FOOD among civilised people re
quires its proper environment. Bread and " butter " and cheese wrapped in a piece of newspaper and eaten in the draught and dirt of a carthouse or barn is a very different meal to bread and cheese (even when
wrapped in newspaper) eaten at table before a fire, with beer to help down the bread, and the entrances and conversations of strangers for diversion. So we have 'our lunch in a pub.
As, following the thresher, we go to two or three different villages each week, our experience of pubs is becoming formidable. We could, for the benefit of fellow-workers, begin an index of pubs in our part of the county, giving the raw truth about such essential matters as the landladies (and their husbands), the size of fires, the state of the sables, the comfort of the chairs, the amount of noise, the decorations, appearances and situation, the darthoards and the conversation, whether there are spittoons, newspapers, notices saying the possibilities of defeat do not exist, lavatories, bucolic bores who have been on the B.B.C., shove-ha'penny boards, and, finally, for it is a point not to be lost sight of, any tolerable beer.
BEFORE I joined the threshing gang I used to go fairly often to the Shoulder of Mutton. It was ten minutes' bicycle ride from my farm, but on the first occasion I bad been there, in the evening, I had drunk excellent draught cider, and the bar had seemed to me a pleasant place, small enough for people to converse comfortably across it, and with two tables covered with American cloth but clean. I took my book there in the lunch hour and then with sonic horror noticed a thing I had overlooked before: a small square of wood in one corner from which now somebody's band was muzzily and vibratingly going all out on an exceptionally silly tune called " Ay Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay." I read very little and digested my food badly, but nevertheless tried the pub again several times in the hope that someone would forget to turn the radio on (thc controls were somewhere within the private part of the house, else I would hate silenced the thing myself) ; but no one did.
I gave up going to the pub after one lunch time, when besides the radio, I had to endure the reminiscences of a largely incomprehensive man with a grievance.
AT the Hermit there was a radio. Also a parrot which when it saw anyone eating would scream; a more than ordinary scream
that reduced the bar to half-a-minute of appalled silence. But the Hermit was usually full of people, Air Force men, lorry drivers, farm workers, so that I had not much wish to read in any case. The tables were small and round with green tops, the genteel sort of table from which commercial travellers' wives sip Guinness in those bogus Tudor palaces of the outer suburbs: not suitable tables for bread and cheese and beer. The tire was small. But the landlady, an emigrant from London, was accommodating. She made no fuss about my request for a glass of water, in which to take sonic medicine.
At another pub the landlady said : " Trying to get drunk?" and this though I had ordered my usual pint, also she was an intolerant person, fond, I should think, of managing other people's lives. She objected to my reading while I ate.' " What's be want to read books at dinner for?" I heard her asking the dresser in her kitchen. " Give himself indigestion." She was the flaw in an otherwise admirable pub.
THE personality of the landlady was too evident also at the Three Pigeons. She stood by us while we ate, disjointedly talking of the war and weather, obviously trying to sum us up. When an insignificant little man who had been sipping beer at a coveted settle by the open fire, got up to leave, she accompanied him with redundant courtesies to the door, and hurried back to tell us that he was So-and-So. the B.B.C. announcer. " You know the one that gives the news. Well, one of the one's that give the news then."
We were suitably awed, but George, who has charge of the threshing machine, said: " Tell him not to tell so many — lies." He spoke for effect, rather than through conviction, for during the rest of the dinner hour he discussed as earnestly and repetitively as anyone this chance contact with the Important.
The landlady, rather kittenish at the success of her news, picked up the book I had been reading. " A Survey of Unemployment Under the National Government," she read and decisively put it down again. " Not interested," she said. She was expressing that firm adversion for realities which no doubt had led her to stick up in prominent places in her bar the defiant quotation from Queen Victoria saying that the " possibilities of defeat do not exist ": and the verses from an evening paper advising us to forget Hitler " just for one week. end " ; the actual and, I am sure, unintentional effect of which was to make it impossible to forget him even for one dinner hour.