Saturday 15 November 2008

The Star & Garter

My nearest pub is the Westcroft.
Those of you who chat to me in IM will be familiar with the fact that I often 'pop off' at around half ten for no clearly identified reason. This comes of the need to have a couple of pints before closing time.
The Westcoft is so close that I will only have taken two drags from my cigarette before reaching the door.
This means I have to wait outside whilst I finish it. This of course means the staff have already seen me, thus my pint is poured and on the counter by the time I get there.

So the Westcroft is KIND of my local. They get a fair degree of trade from me, plus me and the Baker most often watch the football in there on a Saturday afternoon.

But the Star & Garter is more my local in a real sense.

I have not always lived in this dormitory town just outside Birmingham. But I was brought up here. I have moved away and come back several times.

The Star is not the first pub I ever bought a drink in, but it's one of the first. It wasn't the nearest pub to me as a teenager either, but for various reasons I started drinking there. And when I've lived here, it's always been my pub of preference.

It's not a big pub. Not a posh pub. But to me, it's what a pub should be.

There are no frills at the Star & Garter. It's a working man's pub in the real sense of the word. If you have airs and graces, it's not for you. But nor is it a pub which chooses to harbour low lifes.

It has a reputation for being not one of the more high class pubs around, but it's much loved by its regulars. It really is like Cheers.

It's one of those pubs where the bar itself is central. Where standing round the bar, is what the regulars do, those sitting at the tables are the outsiders. Where serving behind the bar means being part of it.
Indeed if the landlord was ever to pour my pint without a 'Here you are you are, Crushed, you'll know this, what was...'

I like the landlord. A good honest ex Christian Salvesen's stalwart who loves his trivial facts and loves his History Channel.
I can even forgive him being a Baggies fan...

On a typical weekday night there will be about ten or so customers at any time, and all able to talk to eachother in the same conversation at times. The bar is not much bigger than the average living room.

Yet at weekends, it's standing room only. The Star & Garter Karaoke and Disco is kind of legendary. And when the Proclaimer's famous track is played, it is customary for the girls to get up on the tables and remove their blouses singing 'Na na na! Star & Garter! Na na na! Star & Garter! Na na na na na na na na na na na!'

I actually spent New Year there last year. I hadn't planned to- I had planned to go to Subspace in Manchester, but I got flu and didn't feel like travelling. But a mate talked me out of my sickbed to spend the night in the Star. And I didn't regret it in the end. Not only was the girl I had in my arms when the clock struck twelve a girl I knew- my favorite barmaid, Jo, but I was actually kind of besieged by local girls I semi knew by face but not by name all wanting their new year's hug too. It reminded me just how much HOME a local pub is.

And I won the Christmas raffle. Though I have a feeling these raffles aren't strictly neutral. I think regulars have a better chance of winning prizes.

Because quite often I go in there feeling pissed off. The stress of work or- an issue which I finally took to the Police yesterday morning- can get me down.
But even if I walk in alone- which often I do, it's not the sort of pub to let you look brooding and pissed off for long.

The smoking ban was a problem at first, of course it was. Non smokers are few and far between amongst Star & Garter customers. But the landlord converted the barrel yard into a heated smoking area and now that has itself become almost a kind of party patio. Some pubs have died because of the ban. The Star isn't that sort of pub.

Because it's nice to go for a beer and have old John slap you on the back and say 'All right Crushed son! Played badly at the weekend didn't we? We're going to slip if we don't buck our ideas up!'
And The Pond- the Star's very own Cameroon local councillor. Renowned for his wise sayings such as 'I'm not a Tory, I'm a Conservative' 'When Baggies were in the FA cup final, did they play at home?' 'Who's coat is this jacket?' and other such gems.

And Discovery Channel Expert, as I call him. Loves to lecture the bar on his knowledge of everything. Which I guess I do, but his knowledge is a little more half understood.
His lecture on space was the most amusing. The Sun is going to turn into a Red Giant in a few thousand years for a start. And Voyager has actually left the universe. Not the solar system, the universe. Things can actually leave the universe, just float out into an inky black nothingness...
And Voyager has, apparently...

If you want to know what the man in the street thinks, look no further than the bar at the Star & Garter. On the basis of the political discussions I hear here, I'm calling the next election for the Tories by a comfortable margin. These are the famous 'C2's.

It's funny though how a place can just cheer you up. I went in on Thursday night in slightly a black mood.
The landlord went 'Guiness?'
I went yes and handed over my stamp card. What this is, is a card containing 24 spaces to be stamped. When you finish a card, it goes into the Xmas draw box. I've put one in already, this was my second. The landlord stamped one, then said 'You'll be having another at least won't you?'
I nodded. He stamped two then said 'One more for good luck'.
Then he paused. Then stamped again. And again 'Might as well finish this one off for you. I want a regular to win'.
So that was 17 pints I didn't have to drink.

Little things. It's making the customer feel appreciated. And in the Star, regulars are treated well. On some nights, he'll even lock the doors and turn it into a private affair. Just a few regulars. And he'll run his pipes through to clean them and give away the beer he clears out to his regulars for free.

The second thing that had me thinking, because it had positive and negative features concerned the lovely Jo. I think I'll always carry a torch for her in some ways. She was there with her new boyfriend, who I know to talk to, but had never previously paid much attention to.
Anyway, it seemed at one point he didn't much care for the conversation myself and Jo were having. The conversation was of a sexual nature, but not in the way he seemed to have half-heard. I was actually trying to find out if Jo could tell me who the hell I left the pub with a few weeks ago when I seemingly brought someone back to the flat, but haven't a clue who it was.

