At the bottom of the hill, a grand old pub sits on the corner, its latticework balconies looking out over the intersection of five roads. It’s one of my favourite places, has been for years, and living within 20 minutes’ easy walk of it has fulfilled one of my life’s ambitions. It’s looking good for its age; a place to watch football and eat steak in a bit of comfort, a hotspot for Sunday sessions. Upstairs, on a Saturday night, girls in short skirts and heels wriggle out of sync with Lady Gaga and Beyonce while men lean on the bar or against the pool tables, torn between the four TV screens (each showing a different code of football) and the vista of sweaty skin. I’ve watched a lot of football and danced to a lot of bad music there. Deep down, its heady melange of pub and guilty pleasure are me to a T.
On weekday mornings I walk past and breathe in its pub smell, part stale beer, part old cigarettes, part hazy memory. Every morning it reaches my nose and for a moment I am a child again, eating a rare and thrilling meal in the dining area of the country pub eleven kilometres from our farm, sneaking into the public bar with its forbidden pool table and its cash-hungry jukebox and its forest of tall stools, every second one topped with a grizzled farmer raising a glass or a bottle beneath a hat that had lived a dozen lifetimes, none of them easy. There are yellow tiles beneath my feet and thin, cheap wooden panelling on the walls and all the men – only men here, save the occasional raucous, leathery woman at whom it’s never safe to stare; the farmers’ wives, the ladies, keep to the other room – are dressed in shades of brown and green and black. Outside the rough gravel parking lot is dark and treacherous, concealing the deep potholes in front of the petrol bowsers, but XXXX the dog lies across the larger doorway, taking a scratch behind the ears as a tithe from those seeking entry.
Then my legs, longer than those of barstools now, have carried me past that smell, past the tall, narrow windows and the white walls of the here and now, and I continue on to work.