Finally, I got to the pub.Twice, actually: once for a family dinner at a gastropub; once for a late afternoon ale at a park pop-up, a brisk wind blowing through the gazebo.
We might have gone sooner, had a pub visit not become so logistically laborious. Mask, check.Warm extra layers, check. Charged mobile for Covid app check-in and hands-free ordering, check.
Oh for those halcyon days when ‘Fancy a cheeky half?’ was the jump-off point to an easeful afternoon.
The Moon Under Water is a famous George Orwell essay describing his fantasy pub.Two minutes from a bus stop, down a side-street, it is an ‘uncompromisingly Victorian’ gin-palace with tobacco-stained ceiling, upstairs dining and several ground-floor bars.
Author Patricia Nicol picked out a selection of the best books set in pubs, including Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts (pictured left) and Graham Swift’s Last Orders (pictured right)
He likes the family-friendly garden best.The essay is 75 years old but you can visualise Orwell’s pub instantly — and its elusiveness. He concludes: ‘If anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it, even though its name were something as prosaic as the Red Lion or the Railway Arms.’
A Railway Arms, with ‘a sort of sinister gaiety’, features in William Somerset Maugham’s Cakes And Ale. The novel explores a widow’s efforts to sanitise the biography of Edward Driffield, a Hardy-like author of humble beginnings.His first wife, Rose, worked as a barmaid there and, according to local gossip, ‘there wasn’t a man who come in to ‘ave a drink that she didn’t carry on with’.
In contemporary novel Ghosts by Dolly Alderton, Nina goes on a promising first date with Max.His choice of venue is ‘dive bar’ The Institution: ‘There’s a darts board, an old Irish landlord. Not a Negroni or industrial light fitting in sight.’
Perhaps not dissimilar to The Coach and Horses, the boozer in Bermondsey, London, featured in Graham Swift’s Last Orders?Jack was a regular there, so it is where his grieving pals gather before driving to Margate to scatter his ashes. ‘I think it’s a whisky day,’ says undertaker Lenny. If you get to a pub this week, then cheers!