Anyway, he waded in getting all aggro. 'What you talking to my girlfriend about that shit for?'
She pushed him back in his seat and started telling him not to act crazy.

And the landlord's wife came up and apologised to me saying 'Sorry about that Crushed. He's a psycho. Insanely jealous. There was no need for that, no need.'

I smiled 'No worries.'

And we got to to talking about what a nice girl Jo was and I admitted that I thought she deserved better. I think it's well known in the Star that I'd quite like her to myself, which I think is maybe what bothered Mr Angry...
Anyway, numerous people came up to me and said 'He was out of order, he was. If he'd have gone for you, he'd have had a kicking, you know that don't you?'

And this sort of thing does touch you, that you know the regulars in your pub will look after you.
Life generally should be more like that.

And the last thing?

Kind of a good thought really. I guess I'm in a good place now inside myself. And Thursday night was all about that really. Kind of certain in my mind about a lot of things.
I guess I've finally- mainly through telling you lot all about it- worked through a lot of my angsts and a lot of the fears of getting involved with anyone that I've had for a long while.

The girl with my name tatooed on her arm.
I'm going to call her Gemma, though it's not her name.

She was wearing Rosary beads, so I asked her if she could say it.
She didn't know what the Rosary was. I asked her if she was Catholic. She said no. So I asked her why the beads.
There wasn't, as it turned out, any reason at all.

And as I ran my fingers along the beads telling her which prayers you said with each bead and how the Rosary was said and demonstrated just how fast an experienced Catholic can bang out a decade of the Rosary I found myself looking into those deep brown eyes.
She was wearing a shoulderless black top and I found myself drawn to the robustness of her shoulders compared to the narrowness of her waist.

And I realised I wanted her pretty badly.

Oh, I don't think she could be Ms Right. But I do think she could be a very good Ms Right Now. No, I know I could never have with her what I'd want to have with a woman intellectually, but that's not what I want from a real life woman. I have Haydee for that.

No, what I want from Gemma is a few months or so maybe, where I don't have to sleep alone. A few months of losing myself in her body. A few months of lieing with my head on her chest telling her things. Letting my soul free in her arms. And I doubt she'd really understand, but she'd listen. And she'd care.

I want her. For something a lot more than the night, but for a lot less than for life.
And I felt a warm fuzzy feeling about it.

I think I want to invite her in to my life for the moment and I think I can trust her to be responsible about coming into it. I have a good instinct about her. She's just come out of a long relationship and I really think we could heal eachother without ever getting into eachother so deep that we don't both feel in the same place at the same time, both know when the time has come for us to move on, both know when we've got from eachother all that the other has to give.

I feel hopeful on that front and I want to risk it.

It's a good little pub, the Star & Garter.
I do kind of feel it to be home.

Sometimes when I'm tempted to move back into the inner city, I realise that would mean that the Star would no longer be within walking distance. And I realise that I'd miss it. A large part of my life is centred on it. Having somewhere you can go which is full of friendly faces and feels as much home as your own living room. In fact, I'm in there for more hours a week than I am my own living room.

It really is true, isn't it? Home is where the heart is.


Anonymous said...

I've never had a 'local' though I guess it would be nice to go someplace where you can just drop in, have a drink and a chat with whoever is there.

Those pictures make your pub look like it'd be very cosy!

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a cool place. Anywhere the locals always seem to win the raffle is a good pub.

Anonymous said...

I have never been a regular anywhere to the extent that I can go in on my own and expect there to be someone I know :-( I feel like I have missed out. My local is an excellent pub though!

Anonymous said...

Whats the bitter like?

Anonymous said...

Kate- It is nice, yes.

It is very cosy, yes. It has a real close feel to it. Regulars BELONG.

I always feel it does me good popping down The Star.
It's a local pub, in the real ense of the word, even though it isn't in a residential district. It is in fact right next to another pub- yes, two pubs side by side- and opposite a photography shop and a church.

Paul- It is, yes. It's ever dull.

It has the atmosphere of a place where ninety percent of the people in there at any one time all know eachother- and even in the UK, thats becoming rare in a pub. To still have a pub to dfrink in thats like that, is gold dust.

Blue Eyes- Well, I know most of the regulars. And all the bar staff know me quite well. Some-er- better than others.

Its funny what makes a good pub, isn't it?
Atmosphere is what makes it for me. Give me a good honest spit and swadust pub with a darts game going on, a bit of football on the telly , a pool table and a juke box, over your anonymous Wetherspoons any day.

Mutley- They only do John Smiths. Which is why I drink the Guiness.

The westcroft to Worthingtons, so thats what I drink in there.

I'm not a Lager man :)

Anonymous said...

the pub sounds utterly charming, and has this cozy homey feeling. Me being a vagabond moving 4 times only this year (!?!) I havent really found a place to call home - neither a pub/cafe or even an apartment.. oh well.

And regarding Gemma, well, as long as she knows what she is getting herself into, good luck. But I guess thats just it, you never quite knoe what u are getting urself into when you start something new.

Anonymous said...

Your separate views on women as either playthings or intellectual confidents as necessarily mutually exclusive in a relationship with you is pretty amusing, at least as an outsider. I feel for those poor ladies who get caught up with you. I doubt they realize what hit them until you begin to pull away. Then again, maybe you are upfront with them. A lot of us females stupidly think we can change men if we love them enough. The only ones we can change is ourselves.