Pub visits this week 6
Locations Chesterfield, Sheffield
Going to the pub on a Monday can sometimes have a powerful antidepressant effect, countering the blues that set in at the start of the week. This Monday it’s not really happening. The week in pubs begins at Chesterfield’s Barley Mow, where I sometimes have lunch with my girlfriend and our little ‘un. A pint of Bombardier isn’t bad enough to take back, but it’s nearly on the turn and not up to the usual standards here. There’s no coleslaw to go with our burgers and chips, so they add tasty, greasy onion rings instead. “Is that alright?” ask the bar staff. Bring it on. I stopped giving a bugger about my long-term health when Britain abolished pensions.
The service at the Barley Mow is as professional today as ever. But the mood in the pub as a whole seems a little weary and downbeat, as if no-one can quite yet acknowledge that the week has begun.
The next few days pass in fevered anticipation of Friday and my Pretend Work Christmas Do. Instituted by my friends when I moved to Sheffield a few years ago, this event fills the gap that opened in my festive calendar when I became self-employed and thus ceased to have an actual, proper work Christmas do. Each year we meet in the city centre at 5pm and then go on to a few pubs somewhere else. Basically, it’s a fine excuse for a few pints and a curry. I make the same jokes every year, as my own boss, about having to get drunk and flirt with myself, etc etc, but it hasn’t seemed to put people off coming yet.
This year we start in the Rutland Arms. The Rutland has been packed out at 5pm on the last few Fridays. Some have been anticipating that today, rather than Christmas Eve in seven days’ time, will be this year’s ‘Black Friday’ – the last day of work before Christmas week, when the managers of pubs quail at the wobbly march of the part-time drinkers and the carnage that inevitably ensues.
Bizarrely, though, it’s quieter than usual. It’s still busy. But for the two and a half hours we’re here, folks are almost looking over their shoulders for the rush to begin. Not that it’s a problem for the eight of us, squeezing round two little tables. We line up silk-smooth pints of Sheffield Porter, as dark as the gathering night. We line up work-themed songs on the jukebox (‘Step Into My Office, Baby’ giving way to ‘Matthew and Son’). And I’m riotously entertained by the man who is mercilessly spattered by an explosive tap in the toilet and explains: “That bastard gets me every time!”
Over to Walkley, then (where we’ve never previously done the Pretend Work Christmas Do), and the Freedom House, where we seem to rattle around – a bit incongruously, but glad for some of the better pints of Abbeydale’s Moonshine that you’ll find in its home city. The Blake Hotel (pictured above and below) is where everyone seems to be, still crammed with gabbling life a month or so after its long-awaited reopening. Just what is it that can be so popular about this attractively decorated pub with friendly staff and fabulously conditioned cask ales at remarkably low prices?
It’s a similar squeeze on Saturday afternoon at the Fat Cat, where some friends, my son and I converge for lunch. Lunch at the Fat Cat means some of the best and cheapest pub food anywhere in the city, and it seems to be getting too good a reputation for any sort of comfort. Sunday evening at the Gardeners Rest is a delight, with a Christmas quiz, festive hats and all the trimmings. But it’s Friday that’ll stay with me this week. This has not been the easiest of years, and after a stumble up the steep, icy streets to Commonside for an assortment of jalfrezis and madrases and vindaloos, it wasn’t just the curry creating a warm glow: it was the company of people who care. I suppose friends and love still exist in countries where they don’t have pubs, but pubs seem to complete a sort of holy trinity, without which hard times would be harder still.