At the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, let me say it anyway – I can’t wait to get back in a pub.
Here in Scotland, the emergence from lockdown is slow and controlled (rightly), but the sight of the four walls around me drives me mad. Ever since we got married, my husband and I have made a ritual of Sundays. In the spring/summer months, we hop on his bike and drive up north, heading for the lochs, the hills and the mountains that I love for the way they sit there, unchanging, ignoring our stupid human endeavours.
We watch the scenery. We park in small towns and villages, find the local pub—preferably one that offers food—plonk our well-covered bottoms in a booth and earwig on other people’s conversations. At least I do. Is there ever anything as fascinating as hearing part of a conversation and trying to figure out the rest?
Who are you people? How did you meet? What do you do, and why are you here?
There’s a pub on the A82 that we return to time and time again. Truth be told, the food will never win awards, but we go there because the motorbike journey up the side of Loch Lomond is, and I hate this too overused word, breath-taking. God almighty, I want to be back in that pub, eating the goat’s cheese salad I always order, nicking the over-cooked broccoli off my husband’s dish of choice, the steak pie and mustard mash, squeezing into the world’s tiniest pub toilets and drinking the far too sweet/far too rubbish/way overpriced Rose.
Bliss, in these constrained times, takes diverse forms.
And yet how many of these places will survive? I’ve written a series of books set in a fictional Highland village, where the local pub/hotel doubles up as community hub. Two of the series of five I wrote in lockdown, and now wonder if they are out of date. Historical fiction, rather than contemporary romance.
Would my made-up pub/hotel, the Lochside Welcome, come through the other side of lockdowns? Doubtful.
I hate that.
In the meantime, here is a short excerpt from one of my books featuring a scene from the fictional pub… Enjoy:
The public bar was noisy. It was nowhere near as busy as the George, but its smaller space packed in people who all grinned at each other and chattered loudly. From the snatches of conversations I caught, I gathered most of them were part of a hillwalking group from Glasgow who’d looked at the weather forecast this morning, circled the loch and descended on the village. They’d booked every room and were now desperate to knock back pints, pizzas, cake and whiskies.
Jack stood at the bar, fixed smile in place as two of the walkers their status marked by lightweight cagoules and sturdy boots, exclaimed at his resemblance to Jamie Fraser.
“‘Mon, ‘mon!” they cried. “We want a selfie wi’ you!”
He pushed up the serving hatch, gamely putting an arm around each woman. I watched one of them—a woman who had to be twice Jack’s age—let her hand linger far too close to his bottom as she and her friend cuddled up either side of him. A third one took hundreds of pictures.
“Gaby!” His greeting sounded relieved. “Maureen, Louisa—this is Gaby, my wife.”
Emphasis on wife. Maureen made no move to drop her hand.
“That right, hen? You’re an awfy lucky girl,” she beamed at me. “Mind, when ma daughter was up the duff last year, by the time she got to the nine-month mark, she went right off the bed bit. Me and ma friend here would be happy to help youse out. We could take yer man up they stairs and exhaust him so much, he’ll no’ touch ye for months.”
My jaw dropped, as did Jack’s though his expression was 100 percent pure fear. Behind the bar, there were snorts of laughter. Jolene and Xavier listening in and doing nothing to help us out. As soon as I got home, I was going to design a poster for the bar. One that made it clear in gigantic capital letters that the Lochside Welcome did not tolerate abusive, sexist behaviour towards its staff.