So there I was with two evenings in Bridport to fill, so for the Thursday night I had booked myself B&B at the Tiger Inn and called up my nephew who I hadn’t seen for a while and checked out his availability for pint when he finished work.
Although not blood relatives (SiL’s son) our relationship has developed steadily over 30 years or more and it is always easy to spend time with him. I always enjoy the time I spend with him and although his irreverence towards the bullshit of stuff like religion and the foul sleaze of politics is perhaps a little more cautious than mine, I will keenly miss him and his acerbic wit when he eventually emigrates to Oz.
It was good to catch up and hear of his progress on obtaining a residents visa for Australia (so he can move out to join the love of his life) and also of his latest boat building adventures. He was just back from a launch of a new row boat that is being used for a single handed row across the Atlantic. He was rightly proud of having used his best skills as part of a team building a boat which will help protect the life of a single handed rower as she takes on the perils of that vast ocean.
One pint led to several and we ended up wandering into the George in the center of town to check it out after its re-vamp. It used to be a great old local to have, but it had been allowed in recent times to fade from its former quirky glory.
Unfortunately the local brewery in their infinite lack of wisdom and taste had decided to give it a make-over.
As is normal, with the local brewery whenever they get involved in the remodeling of one of their pubs, in their cynical blind pursuit of profit and misguided, mistaken ideas on what they think is “trendy” they have managed “yet again” to tear the guts and soul out of a place and leave a pale amorphous shadow of what it once was. There is hardly even a homeopathic trace left of the great boozer it once was but it is starting to become busy again which is good thing.
I do understand that things change (whether I like it or not) even though sometimes one has to question the benefit and purpose of such change.
I will digress for a moment to share a story as The George was the scene of one of my favourite observations of human interaction which occurred there late one afternoon.
It involved a new barmaid who was a particularly pretty and shapely young woman and was doing a couple of trial shifts.
She had been coping admirably with the normal badinage of the eclectic mix of drinkers that frequented the establishment, when in strolls one particular well-known local who had a reputation as being a bit of a “smooth talking bastard”.
As he sees her he slips into a slightly lascivious tone and said
“Heeello!!, and where have you been hiding all my life?”
Quick as a flash and without breaking stride, or a smile, she said
“Well for most of it I wasn’t even born fatty, now what would you like to drink”
Quite rightly she was hired on the spot.
While Will bought the pints I was attempting to cast an open minded yet critical eye over the new décor and layout when I heard a familiar shriek and “Oh my, it’s Bentley”
The voice and shriek belonged to a regular of The Cavity (the groundbreaking bar started by Mrs Bentley and me in 1995 and sold in 97) who I hadn’t seen for years.
It was a heart leaping joy seeing her beautiful, honest open face, that as ever was quick to break into a glorious beaming smile that I am sure could contribute to global warming, and is normally accompanied by a guffawing laugh that could curdle a sailors rum.
Although she was enjoying dinner with her delightful sister we still managed to chat for long enough to bring each other up to date with our lives.
At the time of the Cavity she and many others of her peer group who used it were between school and university or had started uni already. They were a creative and fun bunch all full of excitement, enthusiasm and inquisitiveness as they made their first tentative scrawls on the pages of adulthood.
Fast forward 17 years and she is now a lawyer for the United Nations working in Phnom Penn helping refugees from that country, and when I mentioned that MrsB is out that way (well Vietnam) for a few weeks in June the invite to show her the town was instant and heartfelt. When I told MrsB she adjusted her travel plans immediately to include Cambodia.
It was heartening and satisfying to hear the how the Cavity had been a creative and inspiring place for so many of them and how much of a warm and secure place it occupies in their hearts.
Although not graced with as much wisdom and intuition as MrsB, I have always been able to recognize strength of character and compassion, and Jenna, even as a young maid, always made me feel she had great reserves of those special and often rare qualities, and her current work and general good company is testament to that.
I eventually left them in peace and wandered off on a little pub crawl (alone now Will had gone home as he had work the next day) but I was invigorated with the genuine warmth of the contact and the many wonderful memories it ignited. It was a wet Thursday evening without many people out and about and so after visiting a couple of old haunts I let the clock gently wind down, ending up in The Tiger for last orders and pootled off to bed with a big smile on my face and slept wonderfully.
Much to MrsB’s concern I have recently opened an account on the interweb’s very own center for narcissists known as Facebook. It isn’t that I am out and about very much now, nor do I have any great desire to discuss what I had for breakfast, the size and consistency of my last turd, nor take lots of arm’s length photos of myself pouting in alluring poses and post them for people to marvel at my magnificent yet modest beauty. No, I joined so I could get my blogs out to a wider audience.
