"What can I do for you good people?" Old Splicer had taken a break from serving and walked over. The new barmaid, not the prettiest but the most curvaceous, was passing, collecting empty glasses and gave a squeal as the old man's lecherous fingers found her bottom. Any other employer would have faced a charge of sexual harassment but the plump, red - faced old man with sidewhiskers more like beef ribs than lamb chops seemed to get away with such things.
"Have you ever had a pet while you have been here?" Zoggs asked.
"Pet. Oh yes. I tried cats and dogs. First time they put their nose in the bar here they'd set to howling, their fur would stand up and they'd take off."
"Do you think they sensed a presence," asked The Infanta.
"Sensed my toe up their arse. Can't be doing with animals in the bar. Somebody might trip over 'em."
"Splicer, have you seen somebody in here wearing an Opera cloak, a Top Hat and a green carnation in his buttonhole." I asked.
Splicer gave a dirty laugh. "Been annoying you has he?"
"No, but - well, we've all sort of almost see him but not quite."
"Don't you take no notice of him good people. He'll not do you no harm."
"We're not bothered about him, but who is he? I don't wish to drink with a zombie," the Bagman said.
"I've never had chance to speak to him, it's always busy when he comes in, but I have the impression he's some sort of writer or critic."
"To criticise requires no talent, that is why there are so many critics." the mystery voice said.
"I been meaning to have a word with you sir - where's he gone. Where did he go?" Splicer looked around, as confused as the rest of us. "You know, I never seen the bugger with a drink in his hand, not once." He returned to the bar vowing to pin down the stranger before the night was over.
"So that's Oscar Wilde. I reckon he must have done a lot of drinking and carousing in here and his body energy emissions permeated the fabric of the place." Zoggs was bursting to show he had a scientific answer for the phenomenon.
"Ghosts and Zombies are totally different." Marley explained to Bagman, " ghosts can be quite cultured whilst even the most sophisticated zombies cannot desist from decomposing in polite company."
"Of course when I played Lady Bracknell at the Walsall Hippodrome...."
"The premises are unusually lively tonight." the voice said.
I looked to my left and though I could feel the Infanta's shoulder pressed against mine Mr. Wilde was sitting between us.
"There is a football match on television, all the other bars are showing it. This is the only place left in the area that does not have a television set, electronic games or piped music," I answered.
"And what is Television?"
I explained as briefly as possible to a man who had died in 1901. He had a little problem getting his head round the concept of talking pictures.
"The twin beauties of pictures are that they neither age nor talk. I believe those two things to be linked. Nothing ages one quite so much as dull conversation."
"But television is not just talking pictures. It is images of real people. Actors, comedians, singers. We can watch them from around the world." Dwyfor was trying to be helpful.
"Ah, a box for mummers. It has some worthwhile purpose then. And this football match. A gang of uneducated artisans chasing a ball round a muddy field? The insensate in pursuit of the inanimate."
"It's an international match. England are playing Holland."
"Really? There is something admirable about the Dutch; I have never known quite what but there is sure to be something."
Ghostland had not caught up with political correctness then.
"Do you think your notoriety would make you a media celebrity in modern times Mr. Wilde?" the Bagman asked, proving he could see the ghost too.
"Unfortunately I cannot answer as time does not trouble the place where I exist. No sane person should ever contemplate trading an hour's notoriety for a lifetime of respectability."
Some football fans passed the window "Ing - ur - land, Ing - ur - land," they chanted and the ghost asked what was happening but being Irish and from the past could not understand the nationalistic fervour the England team aroused in supporters.
"To be Irish is a state of mind," he commented, "to be English a state of deprivation but I see black men and a Parsee wearing the team equipage. Why is that?"
"We have a multicultural society now," the Infanta explained.
"Multiculturalism? What a ludicrous concept. The vast majority of people struggle to cope with one culture."
Since joining our conversation Oscar was providing all the best lines and winning our game of intellectual keepie - uppie (that was what the game was called, in the streets where I grew up at least.) I suppose we were a bit overawed. Even so we were parrying the epigrams and maintaining the pace of our talk when a sudden hush fell on the room. Two burly young men had carried in a wide screen television and were setting it up on a stand so it could be seen from anywhere in the bar.
"Sorry friends, brewery orders, old place has got to move with the times." Splicer answered the protests.
"...get rid of it...."
"...come here to get away from tele..."
"...selling out for the corporate gold...."
"...will kill the place you see..."
Everybody spoke at once until Splicer held up his hands. " Please everybody, Gennelmen, PUH-LEESE," the room fell silent, "I been thinking for a while its time for me to retire, had over to new blood..."
"Nooo Splice" somebody shouted and a chorus of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow struck up."
The old man held up his hands for silence again. "I been in this pub near half a century, its time I had a break. Now unfortunately the deeds insist that on selling it I must offer the Brewery first refusal at market price. And, knowing a good thing they did not refuse. Much as I would have liked to see the old whatsit - quo carry on, my hands are tied." Splicer shrugged.
