The pub as a haven

A woman comes into the ‘staff bar’ and says ‘hello darling’ to Wendy. ‘Which bottle will it be’ asks Wendy, ‘the Sauvignon Blank’ she replies and exclaims, ‘I need it’. ‘Oh dear says Wendy, ‘what’s up?’ I’ve just off the train from London and went to the stables and nobody has done the horses. So I set to and do that and when I get home I find my ex-husband sat in the kitchen chair chatting to my daughter. So, I’ve left them to it and will stay here until he’s gone’. Wendy asks if she wants a larger one and everyone laughs. Jack says ‘hello, how are you’ and everyone says ‘don’t ask’. Another friend arrives, gives her a hug and they exit for a welcome smoke. Pubs are also havens.

The Woolpack Festival – Sept 2014

It’s their festival day, two years (2014) since Wendy and William – Co-Directors – arrived and six months after they took full control of the lease. The main bars are fairly free of customers as the festival includes outside sitting decks, one above the other on three levels, beginning with the lane level outside tables, another level a few steps down to a long terrace and a lower one on a level below which contains the music tent, vegetarian food and a small bar. This is the Stroud valleys after all and the total drop is about 100 feet. On this lower level children play on the natural slope and some of them have spent the afternoon clambering into the sycamore tree looking very serious as they climb upwards and emitting joyous cries having achieved a specific target branch. Others build temporary huts from the branches or dig up the soft soil using tools made from branches. Most of them have their faces painted, some by Wendy.

In the background a two person band churn out folk songs and what seem like sea shanties. Obviously it is a jolly atmosphere but with a quiet hubbub, of people conversing naturally, with no excess shrieks or screams except occasionally from the children. Mostly groups know one another but I hear a small group introduce themselves as they sit in adjacent seats. However, one solitary individual is enjoying a pint and reading the Sports section of the Telegraph.

All the regular staff appears to be employed this afternoon except for two. Two new sous chefs run the burger bar and two strangers run the Vegetarian bar – presumably employed for their food production from outside. William has been around all day and well into the afternoon he says goodbye to his wife and child who are heading home after a long day.

There is a cider bar and lager is sold on all levels but the real ale remains available from the main bar at prices 15% above the normal to pay for the event.
A small girl clambers up the grassy bank collecting mud as she goes. A previous worker here, sports a hat adorned with peacock feathers but there is not much dressing up. A boy aged about ten with a red face painted mask and black rims to his eyes consumes a burger, looking like something from the deep forest and a young women with face painted stars on her forehead rolls a cigarette and talks of her recent trip to Croatia.

The steep steps down to the third level require care and some perch on the iron railings including the sous chef who takes a cigarette break from the burger bar with her mates. Dogs bark ferociously from time to time but people are tolerant, smiling as they pass strangers on the steps or accept you with warmth to join their table, ‘If there’s no room you can sit on her lap’, is one welcome from a stranger. The children continue to adventure around the tree seemingly oblivious of the rest of the activities, but occasionally returning ‘home’ to reconnect and sometimes carrying out a dangerous manoeuvre near a steep drop that requires stern warnings from their parent. There is a long line of cars parked in the grass verges into the village, with people still pouring in towards a festival of joy, friendliness and lots of laughing, representative, perhaps of the Slad valley and the welcoming Woolpack Inn.

New Article

What does the pub do for young people? Quite alot actually

We have published a new article about how pubs, and in particular small pubs, assist the process for young people into emerging adulthood.

See Publications tab on the Home page.

A late Monday in June 6.30 – A Socially Diverse Third Home

Two male customers are in the dining room discussing Literature: their likes and dislikes of Henry James, Patricia Highsmith, Shakespeare, Marlow, poetry and sonnets quietly. They don’t appear to feel uncomfortable. One of them is talking about leading a session at the Cheltenham Literary Festival on the subject of authors born one hundred years ago. A loud cacophony of noise is heard from the main bar where they are celebrating someone’s birthday and when that dies away there is the distinctive sound of a regular loud voice that permeates the whole pub. There is a wide social mix in this pub, perhaps because it is the only one in the village. This diversity may not be found in a town pub where people have much more choice of pubs and they may choose to inhabit a pub that reflects their own social homogenous group.

