time at the bar

The front room of our village pub is small.  People squeeze together along the one bench under the window, a few chairs line the three tables, and there’s standing space at the bar or near the open fire.  A handful of furry canines  skitter around on the floor, lapping up attention, compliments, spilt drink and dropped crisps. Tied around table legs, their leads twine over and under like maypole ribbons.  Eventually they settle and doze, our warmed feet acting as their headrests, their slumber invoked by that incessant jabbering rumble of human chatter.

In small doses the pub is different and interesting; exposition to the lives of significantly older people, those semi-retired in their fifties and sixties who account for the majority of the pub’s custom.  Time gives greater weight to everything.  All those years and experiences offer a respectable gravity to their words and stories, their beards and their baldness and their laughter lines and their flushes.  But the insecurities are essentially the same.

A couple in their fifties had just separated after most of their lives together.   He had run off with a younger woman, so the story went, leaving her broken and in pieces, yet brave and strong.  She sat there on the bench, her deeply carved wrinkles never more pronounced than now.  Her local friends sat either side of her, doggedly talking around the subject: the holiday her son had bought her, the Christmas show she was helping to organise, care of her spaniels.

Positive, positive, progressive, forwards..

I spoke to a relatively new pubgoer.  The couple seemed to be a recent project of my parents, particularly my Mum’s, getting them involved in the village community.  He was a talented wood sculptor who aspired to a Terry Pratchett kind of look.  He had a mid-life career change after working in refrigeration for a number of years.  He was ultimately less interesting than I anticipated.

I chatted to one of my favourite pub locals to my left: a kind-faced, dry-toned, sharp-minded old guy.  (Excuse excessive hyphens).  We spoke of travel, where he and his wife had been lately in their camper van, his relationships (two marriages of almost equal length), and briefly of age and age differences.  There was nothing fancy about his unhindered, carefree way of speaking.  It was that same style as many who appear to illuminate your own thoughts in their speech: thoughts you simply hadn’t been able to properly articulate.

Perhaps that’s what age and experience gives; a better equipped retrospective processing tool.  But nothing that makes difficult decisions any less difficult.  A main character in the brilliant “The Kids Are All Right,” played by the consistently magnificent Julianne Moore, gives a moving speech to her family apologising for a mistake.  She explains how marriages are marathons: extremely hard work, how you can get numb to your partner over time, through day-to-day routine.

My conversation with the old guy in the pub ebbed and I overheard my father, sitting to my right.  “Well I’m naturally quite a shy person,” he said.  What did he just say?!  I turned around and snapped back into that corner pocket of people, including the sculptor and his wife.  I looked at him with exaggerated confusion.  “Dad, you performed in drag down at the village hall in front of two hundred people a few weeks ago.”

Age baffles.  I’m increasingly convinced that nothing gets clearer with time.  Particularly relationships: new or old; those with partners, siblings, good friends or parents.  Years give a density of knowledge and experience which slowly creates a print.  But the opposing pressures which create that print are never fixed.  They can stop exerting altogether and they can be rocked by a meteor.

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