of burnt milk.
I’m doing my nursing degree. Sick of working in the abattoir. The only other work at Tumbarumba is the new winery, put in an application to the uni, so, here I am, and that’s if Uncle Merv will put up with me?”
Merv looked concerned. “There’s always a bed here for me sister’s boy, that’s if we’ve still got a pub, eh, Algy?”
“You’ll still have a pub if you follow my recommendations. These swabs have only been taken to confirm my suspicions. The nascent beer that had been sitting in the lauter tun in the attic was being naturally inoculated with wild yeast that was resident in the attic timbers, in the same manner as a Belgian Lambic. Covering the timbers and removing the tun has prevented this. There is no commercial yeast that matches your naturally occurring yeast, so, what I’m about to do is isolate the yeasts, using culture media, as well as yeast genomic PCR, then generate a culture which Granny should be able to keep going for years to come. This may take some weeks but, all of Granny’s ales will be back.” Algy smiled at Merv, for the first time.
“’ow much will this all cost?” Merv still looked downcast.
“Thirty two swabs at eighty seven dollars each, plus two or three runs in the PCR machine at nine hundred and thirty a run…”
Merv’s face fell further.
… but, for Granny, I’ll do this for free.” Algy got up and left, eager to get into the lab.
Granny had re-appeared with a huge plate of wedges, eggs, bacon, and toast. She’d overheard Algy and Merv’s conversation. “This calls for a toast, let’s try some of that ouzo!”
Merv poured a round of ouzo in middy glasses (he had no idea about anything other than beer and scotch). “Here’s to Algy, and here’s to me favourite nephew, Wesley,”
“Yes, here’s to Algy, and here’s to Sister Wesley.” Foodge enthused as he downed the ouzo.
The room went quiet. O’Hoo looked at him, shaking his head ever so slightly. Granny put a restraining hand on Wesley’s chest. Wesley’s face was flushed, but he remained seated. “You’re quite the comedian, Mr Foodge, but, I hope you’re not implying that I’m some sort of purse carrying, Nancy boy, petticoat wearing, gay Mardi gras marching sheila, or you’ll find yourself coming off second best!”
Foodge went pale, clutched at his abdomen, steadied himself at the bar, then gasped out an apology. Wesley was already at his side. “You alright, mate?”
Foodge had tears streaming down his face. ”Ouzo’s meant to be sipped, not skulled. I’ll be alright when Trotter’s Best is back on tap.”
Merv shook his head, placed the bottle back on the highest shelf, where it would remain until its appointment with the visiting playwright.