I have made my first visit to a pub since Lockdown 3: The Lockening was announced. A lot of people I know have been talking longingly about the taste of that first proper pint, and I would have been, too, had I not succumbed to buying my own worktop draught beer pump in order to replicate the authentic boozer experience at home.
I have really enjoyed my home pub, although it does feel a little weird to be pouring myself a fourth pint while settling down to a night of puzzles with my wife and kids. Necessary, but weird.
So I was looking forward to my first draught beer in a context that was draft beer-appropriate. My friend had booked a table for six of us. Ever since the rule of six was brought in, I’ve spent every evening wondering if six people I know are all having a great night somewhere without me. It’s a new social paranoia I can happily file alongside my other anxieties.
This time, for the first time ever, the pub visit was preceded by a series of weather updates on our WhatsApp group. Some people were worried whether they should wrap up warm, and whether they should have something waterproof to put on just in case. You’d have been forgiven for thinking the group had been set up for a half-dozen people about to embark on their first Duke of Edinburgh hike.
On the afternoon before the big expedition, the wind was going wild, and my wife started telling me she couldn’t think of anything worse than going to have a drink outside. I insisted that I was very much still looking forward to it, but that came mainly from a desire to save face because “a proper drink” was my idea in the first place. To be honest, part of me was hoping the winds might pick up so much that our evening would have to be cancelled for health and safety reasons.
It wasn’t to be. We then received word that the pub couldn’t guarantee a spot in the coveted main space unless we turned up early to claim it, booking or not. “Main space” suggests a level of high-end comfort but, to be crystal clear, we are talking about a marquee tent in a pub car park. This is no slight on the pub itself: I totally understand that pubs have had a tough time and, actually, a pub in a tent in a car park is a dramatic improvement on a pub that has gone out of business, but still… We were having to rush to secure our spot as though it was a pair of tickets to Hamilton.
Two of our party turned up at 4.30pm to fight off the savages also trying to claim a table for the evening. We received a delighted text saying, “Table secured!” followed by another message saying, “Seriously, wrap up warm.” Rather than getting spruced up for the evening, my preparation consisted of going into the garage to find my thermals, before locating a snood and heading off for the evening wearing two pairs of socks.
I don’t know if you’ve had a pint and a vegetable madras in a hurricane, but that was essentially what I did. While it was lovely to properly see friends and hang out, every now and again you would become acutely aware of the temperature and general lack of comfort, and say, “Fucking hell.” And then you would ask how somebody’s anecdote had ended because it’s difficult to hear in 40mph winds. We spent most of the night trying to pin down flyaway poppadoms.
I found myself wondering just how desperate we were to have a good time. Wasn’t it quite admirable – touching, even – that our friendships meant so much to us that we would socialise in storm-like conditions? Then the patio heater stopped working and I told my friends I was off home: nothing was worth this.