“Portland has a pub on every corner, but many are ‘locals only'”.
“Does it matter which one?” she pleads.
“So long as it’s a pint, I don’t mind,” I smile, trying to be encouraging, not scary.
Eventually, I have to say, she produces a perfectly poured, perfectly conditioned pint of Bombardier. I spot the concrete and picnic tables outside the back door, sheltered from the constant wind but catching the sun as it’s just starting to change down gears, and I go out to sit down with one of the books I’m using for research.
Soon I’m joined by two small children who decide it would be fun to goad the dog. Then there are five of them, all trying to provoke the dog in different ways. Parents come out every now and then, clock the situation, the size of the dog, the increasing hysteria of the children and shout at them. What they shout is “Here are your crisps!” dropping packets onto the nearest table before ducking back inside.
“What are you doing?”
An eight year old boy is standing next to me, squinting into my face.
“I’m reading a book,” I reply, realising as I say it how stupid I am in my tiny hope that this will carry the hint that I want to be left alone. Of course it won’t . He’s eight. It’ll only mean more questions.
“Are you writing about it?”
“Yes,” I lie, making sure he can’t see what I’m scribbling into my notebook.
“How long have you been doing it?”
“A long time.”
“Are you writing a book?”
“Man, I don’t get that,” he says, shaking his head, switching his attention from me back to the dog.
I re-read about a third of a page of William Hickey’s memoirs before “DON’T DISTURB THE MAN!”
A seven year-old girl is standing by the table staring at me, shouting at her four year-old sister, who whimpers “I’m not”. Of course she’s not.
“Do you like writing?” asks the older girl, chronic short-term memory loss having eradicated her stern warning of a moment ago.
“Do you like typing?”
“That’s my favourite, typing.”
“Is it? That’s good.”
“You have very neat handwriting.”
“I like your phone.”
“What are you writing about?”
“Beer and pubs.”
“I like pubs.”
The boy rejoins us and they ask me where I come from. When I tell them London we have a debate about whether London is busier than the Isle of Portland (“I like to read books but I just don’t have the time these days” sighs the seven year-old girl who lives in this sleepy seaside fishing village.) Then we have an argument about whether there are any real-live Power Rangers in London. The boy is an authority on this subject and dismisses me out of hand when I suggest there aren’t.
“And leave the man alone!” shouts the bloke as he disappears.
“I’m HELPING him!” shouts the older girl.
By now I’m feeling really out of place. I wonder if I should be here, in the middle of all these kids, like an interloper in a kindergarten – a feeling that, as a middle-aged bloke on his own, makes me feel quite self-conscious. Then I remember that I’m in a pub, a place I’ve always thought of as an adult’s playground. I come to places like this to get away from children. And here’s this eight year old girl, helping me, by telling me how much she likes pubs.
Time to go.