by Sarah Hilary
It only took a week from the day they moved in for Rosemary and Basil Woodruff to get nicknamed The Gastro Pods.
Vera at number twelve declared it, ‘Invasion of the ruddy body-snatchers,’ and everyone glowered when the pub door got painted with Farrow and Ball, a colour called Arsenic. ‘I’ll give them bloody arsenic,’ said Jacob Lovage.
Jacob was the village window-cleaner. Never mind he was knocking ninety and drunk from eight in the morning to nigh on midnight. ‘I’ve had this job since I was a nipper.’ It was the nips that bothered the Woodruffs. ‘Health and safety,’ said Basil, eyeing Jacob’s ladder with disquiet.
It was bad enough when they knocked through the nook. ‘Open plan!’ scoffed Primrose Sorrel. ‘Bother that! I want my quiet corner back.’ When they painted the bar in shades of heliotrope, the village elders had all sorts of a fit.
The final straw was when Basil started messing with the menu. ‘Fennel in the shepherd’s pie? Not on your nelly!’ Things’d been better in the old days, when Cicely was in the kitchen and you knew what was what even if you couldn’t taste it because of the pipe smoke.
Fact was, the Bull’s was the only pub in Chervil-on-the-Woad. Where else could they convene to thrash out issues like the closure of the post office or the banning of traffic in the high street?
Day eight of the invasion, Jacob Lovage scaled a barstool, spindly-legged steel affair. ‘Must’ve cost a mint,’ he reckoned of the refit. ‘Hurts my arse,’ he complained of the stool.
The ladies started arriving. ‘Evening, Primrose.’
‘What’s on the menu today then?’
‘Chicory and dill soup, would you credit it.’
They wouldn’t have minded so much if the Woodruffs were buying from the villagers. ‘I’ve a back garden stuffed to the gennels with flax,’ moaned Myrtle Feverfew. ‘You and me both,’ said her sister, Marigold.
They fell silent when Rosemary came through from the kitchen in a Cath Kidston apron, carrying a casserole dish wreathed with steam. ‘Beef carpaccio with wild rocket and parmesan dumplings!’
‘I’ll give her rocket,’ Jacob muttered, ‘to the bloomin’ moon.’
‘Where’s the darts board?’ Peter Marsh enquired.
‘My husband’ll explain,’ said Rosemary.
Basil emerged from the kitchen with a lavender chef’s bandana around his head. Peter jerked a thumb at the newly-violet wall. ‘Darts board?’
‘Ah,’ said Basil sagely, ‘demographics said the way to go was mahjong.’
‘Mahjong. The tiles are in here,’ he produced a calico bag with a drawstring neck. ‘You’ve got your dragons and flowers, seasons and winds –’
‘That’ll be the chicory.’ Jacob barked a laugh.
‘You’re pulling my leg,’ said Peter. ‘No darts board? It’s called the Bull’s Eye, for god’s sake.’
‘Oh we’re changing that!’ Basil rattled the bag. ‘As of Monday, we’re The Cowslip.’
Jacob spat his pint and fell off the barstool, getting a nasty bruise on the way down.
‘Hold still,’ soothed Rosemary, ‘I’ll fetch the arnica.’