70. The Packet
The first pub I ever visited was the Duke of Wellington on the Hayes and across from the new Cardiff Central Library. Ms Keogh, my cherished companion and the reason I immigrated to Wales, wanted me to try pub food. We sat at a table, but no one came to serve us. Were we being insulted? Since Ms Keogh can be shy, I ventured to the bar to talk to the staff, and that was how I learned that the general practice is to order your food from the bar. I returned to our table and explained this tradition to Ms Keogh, complaining as to why she wouldn’t know this, since she is the Queen’s subject. She pointed out that she left Wales when she was twelve, long before she was old enough to patronize pubs.
Wednesdays, Quiz Night, finds me at my favorite pub, named for the speedy sailing ships, and then steamers, contracted to carry mail. “The Packet” reads the sign that swings above the entrance, but in the stained glass windows it reads “The Packet Hotel”. The Packet Hotel is the 18th oldest pub in Cardiff, built in 1864, a pub and hotel for sailors. It was a time soon following the building of the first docks that spared ships the second largest tides in the world, a variance of over 45 feet. Initially, the area was populated with homes for the middle-class merchants and captains. In time, more docks were constructed and Cardiff Bay became the cornucopia of coal being exported. Cardiff Bay developed into the area most diversified in all of the United Kingdom as ships brought peoples from 50 different nations who, like me, decided to stay. The docklands became a neighborhood of hard knocks and licentious behavior. But it’s not that now.
One afternoon at the bus stop at Loudon Square, an old Muslim man, who had lived his entire life in this one neighborhood, made small talk with me and Ms Keogh. He fondly named each of the many pubs he used to pass as a child strolling down Bute Street, two on every block.
I joined my friends at The Packet this last Wednesday, taking a seat in one of the white leather or leather-like tub chairs. White doesn’t feel appropriate in a place where spills are prevalent. Still, I love this pub with its columns that look like masts, old photographs of the locality, ship models and ship paintings, and other nautical miscellany. It would be the perfect setting for a small band of folksingers to come once a week and perform sea shanties, but then I’m not the publican. The pub belongs to the delightful Caroline.
This week the quiz had been canceled, so the group of us just talked over drinks. The pub no longer serves food, just as the rooms upstairs no longer serves guests. Caroline came over to greet and chat with us a bit.
Someone noticed and inquired about the black and blue mark on the side of Caroline’s left arm. Without losing the smile on her face, she nonchalantly told us the pub had been robbed. It had only been a few days before, so how was it none of us knew about this? Why wasn’t she or another bursting to disperse the story? It took little prodding to get Caroline started with sharing her tale. It wasn’t as if she had been sparing us, intending to keep it a secret, it just never occurred to her to volunteer it. Had my teammates not noticed the bruise, we might never have heard the tale.
Some wicked person with nefarious intent had snuck into the pub and hid in a backroom. They would later find him where he had been hiding by reviewing the surveillance videos. The robber waited until almost closing, had worked his way up the back stairs behind the bar into the private quarters of the former hotel where Caroline and her husband, Bruno, now lived. He caught Bruno counting money and pushed a pair of scissors against his neck. Bruno offered no resistance. He stepped back, his hands raised, and he told the robber just to take it. The robber expressed annoyance that there wasn’t very much. Bruno apologized saying that was all there is.
The robber gathered all the money and was leaving, when he noticed a bag of change on the floor. He put his scissors in his pocket and stooped to pick up the bag with both hands. Bruno saw his opportunity. He took up a chair and brought it back down on the robber, breaking the chair. The alarming noise brought the attention of others. As the robber came tumbling down the staircase, Caroline, Ellis the bartender, and a customer came rushing into the narrow stairwell to assist.
At the bottom of the staircase was a door opening into a small space and then a second door that would have led to the street, but Caroline had the presence of mind during the melee to shove the bolt on the outside door trapping the robber in. The robber defended himself with his scissors. Caroline twisted the scissors from his hand and threw it a distance. They piled atop the robber, pinning him to the floor, where he begged for mercy and exclaimed he had had a hard life – as if having suffered is an excuse to disseminate suffering to guiltless people. But no one took the time to enter into a disputation concerning ethics and deferred that responsibility to the constabulary, who arrived soon thereafter.
I haven’t lived in Cardiff long. The pub, like the church, is also where people can come together to bond. I have found my newest friends in the sanctuary of The Packet and would, if I could, place a curse upon anyone who tries to do it injury.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.