There is something about experiencing a pub late at night from the other side of the bar, which is quite different. I have been working the evening in the pub for a few nights this week while the landlady recovers from illness and have enjoyed the experience. It has been frustrating and rewarding in equal parts. It's a long shift, from half past four when I get there to fettle all the beers and switch everything on, to midnight, when I do it in reverse. Early the pub is quiet, being a mile up an unmade road, which is the frustration bit, but as time goes on it gets busy for meals, quiet again and then the older generation of locals land. That's when the pub takes on its true character as a place people go to socialise and feel at home. They are using the pub in the old fashioned way, to meet friends and have a quiet drink.
There are a bunch of a certain age that drift in from around half past nine and stay until midnight. They all know each other, but each little group or couple sit in their appointed places with just a nod to each other. Their drinks rounds are the same every evening, there is a quiet murmur of conversation.The dogs with them loll contentedly, the pub cat sleeps on a bar stool, pausing now and then to check the dogs for latent hostility. I pass quiet banter with two of the regulars at the bar. The clock ticks on inexorably. It is a timeless tableau which is almost serene in its simplicity and comfort.
Between half past eleven and midnight, internal clocks kick in. People get up, drift back to the bar with empties in hand, bid goodnight and slide off into the dark outside. By midnight the last have gone and the cat and I are left alone in the pub. I ensure she has food and water, put the glasswasher on for the last time, put the sparklers and taps in to soak overnight, blow out many candles, check the toilets are empty and the back door is locked and switch off lamps one by one until I am left in darkness, alleviated only by the dull green glow of the emergency lights. Then I too, locking the front door behind me, leave this cosy world and step outside. I smell the fresh country air with its farmland overtones and now, suddenly tired, get in my car and head for home.
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