BY BILL LACY
The road to normality has felt long this week. Freedom stills feels frustratingly near but elusive, the fiver you see in the gutter which then blows away.
Booking a pub table has become a complicated business.
This week I booked a table only to discover later it was a mere “enquiry”, and the pub was fully booked, and another venue told me I couldn’t reserve a table for just one person, for reasons that may make sense to the business but not to the individual.
In the end I took a punt on a pub that deliberately did not take bookings, and I went out in the rain, on the basis that it would put people off and by the time I arrived it might be dry.
The gamble paid off and I found myself in the outdoors of The Blythe Hill Tavern, sipping the wonderful, biscuity liquid of Harvey’s Sussex Best bitter, beneath a painted mural that read “the pride of Catford”.
I am fed up of the outdoors now. The biting cold and whipping wind won’t completely put me off, but it makes for a less pleasurable experience.
I struck lucky. While I can’t sit inside on Government orders, the Blythe Hill Tavern was a refreshing, fuss-free experience, no complicated one-way systems or complaints about people standing up.
This was a firmly no-table service, and the thrill of ordering at the bar, in a proper pub, wooden beams and red carpets that had soaked up all the nights it had seen, was welcome for the soul, as well as an opportunity to escape the cold for five minutes.
The seasoned Irish barmen, in their trademark white short-sleeved shirts, were defiantly maskless, not a visor-clad teenager in sight.
I didn’t even mind that the only offerings were a couple of pub snacks to accompany the drinks (there’s a pizza van on a Friday though).
The beer was excellent and included a small but well- conditioned choice of cask ales, including from the local Brockley Brewery.
The inside of the pub, identified by CAMRA as of national importance, was one of the most evocative I’ve ever seen.
Even empty it conjured up the memories of my first foray into pubs, too young to drink, listening to a mate of my dad’s who in my pre-teen conception of the world seemed wise and important.
I find it strange that I find that the most agreeable pubs don’t have the problems of complicated bookings.
It got a little busier as the evening grew, but every visit to the bar was easy and unmolested.
Nobody knew what an app is.
I loved the collection of Irish pictures and memorabilia, with the odd photo of a regular stuck up.
We are a few weeks from the day pubs will open their doors completely.
I am now sure that there are no lessons to be learnt from this great experiment, for the punter at least.
Leave everything as it was before.
The Blythe Hill Tavern 319 Stanstead Road, SE23 1JB
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