G K Chesterton is a bit of a puzzle to many readers these days, but in his pomp in the first half of the last century he was a literary polymath. His output included novels, short stories, books on literature, theology and biography, to name but a few. He’s mainly known now for the Father Brown detective short stories, about a simple Norfolk country priest who has a knack for solving crimes, and to my mind this is rather a shame because he wrote some great stuff.
The Flying Inn was written in 1914 and is probably one of his lesser known works, though it does contain one of my favourite poems. A taster:
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
The story is of an aesthetic politician who manages to get through parliament a bill outlawing pubs because of his conviction that Islam was the purest form of thought with its ban on alcohol. Through a loophole in the law a publican named Pump and his Irish naval friend take the pub sign for The Old Ship, along with a barrel of rum and a large round cheese and open up wherever they place the sign. Hence the name, the flying Inn.
It’s a somewhat bizarre tale that celebrates Englishness, drink and poetry and certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you know Chesterton then you might well enjoy this.