Sunny day today. Sunny and windless. In what seems to have been a constant-gale-force winter, that was a very rare combination.
So, chancing my luck, I parked outside one of my local pubs, wondering if it might just be possible to endure half an hour in its empty garden.
If the garden was empty, then so was the pub. It had just one customer propped up at the end of the bar. All the tables were empty inside, just like outside. But what do you expect in England in early March.
These days, I’m always slightly anxious when I return to a pub after a five or six month absence. It may have changed hands. It may have been redecorated. And since smoking was banned inside, I always half-expect it to be banned outside as well. Setting a bad example or something. And large No Smoking signs screwed onto the tables and chairs, and maybe even painted on the lawns. And if anyone lit up, an irate barman would come out and tell you that We Don’t Want Your Sort Here.
And if not the smoking, then the drinking. No, we don’t sell beer or lager any more. New EU regulations. But we have a good range of non-alcoholic fruit juices. And we do milk shakes and ice cream sodas, and tea and coffee. No, we don’t sell crisps or peanuts any more either.
But very little had changed. A couple of new taps had been installed. One was for a Czech lager I’d never seen before. Havel or Kavel or something. So I ordered one, and stepped outside to find the most sunlit and sheltered table in the garden, and lit up a small Cohiba.
No alarms sounded. No pack of dogs descended on me. No barman came out to remonstrate. There weren’t any No Smoking signs either.
And I relaxed. And felt the warm sun glowing on my skin. And sipped the fruity Czech lager, and pulled on the Cohiba, and gazed across the overgrown lawn at the distant trees until my eyes lost focus and it all became a happy, hazy blur.
Maybe there’s something in all this Global Warming tosh after all? March 7 is pretty much mid-winter in England. Last year it was late March before I returned to the local pub gardens, like some migrating bird just back from North Africa. It hasn’t been a cold winter round these parts. It’s been a very wet and windy winter.
One day I hope to return in the Spring to find that the pubs are chock full of people eating and drinking and smoking and laughing again. And when I ask about it, I’ll be told that the ban had been repealed a few months earlier. Hadn’t I heard about the big scandal when the WHO had been closed down, and quite a few people sent to prison for fraud? No, I guess I missed it. And then I’ll sit on a bar stool, gazing through the welcoming veil of smoke, not really believing that this long bad dream is really over, and wondering if it actually was just that all along: a bad dream.