Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I took this picture in 2008, in a pub in Oxford. The pub is called Far From the Madding Crowd, and it most certainly is, tucked away down a side street in the historic centre of, in my ever so unhumble opinion, the nicest town in England. I would happily live in Oxford, and not just because of this pub, or because my elder brother lives nearby.
Coming back to the picture, it sums up my twin passions. Beer and books, or at least beer and reading. I love reading, always have, always will. If you are ever in the situation where you are not sure what to give me for my birthday, a gift certificate to a book shop is always welcome (though please don't ever bother with something like a Kindle or Nook - I like to read real books, one could call them craft books). I am never happier than sat in a pub with a pint of something good and a book to read. The book in the picture is by one of my favourite authors, Iain Banks, and his writing lends itself to spending an afternoon tucked away in a tucked away pub, supping much maligned brown bitters and generally losing oneself. This is naturally much easier if your significant other is at a conference and you really have several hours to simply stop and not care about anything else.
I have found that being sat in a pub, reading a book and relishing every mouthful of your pint is the perfect way to unwind. One of the pleasures of the lazy afternoon and, in the right pub, evening drinking and reading, is lifting your eyes from the page and returning the physical world around you, and just watching people interact. The lunchtime crowd from a local office block, the long married couple so comfortable in each others company that the spoken word seems irreverent, the suited up gent throwing a whisky down before heading back into the fray. Conversations spark into life because of the book you are reading, discussions of literary theory, education, philosophy, politics and all the things that everyone has an opinion on, whether or not they realise it. Without outstaying their welcome, people move on and the book is picked up again.
The book and the pint are my way of stepping outside for a while, and I may be some time, but unlike Arctic explorers I come back. Back to a world of incessant buzz and noise, of ever shifting popularity and constant campaigning. To a world of hype driven must haves, and when people announce that they have, the cries of "I want" scream like gulls following a fishing boat. I have always been like this. Even as a kid at school, I spent my lunchtimes and breaks in the library, reading, learning, discovering things that were new to me. As a student in Birmingham, if they had allowed pints in the Central Library, I fear I would never have left the building.
That then would be my dream pub, one with a decent selection of books on one wall, a decent selection of beers at the bar, and all the time in the world to just step outside for a while.