You start going to a pub, which you call your local, even though you might have to get a bus or a taxi or cycle to it, or just walk around the corner, but you start to belong. You start to get to know people, you start to get to know which ones are the bores, the ones you say hello to quickly and move on, straining to avoid talking about the news or whatever sport they like or even the weather; you get to know the ones who are drunks but quite funny until you get bored (and worried you’ll become like them and sometimes think you have become like them); you get to know the belligerent ones who dislike the fact that you might have the wrong kind of voice and haven’t lived around here long enough and that their hard-earned friends are pally with you and sometimes, much against your better judgment, you try to make friends with the belligerents and eventually do; you get to know the beer experts (and keep your mouth shut); you get to know the drinkers who like dogs, who comment on the book you are reading, who ask you what football or rugby team you support or whether you like cricket (‘sorry mate, bores the pants off me’); you get to know the wastrels, the wasted, the strait-laced, the frayed and the afraid whose eyes widen when you tell them that once upon a time on your travels you drank a 25% (or thereabouts) beer — ‘not in pints mind, gold-flecked thimbles’; you get to know the dead ones, whose photos (or sometimes boots) hang on the walls or in alcoves; you get to know who is in at which time of the day and doubtless if someone else is keeping count you are time-checked and put on the rota.
You belong, beer and pubs make us belong, maybe not make as that sounds like a three-line whip, but beer does help us belong, in the way you tip the glass and say cheers to a complete stranger who you will never see again; or the conversation in between swigs of Gold with the man in the paint-stained overalls who hears you mention a town you (and they) used to live in; then there are the brewer’s parents who are keen on what you think of their proud prodigy’s pints; beer helps us belong, engage in confidences about sport, business, the weather, the street you live in and also agree that religion and politics have no place in the bar (unlike that loudmouth over there); you become a fixture, as immovable as that stuffed owl under a bell jar that old Cyril (remember him?) claimed to have found by the side of a road when he came back from the Korean War (or was it a stint with ENSA?).
You belong. Beer helps us belong.
Which is why I felt sad about Fuller Smith & Turner’s demise as an independent brewery. I’ll get over it, we get over things us adults, and after all as long as ESB, London Porter (in keg for me), Vintage Ale, the wisteria, the brewery yard across which hundreds of workers have ambled and gambled on a life in beer and that tumble-down dusty room of bound brewery archives exists I will feel I belong. But if it changes and the seas of corporate ways take the brewery into a dark sunken valley of a different landscape and a memory of what once was, I won’t belong. Until then…