I’ve never been one for an evening down at the pub. When I was younger, I hated going out to meet friends there, for all it was a rite of passage and part of growing up. The smell of cigarette smoke, mixed with that of alcohol and under-ventilated space was the first downer, and then there was the problem that I didn’t – and still don’t – like beer. If weaker, to me it tastes of soap, and if stronger, of iron filings. What, really, was the point?
Over the last few years, pubs have had to re-invent themselves. Now that beer is cheap(ish) and cheerful at the supermarket, and now that people can relax at home in front of ever larger TV screens, fewer and fewer people want to dig themselves out of their cosy homes simply to go to their ‘local’ and have a drink with friends. So some offer Quiz Nights, or the chance to watch the Big Match on the Big Screen. Many many more have given up the unequal struggle and simply closed for ever.
Some though are doing well because they’ve chosen to offer good food, and those are the ones we like these days. The area we’ve chosen to live has more great pubs than seems entirely necessary. There are at least four within very easy reach. Get talking about matters of food when you’re out with your friends, and everyone will have yet another favourite haunt which they’ll insist you should try. What all these pubs have in common is cosiness. They’re warm and welcoming: muted colours and old oak furnishings, and often a slightly idiosyncratic lay-out which guarantees you a degree of privacy whilst also enabling you to people-watch . At this time of year, there’s sure to be a log fire flickering in the corner. Cheerful young staff will whisk you to a table as you arrive and summarise the ‘daily specials’. These pubs tend to have a limited range of dishes on offer, but that’s because the menu is designed round what’s available on the day, for that day.
There’s beer to drink – of course there is, it’s a pub after all – but these days there’s a decent wine list too, although the mark-up’s way beyond what we got used to in France.
So we’ve traded treating ourselves to a ‘formule’ at some local French restaurant, sitting outside and relaxing under the welcome shade of a large umbrella in favour of a cosy hour or two over a meal in front of the fire in an English pub. And do you know – they both have their special charms.
Here we are today at the Freemasons Arms in Nosterfield. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.