I was astonished to turn round and see a bloke with his arm round my Dad’s shoulders at the bar of The Fountain.
It looked like a standoff. Neither Dad nor the stranger was talking, just staring at each other. I couldn’t read the situation at all.
The Fountain is the one pub in my hometown that anyone ever seems to recommend, and it’s been that way for a couple of decades.
It’s not the kind of place you’d send anyone out of their way to visit but it’s always had vaguely interesting ale and a proper pub-like atmosphere.
When I happen to be back in town and need somewhere to meet my oldest friends, that’s where we often end up. We’d found it fairly welcoming as teenagers and young twenty-somethings.
Before Mum and Dad moved out of town, it was the most common place for us to settle at the end of family pub crawls, and I remember the odd Boxing Day session there.
I’ve got a suspicion it might have been where Jess had her first pint with my parents, too.
In short, I have a soft spot.
Mum and Dad started visiting again recently after they popped into town on some errand or other and dropped into the pub on a whim. They found it under new management and were pretty well charmed by the current landlady, a no-nonsense, energetic young woman who seems to have The Knack.
I could certainly see a difference. There wasn’t only the typical Butcombe Bitter of the region but also Fuller’s Oliver’s Island – an interesting beer to encounter in Somerset – and the pub felt alive. People spoke to me at the bar – “I’m from London. I came to visit my aunt in 1973 and never went home.” Conversations took place between one table and the next. There were old boys and youngsters, all mingling quite happily, drinking whatever they wanted to drink, from lager to scrumpy to wine to cask bitter.
But then this bloke grabbed hold of Dad, and kept hold of him.
“Uh… Do you two know each other?” I asked eventually.
The stranger looked startled that I even had to ask.
Then more white-haired men turned up, surrounding Dad, and a sort of mass Somerseting occurred: “‘Ow be, boy?” “Bloody hell, ‘ow be, Dave?”, “Ginger!”, repeat.
Mum had to explain what was going on. These were the boys Dad grew up with on a council estate in the countryside, all prefabs and concrete, built to house munitions workers during World War II. They had spent the 1960s being tearaways together, stealing cars, starting bands, starting fights… All of them were now 70 or more years old, some of them still living on the estate.
It turned out that although Dad hadn’t seen most of them in years, even decades, they had been keeping tabs on his movements and had discussed him from time to time in their regular meet-ups at The Fountain.
It was weird to see Dad acting like a teenager again, laughing as he remembered the time he and his pals tried to make wine from rhubarb. I wanted to take a picture but didn’t dare disrupt the moment but it looked pretty much like this:
When we left the lads all took turns to tell Dad to drop into their regular sessions more often than once every 20 years, and he said he would.
I wonder if he will.