When I was “making friends” (if that is the right vernacular to use as opposed to asking people if they wanted to be my “friend”) I was contacted by an old mate (one time HGV driver, pub landlord, property developer and now acclaimed photographer) Shane, who missed last year’s 8 Bells reunion. He was insisting that to make up for it the next time I am in UK we get together for a pint or three.
I posted up on the open site that I would be in the Tiger (now the best pub in Bridport) from 5pm onwards. He said he would see me there at 6. Session on.
Unfamiliar as I am with the mysterious vagaries of the Facebook phenomenon, and unbeknownst to me during the day, I was in for a very pleasant surprise in the evening
MrsB would not be accompanying me as she was in France, however it should be noted at this stage that a pub crawl night out on the piss with some of my old mates would probably not figure as a highlight of MrsBs social events calendar for the year.
It isn’t that she doesn’t enjoy the company of some of the people I was likely to see, it is just that she has always been a much more private person than I am and prefers smaller quieter gatherings. Part of it is also that because of me being the loud front man for the comedy for over 20 years and also the loud night face of the Cavity, lots of people know me (or should I say more accurately) ‘recognise’ me. Among the general “out and about pub crowd”, unless I am with her, they hardly ever acknowledge MrsB.
It isn’t that she is a shrinking violet or cold & aloof (far from it she is the most warm hearted and wise woman I know with a mighty circle of good friends who relish the time they spend with her) but she doesn’t enjoy the company of loads of bawdy people (especially me) out on the lash getting louder, talking more and yet saying less, with the occasional “Aye Aye Bentley” thrown in .And that’s just when it’s just me and I have taken her out to dinner.!!!!
For me a night like this it is a rare treat and because I have changed my habits (and location) it is so rare that it remains a treat.
So back to the Friday
During the course of my meanderings through the day I popped into to see Jill who runs the Fancy Dress emporium and who was also a comedy club (and Cavity) regular with her husband Ray (who runs a thriving international antique and curios business). As usual it is always great to see either of them and I received a lovely warm welcome.
It was fun catching up on each other’s news and I mentioned I was off to the Tiger for a few and she said she would contact Ray and see me there later for one .
As I left the shop I had a phone call from a long standing friend Mark who said he had heard I was about and was driving down from Dorchester for a couple with his wife Claire. Our friendship has developed and been easy and comfortable over the years and although we don’t get to spend much time with each other the sun always seems to shine bit brighter whenever I am in their company so it was great news indeed that they were setting a course for the pub.
I also received a text from a good mate of mine Leon who (with his lovely girlfriend Tess) has spent many a mad night with us in France, saying he was heading to the Tiger as well. Will also confirmed he was up for an early doors session.
If I had been a sailor at sea watching this weather pattern form I would have taken in a couple of reefs on the main and possibly broken out the storm-sail. Ahhhaaaargh.
T’was with my traditional sailors swagger that I rolled through the Tiger’s doors at about half four and to my delight seated at the bar were some mates of mine who are builders having an early finish Friday jar. Tom John Mike and Nick (who now spends most of his time out in Greece or Cyprus). It was good fun to have yarn with them and tell of the renovation in France how it was coming on, and also pick up some tips of what I was planning to do next.
Will arrived and we began to discuss him coming over before he goes to Oz to create a bespoke “gentleman’s dresser” out of the old oak and chestnut I have saved.
Mark and Clair arrived next, and very soon later I had agreed to do a comedy gig for them at their fund raiser in late august. They were swiftly followed by Leon with tales of the plot of land with stable they have bought up north near Sherbourne, (it was good to introduce M&C to Leon as he has a established band called Sketchy Dog and also agreed to gig at the fundraiser. Then Shane was there with hugs and big laughs and after I had nipped out to the bog I came back to find Gibbers from Lyme Regis sat there grinning like a cheshire cat saying that his wife had seen a session developing on Facebook and thought he would like to come as well so she drove him over and dropped him off. (Cheers Alicia see you in August)
Then Ray and Jill turned up and the conversation and laughter, like the beer, was flowing like a river for a couple of hours when some had to go home and other commitments called.
Shane Will, Gibbers and myself decided to visit the Hope and Anchor which has been a notorious drinking den for as long as I can remember and one that we just knew we would bump into people we would know and sure enough we were not disappointed. Once again the conversations laughter and general “hoo haa” was on as we reconnected with old pals from our younger days. One of our old mates had recently lost her partner of many years and was visibly moved to see three old faces perhaps reminding her that life did go on and that it was OK to smile again and enjoy life.
The Hope & Anchor has often attracted scorn from some people in the town, accusing it of being just an old cider heads hang out, and while there is a grain of truth to that it is a much bigger picture and more diverse story than that. It is a thriving local for many people for whom gadding about the world, or moving to new towns, has for whatever reason never been an option or a want. It holds countless memories good and bad for many people of the town over the last 35 years that I have known it, but one thing it has never been is “dull”.