"We'll throw the buggers out, we'll occupy the premises, stage a sit - in," someone called.
A hoot of support for the speaker went up and the crowd began to advance on the Brewery men, aiming to throw the television out into the street. At that point another six hardcases who had sat unobtrusively in a corner all stood in unison and one, reaching into a sports bag passed out baseball bats.
"Now ladies and gentlemen" said the leading hardcase. "No need for unpleasantness. We know you all love this place but everything must change. Adapt to change, embrace it, learn to love the new. This is the future. We live in a global village. The brewery has many plans, a Tex - Mex restaurant, a dance area with guest DJs three nights a week, an internet cafe in the lounge bar. You will not need to make hidle conversation no more, you will be entertained." SLAP The man slapped the solid wood of his bat against the palm of his hand to emphasise the implicit threat. "As of yesterday this pub became the property of the brewery. Mr Splicer hands over to a new manager next week." SLAP, SLAP.
The tension evaporated as the lovers of the Gilded Lily realised that resistance was futile.
"That's it then, no more conversation, no more juggling with ideas," Dwyfor complained."
"Electronic games, techno music, Chilli. I expect they'll be having Karaoke nights too. We'll have nowhere to go, nowhere to meet and talk." Marley said, the dejection in his voice summing up how we all felt. Then the other voice sounded.
"On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind, it becomes a pleasure."
And the ghost of Oscar Wilde walked through the table and me and standing proudly in the centre of the room, watched by everybody, pointed his silver -topped walking cane and with an unknown energy lifted the television from its stand and hurled it against the wall.
"To kill an idea is a greater a sin than to kill a human being. Ideas are what raise us above the animals, imagination links us to the divine. Kill ideas and imagination and you commit genocide against the GODS!"
"I'm sorry mate, I wouldn't know anything about hideas, I just follow hinstructions. Now you haven't left me no choice." The lead hardcase nodded to his men who advanced on the ghost, flailing their baseball bats at nothing. Bottles began to explode on the shelves behind the bar, beer pipes were torn from the taps and the pressurised contents of barrels surged up from the cellar to shower the panicking mass of people. The hardcases were giving each other a good working over as the apparition shifted constantly.
Oscar had grown. His Top Hat now disappeared through the ceiling as he directed the exploding bottles, shattering glasses and snaking beer pipes in an alcoholic version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
The lead hardcase, face bloodied by many blows and an arm hanging broken at his side, pulled himself upright. "I don't know who you are mate and these special effects are better than anything I've seen on TV, but it will do no good. The Brewery is part of a global corporation and they will make things happen their way. In a way you done us a favour. Now the place is messed up nobody can object when we tear the guts out of it and rebuild.
"My last refuge from witless death, from the endless prattling of other worldly bureaucrats endlessly recording and collating our sins and misdemeanours, the one remaining place where minds were free to wander through a universe of thought, a Galaxy of ideas, without the enslaving influence of the money - grubbers, stock jobbers, Philistines, Nincompoops and small businessmen. Did you not realise what treasure you had, not understand that erudition has more worth than gold. Do you not know that thoughts are precious lode, witticisms gemstones, I was surrounded here by diamonds of repartee, satire and invective were rubies and emeralds, crystals of hyperbole and litotes sparkled like sapphires and opals. Puns and wordplay were as topaz, amethyst, chalcedony and amber. This was my last home, my refuge from universal mediocrity and now, small minded conformists have taken it from me. Must variety be banished in the interests of the balance sheet, and all things be the same, must each life fit a template?
With a thrust of his cane Oscar blew out the wall separating the bar from the washrooms. Somehow the law of gravity went into reverse and raw sewage fountained out of the toilets. Taps exploded and brown slime gushed out.
"Bit theatrical now," Zoggs said.
"He's been watching Hollywood horror pix. The exploding toilets were a bit over the top though." Dwyfor agreed.
The Infanta thought Oscar had true style as she tried to shelter all of us with her elegant but ineffectual umbrella. "Darlings, let's not forget Oscar invented over - the - top."
"What are you going to tell the insurance men Splice?" Marley asked.
"Not my problem, signed a contract yesterday, banked the cheque this morning."
"Did you organise this then? Get a special effects crew in, as a sort of revenge on the Brewery?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing."
People crowded for the door trying to escape the showering sewage, the stench and the chaos. We sat tight, fairly sheltered in our alcove. Splicer had taken refuge under our table with his two barmaids and managed to keep a hand on each one's breasts throughout.
Then it was over. Oscar, now so big his head was touching the ceiling and his feet somewhere under the floor in the cellar lifted his cane one last time.
"The demons Smallminded and Unimaginative will win the day if you do not fight them. I can do no more. The spirit of Oscar Wilde is banished from this place and will not return. Goodbye." And with a blinding flash of light he was gone.
I stood up, wiped a speck of something from my cheek and decided I would rather not look at it.
"We'll not see anything like that again for a while," the Zoggs said.
He and I started for the door and the others rose to follow. As I made my way through the mess something caught my eye and I bent to pick up a crushed, dirty Green Carnation.