In the eighteen years that I have been a regular, I have seen some of the old farts disappear but one of them seemed to be going on forever. His name was and is Fred. He lived in a cottage at Bent's Green - about a mile away - and every single night for over forty years he made his way by bus to our pub. He always caught the 11.20pm bus home and he always sat in exactly the same place in the pub and he always drank three pints of Tetley's bitter - every night for forty years. By my calculations that's 43,800 pints of beer!
Fred is seventy eight years old now - a simple man without partner or family. By all accounts his cottage is very basic indeed - without central heating or proper cooking facilities. For many years he has lived the frugal bachelor life, his main pleasure being his nightly trips down to the pub. I have lost count of the number of times I said "Night Fred!" to him.
Fred used to look very healthy - a ruddy complexion and a shock of jet black hair - as fit as a fiddle - the kind of man who would never bother with doctors and dentists and hospitals and social workers and home helps. He was independent, a former steel worker, living the golden days of his retirement.
Then earlier this year Fred started to change. He looked unkempt - sometimes forgetting to shave. His bottom jaw sagged lower than before and his clothes started to look really tatty and dirty. Under his top shirt you could see a white vest that was turning grey. Then he started to smell.
It was very unpleasant. Not human excrement or stale urine but still bodily and pungent. It turned your stomach and even hardened regulars made sure they sat well away from Fred. The landlady was none too pleased and in the end had to tell Fred he was no longer welcome unless he cleaned himself up. It was shortly after this that Fred had a fall and went into hospital where they discovered ulcerous, leaking ruptures on his legs. Fred had just about reached the end of the line.
Rumour has it that he will never be back in our pub - he'll have to go into residential care. Another rumour says that he had another fall actually in hospital and smashed his hip up pretty bad. One or two customers have been to see him in hospital. I ought to go myself but I haven't got round to it. He's not someone I would call a friend - he's just the old guy who was in that pub night after night like the furniture. He reminds you that nothing lasts forever. Sometimes things, people, associations can seem as if they will always be there but it all goes in the end... just like Fred.