And how shall I recapture, recast, rejoin that sense of voices and life that I walked into on a Sunday evening whilst briefly marooned in the Mars that is Reading? A corner pub it was, the Nag’s Head, Tudorbethan in vision, black and white, white and black, with colour provided by a Morlands of Abingdon ceramic plaque embossed onto the wall. A large room it was, knocked into one and if you look carefully, if you look very carefully with some hint of an idea of what has passed, you can imagine the pub as a division of snug and public bar, but that was long ago and those that remember such Berlin Wall divisions are dying off, swapping their beer for a bier.
So what brings folk to this pub apart from a need to indulge in a spot of communitarianism? It’s beer. On my visit there I counted 12 hand pumps, while high up below the ceiling a coloured lantern-like joyfulness brightened the view as a line of pump clips led a conga around the room, Old brewery posters and beer guides and a sense of well picked beers (W&E, Dark Star, Red Squirrel, Humpty Dumpty and Triple fff) also added to the gaiety of the nation within this pub.
As it was Sunday evening I was perplexed as I look around the room at the drinkers tucking in — was this the final drink up at the end of the week or merely the start up when all sins are absolved and all sense of guilt at the weekend’s excesses is banished back into a box that no one opens until the end? And while I ponder these great philosophical ideas and pull on my pint of Dark Star’s Coffee Pilsner the voices within the pub are like cushioned tectonic plates all struggling and stroking against each other.
‘I just tell the truth and then no one trusts me.’
Characters. There’s a man at the bar whose head lopes on his shoulders like a feral teen wandering about a shopping mall, he’s had a good day. Another man comes in, his eyes immediately sweeping the room with the professionalism of a bodyguard; he stands at the bar, right foot forward, hands grasping the counter as if on a bridge cleaving through the high seas. Yet another man sits on a stool his legs tapping up and down with the regularity of a shiver. I’m also enraptured by a serene greyhound who comes in with its owner, serene in the sense that this is not one of those dogs that wages its tail and wants everyone to love it (I’ve got one of them).
The evening wears on and the feeling grows that this pub belongs to the people who come here and who feel a part of it. This pub thrives, is alive, cocks a snoot at the prevailing head winds of economic depression. So as ever there’s time for another before going back into the Mars that is Reading (and discovering sadly the disappointment of the town’s Zerodegrees, but that is another story for another time).