It is so easily done.  Other things to do, other activities, other people to see, other pubs to drink in, ones where people may already know your name.  Those who have always been in the towns and cities, or perhaps those not from Britain or Ireland, will not appreciate the significance of the village pub.  This is not the same as your “local,” which could be one of many in a selected area,somewhere that you may or may not have some allegiance to,  this is a place that for those who may not go to church may be the only meeting place for an entire community.  My village is one whose local nickname had been Paraffin City so late had they adopted electricity, even now there remains no gas supply and half of the village loses electric power on a regular basis and apparently has done for years (Christmas Day last year in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner for example).  The main fuel here is still coal, unsurprising in an area where local pits still formed the bulk of inhabitants’ work until the mid 1980s.  The burning of coal comes with a distinctive smell, it is one that evokes the past and lends itself to that sense of a bygone era already prevalent with village life.  It is the equivalent of the smell of peat burning in Ireland.  It is ironic since most miners will tell you that burning it is the most wasteful use of coal that there is.

To sit in the village pub, my possessions almost packed, whilst four old men sat and chatted about events of their past and another watched the football on the television made me realise how fragile such institutions are, in spite of their importance to the community at large.  A business cannot survive without customers and in times of economic squeeze it is often that unnecessary activities such as going for a drink must go by the wayside.  The village in which I live(d) is small and somewhat insular, it is not on the road to anywhere so there is no passing trade for any establishment, it is a village that many people who have lived in the surrounding area for years have not heard of let alone been to and it sits in a dip so you wouldn’t even see it unless you were on top of it.  It has circa 1300 inhabitants and on a chilly Tuesday evening only 5 of them had turned out before me, it is the only pub in the village the other having closed some years previously.  I had only gone in because I briefly done so earlier to find someone who was due to pickup an ebay purchase from me, it had seemed churlish not to go back and at least have a pint.  I did so and left not long afterwards not because I did not find the place interesting but because I had packing to do and a cat to feed.  As I walked back I did feel that perhaps I was doing so too early on what was likely to be my last visit.  It felt sad, it was in fact the first time I became a little melancholy that I was leaving this little village.

In truth I have been to the pub on no more than about 5 occasions since I moved here some 16 months ago, I had gone in on the first night I arrived, it seemed appropriate, a mark of the arrival in a new village, I went with a sense of both excitement and apprehension  The village was a place in which I knew no-one but the same had been true where I had lived before and I had managed to get myself accepted there, I was confident that I would at least try but villages in the country can be strange places, often something of a time warp and extremely closed when it comes to strangers be they from the next town, county or further afield.  That night it had been quiet and I got talking to the landlord who had recently taken over.  He seemed pleasant enough, not much of a conversationalist but generally friendly, he explained he had plans for the place and intended to start making food there.  I had worked in a village pub many many years ago where food had been served to a very high standard and people had come from miles around to eat there, perhaps this could be the making of the pub.  I heard later that there had in the past been two pubs in the village but one had closed some time ago and this one’s future had been in the balance for some time with a succession of caretaker landlords not giving any stability that would make it a going concern.

The next time I went in was Christmas that same year when the pub was packed with large numbers of locals jammed in to wish one another festive greetings, a proper communal feel and a genuine advantage of living somewhere where people know that you are a local.  It had been only the second time I had been in, not by conscious avoidance just a factor of circumstances.  I did sometimes go back to another pub in the place I used to live because I still took part in the quiz and knew plenty of people from the 5 years I had spent there but generally I was going to the pub far less often due to the substantial rise in rent that I was now paying.

The third time I went into the local pub was one that rather shaped my view of it.  I was there with some friends from the village, these were the first people I had met and got on well enough with to be invited out for drinks of an evening and since they like me had two children it seemed ideal and the pub was a nice local place to meet.  As I had now been twice I expected to receive the nod of recognition that usually greets someone who is frequent enough to be seen as a person who probably lives in the village but not so that they would merit any actual conversation yet.  My friend had bought his children some chips, I tended as a rule to try to steer away from junk food for my children but it was a Friday and the chips looked nice and I felt it unfair that my children should watch someone else’s have a treat.  When I went in and asked the barmaid if I could get a portion of chips she looked over at the landlord who was at the bar in a chef’s outfit and supping on a pint.  “Kitchen’s closed” he responded and went back to studying his drink.  And such is the impression that can define one’s actions for many a year.

I had only been in on two occasions after that and had since found another pub a mile and a half away where I indeed walked past the village pub to get to, but I was now a local there and greeted as such by landlady and customers alike.  In there I had heard that where villagers who knew each other from their children attending or having just attended the local primary school used to meet of a Friday evening for a couple of pints and a chat they had now shifted to the pub I frequented.  Each time someone came in to this pub who had been to the village pub that evening they remarked on how quiet it was.  No-one seemed surprised, nor particularly disappointed by it,  the landlord’s manner was blamed for it and with a shrugging of the shoulders we went back to our drinks.

Now I am to move to another village, one with a busy trunk road with garages, petrol stations and 4 pubs, 3 of which are on the main road and will doubtless collect the trade from it.  It will not be the same.  I have neglected the village pub and however valid my reasons may have been I cannot help but feel that I, and perhaps the village, may be somewhat the poorer for it.

Song Of The Day ~ Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town

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