Alone in the Hotel

Today is Wednesday, and the third evening of self-imposed incarceration in the hotel. I’m half tempted to wander across the road to the pub, just to see if it’s changed at all. Perhaps get a table in the corner of the bar, and write inconsequential garbage about the clientele as they arrive and depart.

Ah hell. Why not. Anything has to be better than sitting here on my own.(five minutes pass while I get dressed into something more befitting a public house, and I comb my hair).

Five minutes later, and I’m sitting in the pub with the iPad, the Bluetooth keyboard, and a pint of Wainwright beer – my late father-in-law would have approved.

If the name of the beer is lost on you, Alfred Wainwright famously walked many of the hills and mountains of the north of England, and hand wrote a series of books charting the many routes through the fells, valleys, and hills – with hand drawn maps and illustrations throughout. If you are ever in an outward-bounds supply shop in England, ask to see the “Wainwright” books – you won’t be disappointed.

I’m sitting in the corner of the bar. There is a pretty blonde lady a little further into the corner – her husband just joined her after buying drinks at the bar. The bar is made of oak, and appears to be very old – with original slotted roof beams jutting from the ceiling. Old pubs in England tend to be the remains of coaching inns, and it’s therefore not unusual for them to be several hundred years old. At the far end of the bar there is an open fire, and comfy looking armchairs dotted around. They are all inhabited by elderly couples at the moment – no doubt they arrive early to “bag their spot”.

I appear to have made it to the pub just in time – the bar is now filled with people, queuing to order drinks, before searching out tables. The more intelligent seem to be sending the ladies to bag tables while the men wait at the bar.

Old pubs like this remind me of my childhood – of waiting in the doorway to catch the eye of my Dad – usually to beg for a refill of my Coke bottle, or for a bag of peanuts. Back then a bag of peanuts, or crisps in the pub garden was always seen as a treat – these days kids only seem happy with video games, televisions, and fast internet connections. I remember spending hours in the garden of the pub my Mum and Dad called their local, and yet I don’t remember being bored. You would always find something to do – something to occupy you.

The pub my Mum and Dad often visited was called “The Masons Arms”. It was on the outskirts of the village my parents had grown up in, and was almost a piece of the firmament of my childhood. There was a car-park across the road from it, and at the end of the car-park, a small stream where you could catch fish in crisp packets if you were patient.

Pubs featured heavily in my early years – mostly I suppose because there were so few other things to do with your time. Video recorders didn’t exist, the Internet was over a decade away, and broadcast television only had three channels. We spent our childhood playing outside – something I’m glad to report our younger children still prefer over anything Nintendo might try to distract them with. Of course another reason we ended up at the pub most weekends was because my Dad was in the village Tug-of-War team, so the pub was an unofficial office of sorts. Some weekends we would travel to neighboring towns and villages for competitions. The last one I remember was in my teens, when the team re-formed to pull over a river. Thinking back now, my Dad would have been in his mid to late thirties by then, as would the rest of the team – and they destroyed the gang of twenty-somethings they came up against.

I have surprisingly little memory of “Tug of War”, other than various village fetes, and the weekend news books I wrote at infant school – which seemed to tell many stories illustrated with lots of little men holding each end of long ropes, along with the caption “This weekend we went to tug-of-war, and then we went to the pub”. One of the memories is of a field near my grandparents house, where a large oak tree stood in the middle, and a 500 gallon drum filled with sand sat, with a cable to a pulley high in tree’s bows. I remember watching the training sessions, where the team would pull the drum high into the air, and hold it for minutes at a time – taking the strain. I remember the smell of whatever they used to make their hands sticky. I also remember the exercises to make their hands stronger (scrunching sheets of broad-sheet newspapers in each fist), and them shouting at each other as they ploughed furrows in the dirt.

Only a few faces remain from those early memories – Keith, who emptied dustbins in town, Pat, who was a stonemason and always wore a woolly hat, Harry, who towered over everybody, Billy, who drove a crane, and Tony, the joker. It’s funny – a photo of myself as a toddler turned up on Facebook a few weeks ago, sitting with some of the team and their children on a trip to the seaside. The last time I visited my parents we sought out the exact scene of the photo, and I took a photo of our children sitting on the same stretch of wall. History repeats itself.

It’s interesting really, isn’t it – I wandered over here to watch the world go by, and ended up reminiscing about my childhood instead. I am the world champion at distracting myself with pointless escapades. I really am.

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