Worshipping at the shrine of Merle

They came from far and wide to worship at her shrine. Every day from Monday to noon on Saturday it was crowded. Merle ran the front bar at Scott’s Hotel as her very own royal domain.

A woman of imposing presence but indeterminate age, she ruled her empire like a German empress. Even the most hardened drinkers lifted their hats and greeted her politely when ordering their beer.

Merle was always suitably attired in accordance with her status. A woman of “ample proportions” she dressed in bright colours and wore a profusion of jewellery on hands, neck and ears. Her makeup could best be described as “noticeable” and she was a pioneer of false- eyelashes.

She tolerated no unseemly or loutish behavior and indeed, none dared to try. When she called “Last drinks! Time gentlemen please” everyone listened and obeyed.

There was never any need for Clarrie, her partner and an ex-jockey who sipped his glass of stout in a corner, to exert his authority.

Do you remember hotels back in the day, when women were not allowed to drink in the public bar but were restricted to the lounge bar? When there was no long line of craft beers on tap? When opening hours were restricted and mostly well policed.

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