The clock strikes six and here they come, one strolling from a shaded lane, another two or three emerging from small doors in cosy thatched cottages, while a couple, hand in hand, stride purposefully across the church’s ancient graveyard. You can almost set your watch by them. We’re in the Suffolk village of Laxfield, picture postcard, the sort of place that Americans visit to remind themselves that England, their England, is still here. And at the centre of their imaginings is the village pub, in this case the wonderful Low House, or King’s Head as it officially known. Through the door, low ceiling, a pub without a bar, a queue for an Adnams, served straight from the cask (in my case a glass of Lighthouse). Great beer and a great looking pub, but I’m not writing about the Low House here (that’ll be somewhere else) — I’m more intrigued by pub time. The sight of those pub-goers emerging from their hiding places and wending their way to the pub as the clock struck six was fascinating; it’s almost as if us pub people have an internal clock that enables us to know when opening time is.
It’s the same in my local, Woods, when the clock in the church tower that overlooks the small square where the pub resides, strikes six and here we are, several of us, waiting for Will the barman to unlock the bolt. Three out of four pubs in town close during the afternoon, so there’s a sense of ceremony, the end of the working day, as we tread the wooden boards and make for the bar. Proper Job please.
When I was in college, when pubs weren’t open all day, several of us would always miss the 5pm lecture on a Friday evening so that we could be knocking on the door of the Free Press, eager to get into the snug before the CU boys. Us CCAT lads would love it as we dealt with our pints overlooked by a variety of varnished plaques and sculls and then a head would appear through the door, disappointment already growing like a stain. It pays to be on time with pubs.