The scene is Bethesda in North Wales sometime back in the 70’s. It’s Sunday morning and I am there on a field trip from school.
The sky is slate grey and a steady rain is falling. The buildings are also slate grey and it is sometimes difficult to tell where they end and the glowering sky begins.
Being Sunday there is nothing open but the chapel. No shops and definitely no pubs. It is odd that probably the most God-fearing place I have been to in Britain seemed at the time like the nearest place to Hell.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Again it’s Sunday morning but this time we are in South Wales, Ebbw Vale to be specific. The slate grey sky still glowers and the flurries of rain seem somehow wetter than in Norfolk. But there is one difference. The Wetherspoons is open and seemingly doing a fair trade.
I could make some trite observation about the pub being the new religion but it’s not true. The chapels were clearly still doing good business and, unlike the Wetherspoons, there were no signs outside them instructing people ‘Don’t Pre-Drink. What would your mother think?’ What slogan could they use? ‘Don’t Pre-Pray. What would your mother say?’
We were in the Valleys en route to Mountain Ash to watch South Wales play London at rugby league, a surprisingly friendly and fun occasion following on from our trip to Newport the previous day for football. We had ended up in a pub just on the English side of the border. You cannot always trust online reviews, but as it is in the Good Beer Guide we thought it was worth a risk and, boy, did we strike lucky.
The quality of the beer should be a given if it is listed, but we arrived on steak night where you could have whatever size you liked at £1 an ounce (including the trimmings). We were so impressed we asked if we could reserve a table on Sunday evening, to which the landlord replied that they normally did not do food on Sunday but if he knew we were coming he would make an exception, which he did, rustling up an excellent plate of hake and chips. When we checked out, he had even put a discount on the bill. That, my friends, is how to run a pub and if you are ever near the Garway Moon you should call in yourself.
The evening before we had stopped at a pub in a Welsh village with a very long name which has a far too high ratio of consonants to vowels. The game was three card brag, and it was clear that it had been in progress for some considerable time. They say that if you can’t spot the sap in a card game it is probably you, so maybe that is why one of the players left to drive home down the single track winding road on his mini digger, perhaps pondering his excuses. ‘Darling, I dug myself into a bit of a hole…’