A universe of its own making…
and a lifetime of pub-going
The pub is where we go to meet people, to watch people, to be in the middle of the ebb and flow of people, to listen to people, to talk with friends, staff members and strangers, to sit quietly and mull over life’s charms as well as its predilection to turn predictions upside down, to laugh and cheer or softly discuss the way the world can take a turn for the better (and often the worse) when you least expect it. The pub is where we stand outside and take in the sun as it crosses the heavens on a beneficent summer’s day, glints of silver reflecting on the gunmetal grey of the canal waters just alongside, or maybe, conversely, we step inside its cool confines from the blazing sunshine or the arduous nature of a wet winter’s day and if we are lucky there will be a log fire crackling away by the bar, a source of warmth and gladness.
The pub is our shining star, our hope and anchor when being alone becomes a loathsome prospect, when the only conversation you hear is the one that you have with yourself as the clock continues its tick-tock through the universe, unwilling to leave you behind. The pub is a home, a place that lets the mind roam, producing dozens of thoughts that suggest which paths to take and chores that must be floored, but sometimes these thoughts can falter and fade away as soon as you reach your other home, your real home or is the pub your real home? The pub is also a benevolent virus that spreads the gleefulness of being all aboard the good ship Lollipop, feeling that this feeling and that feeling will never end, that the evening, which lies ahead of you like a calm endless seascape, is full of your joy and imaginings that time can be halted as if it were a runaway horse and made to hold still, just for that brief occasion. That was the evening we all got drunk on life and laughed and planned and plotted and thought that this heady topping of joy would never end.
The pub is also its own Marvel universe, full of characters and sayings and people coming and going, of how do you do, what’s going on and laters, and of course not forgetting what are you having. There is the known-it-all and the known-nothing, the joker, the cat-lover, the two friends silent and mournful in the corner, the peacock and the Puritan sharing a table and roaring away with the kind of innocent laughter a child would recognise and of course there is always the dark side, the sad ones, the ones for whom drink is a panacea for all ills and I’m afraid I cannot serve you anymore I’m sorry to say. There are the couples, sometimes with a dog in tow, of all ages, the merrily in love duo, the ones with the children (and dogs) and the ones who just smile at each other content that every move they make is a mirror of firm belief and contentment. There are also the scowlers, the trying to mend the fence that got broken a long time ago, the whole world comes to the pub.
My earliest memories of the pub are of a place where grown-ups went and talked to each other with what I was told was a glass of beer (spirits, wine and cider came later) in their hand. The doors to the pubs in my home town were always closed, but sometimes, when walking past I could catch what seemed to me a strange and exotic but not unpleasing aroma of spilt beer and stale tobacco smoke. The windows were embossed with engravings and glazed with a frosted effect, both of which combined to create within myself a desire to see what it was like inside. I never did. I knew places like the hut where I attended Cub Scouts and played rousing games of British Bulldog, my school classrooms, the smell of ink and the squeal of chalk on a chalkboard, the fish and chip shop on a Saturday afternoon with its savage snarl of frying fat and the acidic pleasure of vinegar, the supermarket where my grandmother was a till assistant and the corner shop which smelt of decaying boiled ham and the oddity of old cheese. I knew all of these spaces and more but I didn’t know what a pub was like.
I was a couple of weeks short of 16 when I finally went to a pub. The lounge bar, open to both residents and those of the non persuasion, a long and large room dotted with chairs and tables, informal and not very exciting. The excitement was not in the interior but the tension over whether one of us would get served. We did and I settled for a half pint of keg bitter and thought it underwhelming and thought whether I was supposed to like it, for hadn’t I fallen in love with shandy but this was different and I wondered if I would ever like it. This was not an auspicious start to a lifetime of pub-going, but it remains a lifetime that is very much still in existence.