“Oh. Did you know that pub’s about to become a Wetherspoons?”
We’re in town on the cider trail. The microbrewery tap we’re drinking in doesn’t have rooms, but another pub just round the corner does B&B for thirty quid a night. We’ve just told the regulars in the microbrewery tap that we’re staying there. It’s impossible to tell whether they think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the pub we’re staying in is about to become a Wetherspoon’s. Either way, they’re very keen to tell us.
“There’s a notice in the window,” they say, nodding, and indeed there is – a Notice of Application for a New Premises Licence, on behalf of J D Wetherspoon plc.
The pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s is bigger than it looks. There’s only one bar open and the rest is in darkness, but it you were to explore you’d find another bar on the other side, that’s set up to cater for diners who never come. And then, through a glass door at the back, there’s another room as big as these two bars put together, where there is (or was) a carvery at weekends. The pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s will make a perfectly good Wetherspoon’s.
The pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s is festooned with small plastic flags – Union Jacks and Welsh dragons hang from every beam. “They’re left over from the festival,” says one of the regulars at the bar. On every flat surface, and glued to every wall, there are posters offering you a free pair of sunglasses if you drink a certain quantity of Strongbow.
The barmaid in the pub that’s going to become a Wetherspoon’s is the reason people come here. Still very attractive, she was obviously stunning ten years ago. She’s sexy enough to draw men in, and approachable enough to make them think that maybe – just maybe – they might have a chance with her. There’s a story doing the rounds that one of the regulars once took her home with him to meet his wife. Someone pointed out to him that this may have gone down better if it had been the other way round. But the pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s doesn’t feel like the kind of pub you take the wife to. It’s not that it’s unwelcoming to women – it’s as welcoming to them as it is to anyone – it’s just that it’s obviously a place men come to get away from their wives.
The pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s is close to the place where a five year old girl just went missing. Posters are everywhere – the ones you’ve seen on the news, and others featuring different photos of the little girl. It’s on people’s minds. Maybe it’s one reason the town we’re in feels like a ghost town. No one feels like going out. There’s a depressed tension in the air.
“I’m going to go up there tomorrow to see if I can be of any help,” says the attractive barmaid.
“What can you do?” asks one of the regulars.
“I don’t know, but you’ve got to show willing, haven’t you?” says the barmaid.
The 63 year-old retired property developer is one of the regulars who thinks he stands a chance with the attractive barmaid. He offers to accompany her to the cellar to change a barrel. He makes it sound sinister rather than flirtatious, but he doesn’t mean to.
He tells us about the house clearance he just did where the tenant had been a chronic hoarder. He kept his own bodily fluids in bottles. Even kept his own shit. “We haven’t found his nail clippings yet, but they must be there somewhere,” he says.
The attractive barmaid rolls her eyes. “He tells that story to everyone who comes in,” she says. “We had a nice couple in the other night who’d just had their dinner, and they turned round and walked out again.”
The 63 year-old retired property developer doesn’t realise that one reason he will never stand a chance with the barmaid is that he keeps telling his house clearance stories.
The pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s has a font on the bar with taps for draught wine. There are also branded taps for Strongbow, Blackthorn, Cobra, Carlsberg, Tetley’s Cask, Worthington Creamflow, Tetley’s Smooth, Pepsi, and a naked handpump with ‘Bank’s Sunbeam’ written in biro on a fluorescent yellow starburst sellotaped to it.
The Carlsberg is undrinkable, but the attractive barmaid happily swaps it for a Cobra.
“My nose got split last Friday,” says the attractive barmaid. “I’ve had my lip split before. They don’t realise when they do it that they’ve just earned a criminal record and lost their jobs.”
The 63 year-old retired property developer says he can’t go home because his wife has guests round, and she doesn’t want him embarrassing her because he’s drunk. So he stays here, talking politics. The elderly man who goes to the microbrewery tap first and then comes here and sits alone, smart in his suit and tie, every night at the same time in the same seat, disagrees scornfully with everything the drunk property developer says, like a call and response catechism.
“These two do that every night,” says the barmaid.
There’s still a jukebox in the pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoon’s. Not enough pubs have jukeboxes these days. But tonight the jukebox is switched off, because the TV in the corner is on. It’s switched to BBC4, which is showing a programme about the life and work of Norman Wisdom. Clips of him pratfalling, clips of him meeting the Queen, interspersed with ageing comedians and TV executives talking about what a gifted comic he was.
“Whass’on the tellee?” asks one of the regulars.
“Norman Wisdom,” replies the attractive barmaid. She stares at the screen for a while, then asks, “What was he, a philosopher?”
“No, he was a comedian,” replies the regular.
“Well ‘e can’t have been that funny, I’ve never heard of him,” says the attractive barmaid.
The pub that’s about to become a Wetherspoons stays open late. When the property developer and the smartly dressed elderly man leave, we’re the only customers in the bar. The attractive barmaid takes a seat and chats to us, and then three young guys come in for last orders, ans she tells them how long they have to drink up.
It’s late, and I call it a night. And as I go upstairs to my room, I wonder if – when Wetherspoon’s finally do take over this pub, and they change some things and leave other things the same – I wonder if they’ll rename it the ‘Moon Under Water’?