Portrait of a Publican

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The landlord’s high stool at the end of the bar is really a kind of throne from which he exercises benign authority.

Gouty and beetroot-cheeked, he is no dabbler, but a pub man in his very heart: he is proud of what he has built, and feels what is right without making any self-conscious effort.

The well-worn wooden counter looks rightly Victorian. Cards games are played on green baize. New wallpaper with a fashionable pattern gestures at refurbishment and yet, with its wine-red curlicues, enhances the atmosphere rather than snuffing it out.

But the essence of ‘pubness’ isn’t in the décor: it emanates from him, like a psychic projection or force field.

He would probably go mad if he didn’t get to spend his working day amongst other people. Greeting new visitors with a few courtly words, and looking after his regulars, makes him glow and stretch tall, like a dog having its belly rubbed.

But his kingdom shows signs of decay. The glowing Guinness font is only for show, glasses being filled (not quite openly) from cans in the fridge. Where there were once three ‘guest ales’, the condition of which he was justifiably proud, there is now one, chosen for its cheapness.

Even with a full pub, we wonder if he is making any money at all, and suspect that what keeps it afloat is one thing: his love of the game.