It is Friday night and I find myself at a corner table in the pub, as if by magic. I look up, chewing lightly on my bottom lip, staring at the freshly pulled beer, anticipating the extraordinary first mouthful. I don’t drink very much but what I do drink I enjoy. It is interesting that drunk is a past tense of drink, as if it is an inevitable consequence of drinking, but I can’t remember the last time I was drunk. Probably because I was drunk.
Beer and alcohol are not the same thing. Beer is wondrous, mystical, true this is partly because it has ethanol in it, but beer is much more than a drug delivery system, it is discourse delivery system. Why else would I pay five pounds for a pint of the stuff in a pub when I could buy three pints for a fiver in Waitrose, well, Sainsbury’s, okay Tesco.
In England we have always communed in pubs, we are an island of drinker thinkers. In every beer there is an idea, admittedly a lot of those ideas are shit, or forgotten or potentially illegal but occasionally a great one comes up. I proposed in a pub, or rather I was proposed to in a pub, if you met my wife you would understand, anyway I said yes in a pub. I always say yes in a pub. Yes but.
I am not a coffee botherer, I eschew the café and the dead flat whites. I write in pubs. I don’t contemplate my navel in the gym juice bar with the glossy muscled. I write in pubs, amongst the other unknowns, gazing down through illuminating amber. I am writing this in a pub, in a theatrical allusion, the Bottom’s Rest, previously the famously convivial Conqueror, but on this occasion mine is a solitary beer, for want of a babysitter the company is lost.
Friday nights in the Conqueror used to mean something, the gathering of a loose coalition of the self-opinionated, well-met men and women of indeterminate age and profession, making noise about nothing in particular. We were the very definition of half full or half empty vessels, conversing on everything from the corporate body politic to how much the Earth weighs. We would raise our heady beers with orbiting ancillary shot glasses, laughing and pouting blue smoke, our voices thrown overhead like school caps. I was the rant, the contrary cause of argument, I took note. Yes but…
But nothing lasts, the gears of heaven are ground to a dust of stars. I am the last of my tribe to regularly imbibe, we drifted apart, our ranks thinned by nothing more abrasive than time. The Conqueror is conquered, renamed, sweet-smelling and occupied by the fleeting, the ephemeral, the passing through, their up-lit faces waxing and waning, conversations polite, contrite, screen-centric. The millennial malaise. The few locals that remain cling to their spots at the bar. We share history and the odd nod, but were never friends, more veterans from different regiments of the same defeated army.
None of this is necessarily bad, I still love the pub but for new reasons, the rhythm of the waves, the human flotsam, the murmuration of the pebbles, and on those nights that I come here by myself I wait to see if anyone I know gets washed up. More vigil than ritual. Sometimes I return home having spoken only a few words to the bar staff but other times my patience is rewarded and tonight it is the turn of the tall man. Closer to seven foot than six he spots me from the door, his head bobbing towards me upon the swell. He stops at my table and looks down and down. ‘Hello Rich,’ he says. ‘Fancy a pint?’