My mate Raj and I like to go to the pub the hard way. Parking next door is for weenies and liberals. We start out at least five miles away and yomp our way in, to build up an appetite for warm beer, and pork scratchings. That way we can discuss the overthrow of the government out of the reach of CCTV cameras and ultra-sensitive microphones. We never whinge about our better halves though, as that would be ungentlemanly.1
Phew! It's crowded in here
Phew! It's crowded in here
So today we meet at Cheesefoot Head, which may sound like a fungal infection but is in fact a well-known beauty spot. It's been the wettest November on record, wetter even than Susan Boyle dribbling all over 'Wild, wild Horses'. But we are made of iron, and besides, we have waterproof boots. Fortified with a hip flask and a curly-wurly each, we walk, paddle and sometimes even swim to the Flowerpots Inn in Cheriton, the Best Pub in Hampshire, ready for opening time at 12:00.
Raj is a top-speed paddler. I trot along behind and we arrive early, at 11:30-ish. To our consternation the pub opens late, at 12:30, says the board outside. So it's another hour walking. But first we nip round the back to admire their fine urinals. We surprise the barmaid, who is polishing the Landlord's beer pump.
"Er, is the pub open?", I ask, which is my way of pretending I wasn't sneaking in to exercise the plumbing.
"We can be," she says.
Five minutes later we're warming our hands on the beer (a bit early I know) and having a fine old chat with the landlord. The fire's lit, the ale is tasty, really tasty, and all is well. On the dot of 12:00 half the village walks in, also ignoring the board outside, and the party's on.
Sometimes I yearn for foreign shores. The Family Von Grump plan long trips to sunnier climes, exotic locations, exciting places. We buy maps, mosquito nets, malaria tablets, harpoons and bear traps. We book guides, we buy insurance. You have to be prepared for anything in Normandy.
Then I come to a pub like this and remember why I live in England. It's absolutely bloody knockout. The staff are friendly, so are the locals, the food is wholesome and plentiful, the dog doesn't smell, there are no pinball machines or horse brasses, there's no tooth-grinding Christmas music. Opening and closing time are a fiction. Come when you like. None of this oh-sorry-breakfast-ended-at-eleven-sir. It's just people having a beer and a chat, and enjoying the landlady's plentiful baps.
No kids either; if you want to bring them, there's a jolly tent outside where you can stick them with a Vimto and a bag of cheese and onion crisps between them for an hour or four. It's prefectly safe; if the temperature falls below freezing, the pub will light a patio heater. Besides it's good for them. They need to develop patience, and their immune systems.
The beer is brewed on the premises with interesting variations, so naturally we end up sampling a bit more than we intended to, and staying a bit longer.
Before we set off the landlord has to leave on an errand, so before he goes we chat with him again. Fifty pubs a week are closing in Britain. We commiserate with him and he shakes his head sadly. Business is slow, he says, which is a surprise given how full the place is, but we duly leave a big tip for the food.
Then he's off. As we set out for the long swim back, bellies sloshing, we see him sweeping out of the car park in a fairly new red Porsche 911 Turbo. Crikey. I wonder what he drives in a good year?
1 - Plus, at least one of them reads this blog.
(Inspired by the full-on recent rant by Dan at Vacant Mind).