There are few things that I love more than a pub. I dimly remember a trailer for a racy film called Threesome when I was a teenager. “Sex is like pizza,” said one of the characters. “Even when it’s bad, it’s good.” I feel like that about pubs. Even if the lager is warm, the wine is off and the clientele is alarming, a bad pub is better than no pub at all.
I like city pubs and suburban ones. A good country pub is in a league of its own, and to stumble upon a village pub that has the ambience and menu of a London one, as I did recently in Cambridgeshire, is serendipitous indeed. When I’m at home, I’m lucky enough to have three amazing local pubs nearby. I don’t go to them simply for the booze, although obviously that’s jolly nice. I go for company, to be among other people even if I don’t know them, to have a chat with the bar staff (I try to make sure I don’t become a bar fly. It’s one thing to have a conversation, another to monopolise someone’s shift), to be somewhere with life and light and perhaps a discarded Sunday supplement to read.
Nick and I were great pub-goers, partly because our flat is tiny, and partly because we both liked the atmosphere of a place where the food and wine flows, and neither of us had to do the washing up. Now I go on my own, although sometimes, at the Lion and the Unicorn up the road, I forget the past nine months for a moment and expect to see Nick sitting at the bar waiting for me with a glass of Pinot Grigio (large, naturally) on the go.
In each of the three hospitals where Nick was treated, I found a pub nearby for lunches and time outs from ward life. Fountains Abbey, The Garden Gate, The Castle – thank you. For the shandies, the sandwiches and the succour. Down the road from Nick’s latest residence is a small town with an inordinate number of boozers. My best friend and I sampled a few one night early in Nick’s stay, and now I’m a bit coy about returning to some of them (the ones we descended upon towards the end of our crawl).
Luckily, just over the road from the care home where Nick now spends his days is an establishment that, while it might not meet all of George Orwell’s criteria for a perfect pub, certainly fits the bill for me. Friendly staff, a couple of whom greet me by name. Amazing food with hilariously generous portions. A busy bar and a dining area that is full of laughter. Chefs who will happily make Nick a ham sandwich and carefully wrap it in foil if he’s in need of a late-night snack. I usually have dinner and a couple of drinks before toddling back to my camp bed in Nick’s room. So, I’d like to raise a glass to the Hand and Crown, and wish it very good health. One of Nick’s big goals in the coming weeks is to make it there for lunch in his wheelchair, and I can’t wait for him to join me there.