Settling down at the outside bar of the Woolpack on Monday was like slipping into an old jacket, familiar, comfortable, comforting. It was chilly, but the view over the Slad valley was as seductive as ever, a billowing flow of field and hedge and wood. The sun struggled out from time to time.
I had a plate of devilled kidneys and two pints of Uley bitter, and listened to the puffer clad couples and trebles and quadruples nattering away, as glad as I was in that understated, very English way, that at least some things hadn’t gone to hell in a hand basket when the curtain of Covid dropped over the country.
There’ll be fewer pubs opening up after the Great Lock Down, and some may modify their format in ways we can’t yet tell, but in the end a pub is a pub is a pub, a portal to another world where you step out time’s continuum; where you dissect life’s challenges with a forensic precision that increases with the number of pints you drink; where friendships and comradeship are restated with casual warmth; where life’s priorities are carefully mapped out finely honed; where memories unspool in stories that remain vivid no matter how many times they have been recounted.
Pubs have undergone several metamorphoses in my life, from basic boozers to British brasseries to palaces of gastronomy; from sinks of iniquity to engines of urban and rural renewal; from dens reeking of beer and fags to epitomes of refinement; from male enclaves to communal spaces where women keep order and balance. I’m not saying all pubs epitomise all high ideals, but even if boozers survive in the form of Wetherspoons, they’re a better class of boozer.
The Woolpack epitomises this evolution that amounts to radical reinvention. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. Circumstances may force us to alter our ways, but the spirit remains constant. That’s how things should be.