I’d like to celebrate this, the first weekend of spring, by offering homage to my local pub. It’s been there all winter (and, I guess, for several centuries of winters, as it’s a former inn on an old drovers’ road), a perennial stalwart, dispensing warmth, hospitality and good cheer on the coldest and most miserable of evenings. It boasts an open fire and its own generator, which means that when there’s a power cut or the water supply fizzles out (not infrequent events in this village) we and all our neighbours can rely on the pub to produce heart-warming soup and sustenance in our hour of need. There are no other buildings in the village except houses and a deconsecrated church – we don’t even have a shop – so the pub also does sterling service as a polling station for both local and general elections. Not surprisingly, this village always achieves a high turn-out. Most of us vote in the evening, which gives us a chance to catch up with each other and sample the beverages on offer at the same time.
Yesterday evening was light and clear. The trees across the valley had just begun to bud and were glowing with promise in the hazy sunshine of the early evening. The local sheep have now had their lambs, which were bleating softly. The towns across the valley were also tinged with the glow of the setting sun. As on many first days of spring, however, there was a fierce wind and some of winter’s chills still lingered in the air. My husband and I, out with the dog on his evening perambulation, decided to call in at the pub.
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that all human life was there. A group of four beer-bellied blokes occupying a corner table hilariously trooped out together every half hour or so for a cigarette break, and then trooped back in. A large family, complete with granddad (who seemed to be footing the bill) had just finished an early supper. Also eating supper was a morose middle-aged couple who appeared not to be speaking to each other. A largish hen party came in, evidently consisting of the bride and her mates plus her mother and several of hers. She was wearing a sash proclaiming her a bride to be, a crown of tinsel and, somewhat incongruously, some red ‘Rudolph’ felt antlers left over from Christmas. A little later, an extremely thin, elderly woman arrived, the advance reconnoitring party for another group of ladies, these somewhat older. She left the pub briefly before returning to usher them all in, so it must have passed her selection criteria for acceptable hostelries. The usual old cronies were seated on high stools at the end of the bar, putting the world to rights. More young men braved the trestle tables outside, clearly finding the cold preferable to the prospect of losing seats inside whilst out for fag breaks. And there were several ‘casuals’ in for a swift pint before departing, all of whom stooped to stroke the dog. The landlord, a dog-lover, brought him a handful of chews.
And, of course, included in the number, a pair of wellie-wearing eccentrics with an amiable hound, all three a little miry around the edges.
City pubs have an aura of their own, a suave immaculateness inspired by fierce competition and, for the most part, a shifting clientele that harbours no sentiments of loyalty. There is something quite different, timeless as well as uplifting, about a country pub and its dynamic. Dressed in mediaeval clothes, the patrons of my local yesterday evening might have been encountered by Chaucer and his pilgrims, in an inn en route to Canterbury. And I’m sure they’d all have had a tale to tell…