I know that’s some people may consider that my sentimentality has got the better of me and I am romanticizing the place, but I am just telling it as “I” see it.
We had a couple in there and then made our slightly weaving way up behind “Scummers” (used to be Summerfield supermarket but now some other supermarket company) to the Ropemakers run by our old pals John & Geraldine.
Going in through the back garden we were met with the hearty roar of Paul who had “heard on Facebook” that we would be in the Ropey’s at some stage and had come to meet us there.
So with a table in the garden procured and pints poured we continued to natter.
It was great to be sitting about with a group of confident, articulate, accomplished and experienced middle aged men rolling back the years and catching up with each other’s shenanigans over the last decade or three and filling in the gaps we didn’t know.
Our revelry was often interrupted by people coming up to the table to shake hands have hugs Whaaay Haaays and what have you’s as the night progressed.
The warm recognition by so many people, old faces from the day of past, as well as mates of my kids, was quite marvelous.
We noticed that some of the “new young blades” were wondering who the very loud very popular but very scary looking old fuckers were holding court in the garden.
I guess it is sign of the times in that 35 years ago when we were the young blades, we would have known everyone and who to steer clear of or who not to piss off.
The town didn’t seem smaller then but it was definitely less “Islington buy Sea” in those days.
These new youngsters finally found out who we were (not that we gave a fuck if they didn’t and probably neither did they) and some came up to say “Oh Hi I am Joe Blog’s son. I remember you from years ago at my aunties wedding” or whatever.
We would grin and shake hands and all say “Oh yes that’s right he married Patricia Smith so is she your mum then?? Great to see you and send our regards”
And “How is your auntie Gloria these days haven’t seen her for a while?” etc etc.
It would have been cruel and to have said
“So you are “Joe Shitypants Bloggs” boy then?”
(so called after he fell asleep on the town square public benches and shat himself after a night on rough cider and barley wine mixers),
“So that would make your mum Patricia the Pussy then?”
(so called as she had an unusually hairy pussy and wasn’t shy in who she let in it.)
and that would make your auntie Gloria the giggling gobbler, (so called because.. well you get the idea)
Those sorts of old time secrets belong to a different time, (and in more private reminiscences) and in a small town they are best left to the occasional knowing glance as old eyes meet, or the cheeky tipping of a wink followed by a slight blush.
They are the happy mischievous memories of a time when the restraints of responsibility were still a rarity for most of us. We were having too much fun and never sat still long enough to give a flying fuck about what may be said in the future and neither should we have.
I sincerely hope that is how it is for the new wild bunch of today, however it would seem from what I have observed recently that it is more important now that every moment has to be recorded, as opposed to actually experienced.
Maybe that’s just me being a bit older now and averse to having my every hug and handshake and guffaw, or every misheard conversation, photographed and splurged up on Facebook before the hangovers even had time to develop.
I see no great leap forward socially in that. I can see no improvement of enjoyment nor merit in it.
I know I digress here but I feel a sense of sadness when I see people at events and nights out, be it music, social gatherings or anything else, holding up their poncy fucking phones, recording and photographing, rather than leaving the phone in their pocket and actually enjoying the moment for what it is. I don’t see why people are in such a desperate panic to tell everyone where they are and reading text about where their other mates while they all are wondering what they are missing out on as the giddy carousel of life whirls unnoticed around them.
That isn’t experience its journalism.
I can’t help thinking that they are missing out on so much of the raw, real, emotive power of experience by falling for the illusion that some bad photo or shitty wobbly footage with piss poor sound reproduction will in anyway replicate what they should have been talking part in.
In years to come I fear that all they will be looking at is what they missed.
BEEEP BEEP BEEP “Grumpy old twat climbing onto high horse ALERT”.
Back to the night in question which (as any good session “getting pissed right up” in Bridport should) ended up with me in shorts and flip flops at Ali’s kebab shop at fuck knows what time in the morning and nearly locking myself out of my hotel as a result .
I have to say it was a wonderful night out, full of contact with people who I knew and just wanted to say hello or shake my hand, or buy me a drink and hear of my exploits and just to have a laugh with me.
I felt bizarrely like some sort of hero returning to Homesville, but from doing what or where I will never fathom. As good as it felt I wouldn’t want to return to doing it every week nor even every month as the novelty would wear off.
It was humbling, and at the same time immensely enjoyable to be received with such genuine warmth by so many people.
My ego is normally fairly “large” in any event (some would say too large) however that night it received a turbo boost of love to enhance my sense of well-being and confirmed my condition of being “loved right up”.
Love and Peace
Ps, you know who you all are so if I didn’t mention you by name thanks for the laughs, the love and the general good vibe.