This post is mainly about the second of my three ex-jobs: bartending/waitressing at the Royal Arms. It’s one of those weird posts that was written in instalments over a period of great change – I started it last week, and since then, I’ve moved house, started a job, and become prime minister (spot the odd one out). That all entails a certain amount of inconsistency, but I’ll try and make it vaguely coherent.
On Friday I had my last shift at the Royal Arms before moving down south, and it felt like a little piece of my heart was painfully crumbling into sappy, nostalgic dust. To get the terrible clichés over with, my local is the sort of pub that has a fantastic sense of community spirit. There’s something about watching fifteen regulars standing around the bar and the fireplace, all chatting and laughing together, that warms the cockles of my cynical heart until I start unironically saying things like ‘community spirit’. Playful banter and the odd bit of genuine hostility abound, of course, but everyone knows more or less everyone, and it’s clear that people will pull together when something goes wrong.
Unbelievably, I have/had been working at the Arms for around 8 months, which is almost long enough to gestate a tiny human. Productivity comes in many forms, I guess… but that’s beside the point. What I want to convey is that working in a locals’ pub is great because it’s a bit like being extremely popular, or so I imagine. You’re known by everyone, greeted warmly by everyone, viewed as a source of harmless speculation by everyone (“Who’s your feller, love?” is a question I won’t miss evading), and you’re party to all of the gossip. I realise that this special treatment essentially comes about because I’m the one serving drunk-juice, but it’s a nice feeling nonetheless. I suppose jobs like being a traffic warden or a school inspector are the opposite; being constantly regarded with dread and suspicion must wear down the soul eventually.
So, anyway, leaving felt a bit like losing many friends, although of course I plan to go back more or less regularly. I enjoy bar work for the same reasons I enjoy carpenting – namely, it’s simple and satisfying: you do a thing, the thing is visibly finished, then you collect your wages. But the main thing that hit me really, really hard on Friday, as I walked out of the pub to a chorus of goodbyes and a lovely rendition of When Will I See You Again, was that my bar work has helped me to realise how much I love home.
I’ve lived in Llangrove since I was one and a half. I’m not a proper local (in that I can’t name any relatives within a 50 mile radius and wasn’t even born here) but my formative years were very much spent in the Shire, with all the consequent inconveniences and advantages. The main advantage was of course the boundless, non-perilous, rolling hills, in which I roamed freely, played in streams and probably ate worms, but I was oddly unappreciative of this genre of delight for many years. This may have had something to do with the fact that until the age of 17, I was reliant on my
forgetful busy parents for lifts, because our village is served by a sum total of two buses per week.
When I was a carless teenager, the absence of the following in an accessible radius from my home seemed like insurmountable woe:
- Any semblance of public transport
- Exciting attractions along the lines of bowling alleys, cinemas and mini-golf
- Purveyors of shiny objects and cheap clothing
- Literally all of my friends’ houses
Combined, these features of my hometown/village meant that my social life was conducted primarily on MSN, and that I spent a lot of time arguing about just how far it was acceptable to walk before I was allowed a lift. Perhaps the teenage angst was at least partly justified.
But now that I can drive, it’s much easier to appreciate the good bits. It’s a very pretty area, and more importantly it’s my home. I love our house and I like most things about my local towns, with a notable exception being the absence of jobs I’m interested in. So when I drove away alone on Sunday, heading for a job I didn’t know much about and a city I’d been to only once, I was pretty tearful. Although it’s just a temporary contract, I’m deeply saddened by the fact that it probably means the end of my time living at home and working supposedly rubbish jobs. I already miss my parents, my house, my cats, the pub, Hollow Ash, and every corner of the roads and hedges that I know like the back of my hand. And for the first time in a while, I’ll have to deal with making friends in a totally unfamiliar setting, rather than being an accepted feature of an existing social landscape.
PLEASE STRAP YOURSELF IN FOR A BRIEF POLITICAL ASIDE
Of course, good old-fashioned rural communities have their downsides, the obvious one being insularity. At no point is that lovely sense of community spirit clearer than when overhearing a discussion about The Forest (which you could call a sort of ‘rival area’) – sadly, the quotes I’d like to offer you are too full of expletives to repeat here. This is clearly problematic, and I’m under no illusion that the customer is always right when it comes to conversations which touch on the big issues in life. I’ve grimaced at the sight of someone reading the Daily Fail as if it was actual news, and wrestled with the question of how vociferously it’s appropriate to disagree with customers on matters like the EU and immigration. I err on the side of keeping work and personal opinions separate, but it’s definitely a challenge. With an increased awareness of the value of a familiar home and its accompanying tight social network, comes an awareness of how sad it is to lose that as a by-product of fleeing war, for example. It seems ironic that village communities, the very group who should most appreciate one of the many things the dreaded ‘migrants’ have lost, are so often made up of people who are hesitant to welcome refugees to our own idyllic, ‘tolerant’ nation.
BRIEF POLITICAL ASIDE IS NOW OVER, SEATBELT SIGNS ARE OFF, YOU MAY USE THE TOILETS, ETC.
It’s time to wrap things up, but I’ll just add a quick update about how my new life is panning out. Salisbury is very lovely in the sun and slightly less so in the rain, my mood apparently being directly linked to the colour of the sky. So far, I’ve been for several pleasant wanders. I’ve got very lost a couple of times, and stumbled across hundreds of people doing some kind of inexplicable bootcamp (on which occasion, despite being lost, I began to feel smug about my own life choices). I’ve done many inefficient grocery shops. I’ve successfully bought not only a bike pump but also a portable phone charger, which makes me an Efficient Human Being. I’ve had a little cry in the car on saying goodbye to Mum after a very brief coffee. And I’ve discovered, to my delight, that my new colleagues are lovely and the festival is going to be REALLY, REALLY EXCITING. So, despite having some reservations about the sheer amount of screen time inherent in an office job, things are looking pretty damn good.