Walking up the quiet village street he passed through an area without street lamps, so dark he could barely see the ground. Ahead he could see The Black Swan, his weekly destination on a Tuesday, a cold blue-white light showing from a rear kitchen window and the pub sign illuminated by a more friendly and familiar yellow one at the front.
As he emerged into the light again he passed the car park and noted about a dozen vehicles, many of which were four-wheel drive, as local farmers were wont to use in those parts.
Approaching the front door he now saw a cheerful light through the small panes of the windows on either side of it. To the left, red tablecloths and the frivolous doilies of the tea room and, to the right, the more formal place settings of the dining room, neither of which currently had any patrons.
The pub was old, built early in the eighteenth century and with many modifications over the years. The stolid low building and its rear extensions and outhouses hinted at the many passages, curious rooms and cellars it contained but which, regrettably, remained a mystery to the occasional customer such as he.
The front door was open and he passed through a lighted passageway with ancient yellow-painted walls and up a short flight of steps to a solid wooden door. He could hear the sound of muted chatter and clinking of glasses from behind it.
Opening the door he passed into the bar. Standing behind the counter and pulling on a hand pump was Candy, the ever-cheerful barmaid. “Hello Stan,” she smiled as he stood waiting to be served, her long bleached blonde hair and large earrings attesting to her alleged gypsy background.
In the bar were about a dozen people seated on wooden benches at old oak tables – the furniture looked like it had been there since the pub was built. At the back of the room a small fire burnt in a large fireplace, surrounded by bottles, horse brasses, unrecognizable farm implements and other dust-covered relics of the rural past.
Several of the customers smiled and nodded at him, extending pleasantries.
There was Janice with her two beautiful border collies, Caylie and Red, their silky brown coats flowing down to the floor and their long graceful muzzles resting on white paws.
Then there was Brad, the aging musician and pub bore, rumored to have had a hit in the pop charts in a forgotten era, extolling the virtues of something or other, no-one was listening or cared.
In the far corner of the room was Irish Don, the pub scrounger. He was accosting a stranger to the bar, a pleasant looking gentleman who could have been a visiting clergyman. Don’s soft Irish brogue was pleasant to the ear but his conversation, punctuated increasingly by swearing as the evenings progressed, would sooner or later turn to the merits of the night’s beer selection, followed by the faux surprise of having left his wallet behind, and the, “could I be so bold as to ask if the gentleman would kindly buy me a half..”
Candy shook her head almost imperceptibly, sighed and raised her eyebrows as the clergyman-type approached, asking for a pint of Best and gesturing towards Irish Don.
As the first honeyed taste of hoppy beer hit his palate and the alcohol swarmed to his brain, Stan felt happy to be in the warm, friendly atmosphere of the Black Swan…