After a long, tiring day of strimming the banks at the back of the house, weeding, lugging around sacks of soil and manure, and putting up a reed-screen contraption thing to disguise the oil tank, I head off to the pub in the evening. I’ve stupidly forgotten to buy any food, even though I’ve been close to a supermarket earlier in the day. Sometimes life just feels too short for a huge shop and long queues.
I walk up the lane, taking real pleasure in one of the first good evenings in couple of weeks. I notice that a tree has come down up the road in the gales; its branches still stranded in limbo on top of the hedge on one side of the lane but its trunk now vanished, leaving a big, naked gap in the hedge on the other.
Swallows swoop, cows moo and lambs bleat. Somewhere, in the distance, quite far away, a dog barks. If you listen hard on a country evening, there’s always a dog barking somewhere.
One of the real blessings of living here is having a pub that does food within walking distance. It’s remarkable because there’s not much else within walking distance, unless you count fields and hedges. Well, there’s a letterbox, just past the farm, but it doesn’t do food.
I time it to arrive at the pub on the dot of seven – no ‘longer opening hours’ in this neck of the woods and I’m starving. I’ve been there waiting on the doorstep for them to open up before now.
Surprisingly, the pub is already heaving with people. Somerset time doesn’t always correspond to real time. Dave, the landlord, and Sue, who helps behind the bar but lives at the farm, are looking hot and bothered trying to keep up with the orders. The checked shirt and merino pullover crew are out in force. “There’ll be a bit of a wait,” says Dave. So I tuck myself into one of the few remaining seats – a chair by the fireside – with a pint of beer, The Guardian and my iPhone (they have free wifi intermittently when Dave forgets to turn off the router).
I sometimes struggle to explain the pub’s appeal but today I finally realise what it is. It’s that it’s an almost completely unreconstructed pub from the 1970s, all red patterned carpet, brown painted wood, horse brasses and ballads like Please release me always – always, without fail – playing softly in the background. No sawdust on floorboards and deafening conversation echoing around the place here. You get the drift?
Some of the customers haven’t changed either. Quite literally in the case of one of the elderly women sitting nearby, who is wearing an orange and brown flowered dress that she must have purchased over 30 years ago.
On quieter nights, when the customers all start chatting across the bar to each other, I’ve heard regulars say they’ve been coming here for 30 years and that neither the staff nor the menu has changed. It may not be very exciting but it’s good and reliable: scampi and chips, fish pie, cauliflower cheese, sausage and mash, steak and chips and so on. A bit of salad comes on the side of each of the oval plates, that can only be described as ‘garnish’. You aren’t expected to eat it because ‘five-a-day‘ hasn’t been invented yet. But, because I’m not quite a part of this time warp, I always do.