The joy of a popular pub, on a wet weekend in June

There’s a party occupying the whole of the snug; another party drinking wine and occupying the middle staff bar and all the tables in the dining room are reserved for a party of 36 at 8pm. In the main bar a well-dressed foursome sup some wine and ale and at the other table a Spanish family of two parents and one child each focus on their own tablets together with earphones, the table covered in empty crisp packets and empty half pint glasses. The regulars and smokers sit outside as do some of the main bar drinkers who cannot find a seat in their bar. About 10 persons occupy some of the 6 or more benches under a covered awning adjacent to the pub on a terrace trying to avoid the showers. The kitchen cannot offer any small starters ordered by a regular couple because the kitchen is prepping for the large party arriving later. This pub is restaurant, bar, cafe, a walkers resting place, an outdoor revellers smoking space and a local history venue all rolled into one.

Thu in June – Global issues in the main bar of the Woolpack

Overheard in the main bar a group discussing Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo, as this is its 200th anniversary. They share information and make the odd analytical comment. Their relationships are connected through common experiences including those via the media. John is then invited to join them as he sitting on his own. They start to discuss alcoholism in Cuba. The global world inhabits this bar.

A Friday in June – 5.30 – The Woolpack’s Common Table

About twenty people sit outside in front of the on the long oak common table constructed by the owner and it is so popular that an inferior bench has been added to increase the seating numbers. They are a mixed group of about seventeen men and three women, though sometimes there are more women. Some smoke but not all of them. They sit on the bench seats opposite each other dressed in working or casual clothes. Most of the regulars who usually use the main bar, with a fire and no reserved tables, are outside on this sunny but breezy evening. The common table is in constant use throughout the year and the drinkers can be seen by all the traffic that passes the pub and often have to negotiate the highway due to the number of cars parked in a long line outside it. It is here at this table that certain people choose to sit to join this group of builders, mechanics, gardeners and bar staff as well as teachers and website designers.

Apparently, it has been hard to break into this group in the past but the good weather means anyone can sit wherever there is a space and join in. New relationships are made, old ones renewed but according to them no one who fancies themselves lasts long.

Nearly all the staff joins them from to time, when off duty, including the kitchen workers and chef. It is a place where you cannot avoid joining in and where you go if you enjoy sociable engagements. Its popularity may well because it is a place of connection and joviality, a place where taking part is an imperative. Those who wish to be less convivial sit inside at tables separated from one another and they are able to shield their privacy.

An hour later a local family arrive and look for a table for a quick meal and Wendy finds them one and they ask if Wendy knew her brother was getting married in the church in July and ask if they could put up some decorations at the pub – all agreed. Then another small group arrive, who have booked a table and one of them samples some of the beers. In the meantime two regulars, in working clothes, discuss a job for the following morning alongside those, dressed in more social casual clothes, who are sampling beers. A young couple join those outside and two of the staff joins them, making three, and they order cocktails. Wendy has to be free to do it. Now the number of women sat at the long table equals the number of men. The social structure of the common table reflects a wide clientele as does the main bar.

A Thursday in June – 8pm – Cocktails at the Woolpack

A party of women have booked the Snug bar for a party. Wendy, perhaps with some of the group, has decorated the bar and the table is laid out in a formal style. They are greeted with mojitos cocktail made by her with mint from the local area and they sit outside on the common table that is normally occupied by the regulars early in the evening. They have come here because it is the birthday girl’s favourite pub, ‘the food is good and the people that run it are so helpful and wonderful’.

May Election – The Polling Station at the Woolpack

It’s Election Day and one bar is out of action due to it being a polling station. The pub still has a full menu but once the reserved tables have been made people have had to go elsewhere or eat outside. As the polling progresses the range and good quality cars that draw up to let someone out to vote and then speed off at a pace is noted. Some local trade’s people make it a chance to catch up and vote at the same time.

A Saturday in early May – A common village outdoor event

The Mummers arrive on Bank holiday Saturday afternoon to entertain at the front of the pub.  One of the staff joins in the dancing. Not many people at the pub – 20 – but a jolly atmosphere. There didn’t appear to be much advertising for it. Could the pub become too popular if they used a lot of advertising? Later on the owner of a local brewery used by the pub sits with the regulars and chats about local pubs. The Mummers and other folk groups come and go throughout the year, all part of the life of the pub.