“No – you try some.”
There is a billowing eruption of peer pressure. Alan finally cracks, and places the very tip of his little finger in the glob of chili sauce left on the lid of the bottle, before tentatively dabbing it on his tongue.
“AWAWAWWWWAAAAARAWWWW!!!” he screams, clutching his face. Odd looks traverse the bar.
Norfolk is full of well-to-do people here for the horse things. We always try to welcome visitors to the Village Pub nicely, as it is good to make people feel at home. The Well-Spoken Barman is struggling on his own tonight, trying to juggle the efficient pouring of things with tonic water with attempting to get us to try the specialist chili sauce that he has got off the Internet as revenge on a customer who criticised his Bloody Mary recipe.
“Thank you sir – on the bill for room six?” he asks politely.
“You try,” I ask Big A. For an enormous man, he is a big softie – the sort of man who would take his chicken to the vet.
“He won’t do it – this is the man who took his chicken to the vet,” scoffs John Twonil. “Go on – I’ll have a go.”
“Too right I won’t.”
“It’s only like having a really hot vindaloo – only a bit hotter.”
“But I only ever order a korma.”
John Twonil tries the chili sauce. He is too urbane to start screaming and swearing, but gives the impression that he may scream and swear understatedly a bit later on, perhaps via his Blackberry. His eyes buggle nevertheless, like in cartoons.
Two visitors sit with a black labrador in the corner. The man approaches us nervously.
“Excuse me,” he says. “Do you live here? We’re looking to visit the heritage railway that runs in…”
“Haveabitofthisgoongoontryit,” we insist, waving the bottle at him.
“I don’t think…” he begins, but the eyes of his wife and his dog are upon him.
“Fuck, fuck! Shit!” he cries, as I tell him useful information about the heritage railway. Following this, I have a go. It is hot, a heat that starts as a fierce spot on the tongue and, just as you are getting used to that, spreads round to every corner of the mouth and throat, clinging like napalm chewing gum. But I grew up in Essex, so I ask for some more.
“I am not trying it. I’m seriously not trying it,” says Big A.
More visitors. The Well-Spoken Barman is away changing a barrel, and there is a flurry of received pronunciation tuts at the three-minute delay. Mrs John Twonil gives barmaidship a go, filling two pint glasses, a wine glass and several drip trays.
Big A tries the chili sauce.
In addition to an interesting heritage railway, it is well-known that one of the traditional sights of Norfolk in Easter is a man with his face exploding. The visitors regard this with wary interest. He downs his cooking lager in two gulps and looks wildly around for more.
“I always find,” says Eddie, “that smoking a cigarette helps if you’ve eaten something hot.”
Big A shoots through the doors to light a cigarette. He is back two minutes later, features contorted in misery.
“My eyes! I’ve got it in my eye!”
He stomps round the bar in the pits of his distress. Heritage Railway Man is still coughing. Big A disappears off once more, this time for the toilets, the emergency cooking lager having worked its way through.
A well-dressed party enter, destined for the restaurant. They look at us, askance. I give them a nice smile, and have a bit more chili sauce, as I grew up in Essex.
Big A reappears at the door, staggering, crying, casting an enormous shadow across the room.
“THE END OF MY COCK’S ON FIRE!!!” he bellows through tears of distress.
“Table for four, sir?” asks the Well-Spoken Barman.