At its best the pub, particularly a new tick, should offer uncertainty and release its tales slowly. Seemingly nothing is happening, but everything is happening. The human condition to be gently observed.
The TV series (and now a top notch play for any pub lovers) Early Doors had a similar quality in its beautifully scripted tales of a back street Manchester boozer. Simple characters revealing complexity in an existential whole. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to visit a pub with similar qualities.
We strolled from Longnor in the Staffordshire/Derbyshire borderlands and over the other worldliness of Chrome Hill, descending towards Earl Sterndale and the Quiet Woman pub. A pub I’d walked past before but always at the wrong times. Now was our chance to let it reveal its secrets. It looked nothing special from the outside apart from an open door.
We wandered in, no-one behind the bar and three young folk chatting by the fire. Are you alright, we were asked. We slowly realised that this was the pub code for a further question or statement. A bit like the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions but more polite.
Little changed over the years, unspoilt wouldn’t do it justice. GBG stickers all the way back to the 1970s adorned the bar, local pork pies sat invitingly, in a nostalgic sort of way, under a plastic lid with mini Bakewell Tarts alongside. On the beer front, it was Wainwright, Burton Bridge Mild and Marston’s Burton Bitter (none of that Saddle Tank nonsense) on offer. A Marston’s Low-C bottle opener and a Pedigree Bitter ashtray harked back to an earlier time. The sort of pub that CAMRA was formed to protect.
The lad in the corner offered to get us a pint. We accepted a Mild in perfect condition and a Bitter that was suppable. A couple of pork pies and we were set up for a perfect pub lunchtime.
Act 1, Scene 2…the kids left, a couple came in silently and Ken the landlord appeared from out the back to serve them. How he knew they had come in was beyond us. Are you alright, he says to us. I’m just going to move this table as The Stokies come in every Wednesday. We were puzzled by these mythical creatures who were about to appear and why they needed a table at a right angle to ours, but no chairs.
Ken walked to the front of the bar and picked up a small children’s snooker table top. Like a slow-moving magic trick…he flipped it over, placed it over the existing table to reveal the table skittles top. The fixing of the pole was a work of scientific intrigue. He explained it had to be bolted into place with a high degree of accuracy. The ball must just touch the metal pin on the board. A few thou’ out wouldn’t do as my dad would have said.
And then The Stokies arrived. A happy miscellany of travellers ready for serious business albeit in a well-established routine. The Canterbury Tales sprang to mind as we watched Stanley the Tool Man (it was the graphic images on his yellow braces) play Hank Marvin’s younger brother (the glasses always give the family link away). To our excitement they told us that the pole needed re-adjusting..it needed to be highly accurate. Oh and could we move to the next table as they liked a bit of space around the skittle table.
Let gentle battle commence. I can’t recall a time when a pub game has been so carefully played…backs bent to line up the ball and release points calculated by these masters of pub physics.
As the game moved on a couple in clean walking gear arrived but made no move towards the bar. Instead they held out a mobile and asked if anyone could help. Obviously they wanted a photo taking in a traditional pub so I offered to help. No, they wanted help with the walking route on their phone. The route started at this pub they insisted and was near Owler Bar and Burbage Rocks and the A5127.
Ken and I agreed their walk was in the moors near Sheffield and showed them the places on the OS map. No, they insisted the postcode for the start of the walk SK something or other placed them at the pub. We all agreed that was the postcode but not for their walk. Advice from us on proper maps didnt seem to be greeted with applause. They turned tail and exited pub stage left.
Gently disturbed by the exciting goings on, we needed more mild and then headed back to Longnor via unnecessary diversions up High Wheeldon and the hill out of Crowdecote. What do we know about finding the correct route? Two pints of beer and pork pies do that to a couple of old blokes. At least we can find a proper pub.