Its 2012 and yet it could be much earlier in time. Walking through the door of an ancient coaching inn, wood beams and open fires, oak casks behind the bar. Our welcome is a hacking, guttural cough. In another place, culture, time and world, this would be an accepted and acceptable cough followed by a rapid expectorate, a spit and perhaps a “ping” into a spittoon. Here we cringe, wince and regret arriving when the welcome is so terrible. Behind the bar, blackboards in olde worlde script announce the wares. It is obligatory to be a certain size if you staff the bar. Comfortable in your own skin and happy to test and taste the guest beers.
The regulars are regular. They still visit for drinks not food and stand in the right hand part of the bar, rather than the restaurant. This evening muddy wellies are required attire and a large dog is the accessory of the day. The step down from the true bar is marked with a black and yellow cross hatched tape. A clear warning divide. The dogs stay in the bar and their owners use a variety of whistles, clicks and calls to bring them back when they wander and stray over the tape into the restaurant searching for scraps.
The dogs are large, one black lab. old and fat with a grey muzzle comes snuffling around. The general consensus is that he smells. The german shepherd is more lively, prettier with lots of fluffy coarse fur. She does not smell. Bruno the rottweiler lives up to his breed, enormous heavy head on thick shoulders. At least he does not slobber. The evening is punctuated by their arrival, calls to them to “leave it” and their return in a never-ending merry-go-round.
Pints of Adnams, cider and Becks are consumed. People drift over to exchange greetings; short exchanges without conversations frills. Gradually the restaurant empties and the numbers dwindle. The smokers cough gives one last clattering salvo and departs. The barrel-like black lab. and his barrell like owner stagger away – it’s not clear if it is drink or age that’s causing the stagger.
Switches are flicked and lights go down leaving a pool over the circular table with empty glasses and a few drops of spilt liquid. The world will spin and at the same time, in this place again, tomorrow it will all begin again. The ritual of going to the pub.