The ‘missed the train’ pint
Since getting a promotion and a pay rise I have done what many working class people do and tried desperately to avoid working class people. Instead of the bus (albeit the wifi enabled fancy express bus with nightclub style lighting) I now get the train, and pay over a ton for a monthly season ticket. Of course since privatisation there are three different trains home and because I’m tight I will never pay extra to get a different company’s train if I miss mine. Hence I will spend £9 on beer, to save the £5.60 train fare.
A pub long since closed was the White Star, a pub upstairs at Liverpool Lime Street. I never saw more than five people in there, usually two regulars and a couple more travellers beset with luggage. I always wondered how many places you had to be barred from before a weird train station pub became your local. It became somewhere I would nip into on a Friday night, to fill the gap between the normal pubs closing and the last train home. It had that very specific atmosphere of a place which is only used for transience – no banter from the bar was required, the drinks were priced to stop people from having too many, and there were little solo booths where you could pack in all your luggage and just wait.
Ma Egerton’s across from Lime St is another pub which has kept me warm for a fifty minute wait. It’s not cheap, but it tends to be empty enough at commuter time to actually sit and while the time away, without being so dead you feel like an inconvenience. It takes the sting out of a wait when you consider it might be drinking time, but that’s currently been cruelly snatched from us. There probably isn’t time for a ‘substantial meal’ along with your bonus pint.
The ‘it’s been QUITE the day’ pint
My local is between the train station and my house, if I divert a bit, round the corner for no reason. In education we call September to October the ‘term of death’. The workload is bigger, the students are crazier, the amount of information you have to cram into your already addled brain is higher, and sometimes at the end of a long day the idea of a pint in familiar surroundings is preferable to just going home for a nice long scream.
Sometimes the ‘quick pint after work’ turns into an evening session, because your mate who saw your haggard death stare bought you a pint, so you need to get them one back, and then another mate turns up and then you’re in a round, and then you look up and it’s nine o’clock. I have always believed that if that happens it’s because it’s needed. Not the alcohol, but the simple fact of the pub, being around people, hearing other people’s problems, hearing people laugh. It reminds you that everyone has their own bad day, and they tend to remedy it in the same way, like group therapy.
My local has been closed since lockdown 2 and might be closed even after the 2nd of December if we remain in tier 3. There’s no other pub where I would want to sit and cast off the day, it just isn’t the same. If it was just about booze, I could walk to the local Spoons, have my substantial meal, alone, and squeeze in as many pints as were practicable. But my Lion regulars won’t be there, and the constant stream of “I’m not wearing a mask” which seems to be the soundtrack to Spoons these days won’t do anything to ease my troubled mind.
The ‘don’t suppose you fancy a pint?’ pint
A close cousin to the above, this pint is one that someone else needs. It usually comes out of the blue, and could be at any pub. I have had these pints with a friend who has just realised he’s not seen me in a while and was passing my work close to quitting time, with a family member who’s got a bit or workplace gossip that he needs to get out before it eats him up, and with a mate who has a rare evening off from the partner and kids and doesn’t want to waste it. They’re an unexpected treat which can happen anywhere, but they’re almost always with someone ‘outside your support bubble’ and they rarely involve eating. So they have been banished for most – the pub visit without a plan has gone out of the window.
A lot of our social interactions are taken up by instances which could never and would never have been planned. Maybe a friend is in town from far away and can’t plan to meet you because of a tight schedule, but then something serendipitously is cancelled, or their meeting runs short, or their train is delayed, or they just added in a bit of safety in their schedule, and now they’re at a loose end. In Covid country, any possible opportunity for recreation has to be reserved for your household, so the subs bench is never utilised. No-one is sending people across the country for work, no-one is travelling for leisure unless they’re a government advisor, and everything is being done on Zoom or Teams where downtime and loose ends don’t exist.
The ‘just because’ pint
Some of the most enjoyable pub visits I’ve ever experienced have had no rhyme or reason. I’ve finished work unexpectedly early, it’s a sunny day, and there’s an outdoor table with my name on it. I’m out shopping and I’ve run out of steam, so there’s a little empty place which won’t mind the baggage taking up space and I can have a rest. I made no plans for a Saturday, and a short (or long) walk will land me at a pub I can sit in for no other reason than that I want to be in pub land for a little bit.
I love two-streets-out-of-the-town-centre pubs for this, like The Stag in Warrington, or the Old Coffee House in Soho. They’re on the edge of the bustle, you can see it from the window, but it doesn’t encroach on you. The Crack in Liverpool as well, just somewhere you notice out of the corner of your eye, and you’re walking past it, so why not? Unfortunately these are usually wet led pubs, and they are verboten right now. We’re not encouraged to leave the house ‘just because’, it has to be for work or education or to prop up the economy (but not the hospitality bit). Plus any visit to a new place that you might just happen to come across involves learning a new set of rules, even in tier 2 where you can have a drink without a meal (remember that?) you have to *think* about things. No more can you just wander in aimlessly and head to the bar, you might be told off and asked to read the signs by a member of staff who used to love welcoming people but now has been forced to treat everyone coming in as a potential superspreader. I wonder how those people who struggle with reading, or have problems with their vision are coping with the sudden onslaught of reading material in an environment which they were already accustomed to.
When people ask me what I’m planning for when the pubs re-open , I don’t know what to say, because all of these most enjoyable pub encounters are not planned, and to plan them would be to miss the point. All I can look forward to is a time when I’m walking down the street and I think “I fancy a pint”, and I can just walk in, and go to the bar, and ask for a drink face to face, and not have to pause, check, read a sign, squirt a chemical. And when that happens, I’ll treasure it.