And so once more we wend our weary way to the pub. Dates for the diary were April 12 and, by the time this is published, May 17 will have come and gone and we might start to forget those pub-less months between the end of the old year and the start of the spring.
I have missed the pub, not just the beer, whether cask or keg, but the visual and mental landscape. I have missed the sound of people laughing and chatting and, down on Exeter Quay at Topsham Brewery Tap, which I call my local, the sight of people casting off on sculls and canoes and water boards (looking at the gun-metal grey colour of Exeter Canal I shiver and think rather them than me).
I have missed the ease with which people ask ‘how are you’ and ‘how’s it been’ and ‘do you mind if we join you’, the language of sociability and careless confidentiality which is entirely absent in drinking alone in a back garden even though the beer in your hand might be the best in the world. The speculation on people’s lives, scraps of words drifting across like wisps of faint-hearted smoke, the tuning in and out of radio signals.
I have missed the warmth of the sun (yes it was sunny in April if you remember) and even grown to become used to being wrapped up on a bench and looking towards the West and wondering if that big huff of a grey cloud is going to drench me before I finish my pint of Utopian’s British Lager.
I have missed the dogs in the beer garden, the well-behaved ones that sit next to or under the table, the more unruly ones who wander about looking for scraps of pizza that have dropped on the floor or like mine, pull on the lead, wanting to say hello to that well-behaved terrier (yes there is such a thing) on the next table.
Yes, I have definitely missed the beer, the coolness of a large glass of cask beer, the first of which for me was a pint of St Austell’s Tribute, one of the earliest out of a new barrel in an Exmoor pub, The Bridge, which I once called my local. It was bittersweet, zesty in its delicate fruitiness and bracingly dry in the finish. The glass was empty in a matter of minutes and I ordered another.
Then there was the smooth and soothing pint of Salcombe Brewery’s Island Street Porter, this time at another pub called the Bridge, in Topsham just outside Exeter. I have also dived straight into crisp and refreshing pints of keg beers from Deya, Lost and Grounded and the ever glamorous Verdant, whose judiciously juicy IPA (as ever I have forgotten the name) was at once a dream and the happiness of haze.
I have missed the smells of pizza from the truck that stands outside Topsham Brewery Tap, the sight of the flames in the oven, the aromatics of herbs and spices, and alongside this I have caught the waft of frying fish from Rockfish, which stands just across the way from my local, and thought of fish and chips.
I have missed the glitter of sunshine on the waters of the canal, the to and fro of the staff, the smiles, the genuine ecstasy of going into a pub and this time of the year I would rather be outside rather than mouldering inside, though given the recent weather drinking inside will be much welcome.
Above all I have missed the company of strangers, whether I am quietly reading or striking up conversation or overhearing scraps of other people’s lives. This for me is what I have missed. It’s the same buzz you get at a rugby or football match, the Sensurround of jokes, exclamations and pure golden banter, such as the one I recall from an Arsenal match I was at years ago, when a voice I never heard again uttered ‘I thought goals like that went out with Peter Lorre’ (who’s that? – Ed) after a spectacular strike on the pitch. That is why I shall continue going to the pub as we slowly but surely reclaim our old lives back.