I’ve been hearing that many think lockdown is over. It isn’t, of course, and in fact there has even been a recent increase in cases (and deaths) in this country. Talk of a second wave is rife. Some people just aren’t taking it seriously enough, though. Back in our favourite local restaurant last week, we watched in disbelief as a customer threw her arms around our waiter and hugged him, squealing with excitement. Rather taken aback, he half-hugged her in return. I think she must have been as pleased as we were to see them up and running again, but even so!

Restaurants and pubs are doing their best to abide by the regulations, but it’s us lot, the wonderful general public, who are making things difficult for them: from hugging waiters to exiting through the entrance, and vice-versa. And don’t get me started on wearing masks indoors (or not) – though, obviously, not while you’re trying to eat…

Our waiter was astonished we haven’t been down to the river towpath during the whole of lockdown. We explained it was because of the reported hordes of non-social-distancing people and cyclists down there.  He flew home to Poland, to be with his family throughout. He said he was feeling very unfit and his legs were aching. A waitress there once told us she regularly did 20,000 steps on her shift and if, by the time she had finished, she hadn’t quite reached her goal, she would walk around the block near her home until she had.

Another waiter, who comes from Brazil, told us his entire street back home has been infected with the virus.

Closer to home, there are mutterings about the pubs and restaurants closing again later this year. I fear, if this happens, it will be the end for many of them. It’s desperately sad, unfair and horribly worrying for all concerned.

The other local restaurants we passed all looked busy, especially a newly-opened Turkish place. That particular building has changed hands numerous times, so I hope they can make a success of it this time. The owner of a popular Lebanese restaurant down the road has very astutely opened up a hut by the river, selling takeaway food, and is apparently doing a roaring trade there. Good for him.

Everywhere we’ve eaten out so far, our cutlery is brought to the table on trays and all the menus are throwaway, with limited choice. We have to sign a contact form for “track and trace” each time. In some places, hand sanitiser is on every table.

Most pubs have set up marquees in their gardens, where possible, and the OH and I liked the look of one we passed the other day, which had several small wooden huts outside for couples or families to socially isolate in.

On Saturday, we visited an airfield museum and café. We’ve been meaning to visit for ages, though it’s only just re-opened, but this time it was for lunch only, as you have to pre-book for the museum itself. An elderly man, clearly a local regular, shared a table (from a distance) with two women and, when they got up to leave, he thanked them for their chat and added: “You will most probably be the only people I will speak to today.” I felt a pang of sympathy and recognition. Loneliness is the vilest thing and, for me, the feeling has never really left me, even though my life is very different now to how it once was. I battled with it for years and, to some extent, I think I will always be wrestling with the feeling, which can still sometimes overwhelm me.

On Sunday, we tried another pub lunch – a different pub, this time (see my last blog).  I wondered why the man behind the bar kept throwing me rather gimlet, unsmiling looks.  After we left, I considered he may have assumed I was a “mystery diner” because I was taking notes for this blog.  At least I didn’t take a picture of my food, which was very good, thanks. We overheard the owner say to one of the waitresses: “Try and sell the cherry clafoutis to them (another customer).  We only have one left. Then we can go on to the pavlova.” I had the pavlova, without the threatened sales pitch for the cherry clafoutis, and it was also very good.

Between every table, there was a high, gauze-like curtain, and Miss Havisham sprang to mind.  Not an image you want to dwell on while eating, really…

Later that week, I met one of my friends – a proper “mystery diner” – for lunch in a nearby pub, which was a bit of a disaster.  When we arrived, the music was very loud –obviously for the staff’s benefit – and we had to ask them to turn it down. I put in a request for “Silence Is Golden” but, as they were all about 25, if that, I received blank looks in return. (See a previous blog of mine on how I feel about loud music in cafes and restaurants. If you like that sort of thing yourself, though, please don’t bother. We’ll never agree and we’d only fall out over it, which would be a pity.)

The drinks and the food had to be sent back, for various reasons and the staff clearly would rather have been anywhere else. Not for them the joy of getting back to work (see my last blog). There appeared to be more bored-looking staff than customers, but not one of them thought to check around outside –we spotted several items of rubbish lying around the entrance. Not a great first impression!  Again, the menu was limited, with no option for the carvery, which has always been a very popular fixture there, whatever day of the week.

No  “Miss Havisham” curtains in this place, but each table had a  “I am clean” notice on it, and I spotted our waitress busily wiping down our table and both chairs as we left.

On the entrance to the loos, there was a helpful sign which you had to change yourself, from “Vacant” to “Engaged” before you went in. I completely forgot to change it back over when I’d finished in there, though. I do hope someone eventually checked…

It was my birthday this last Sunday. When I rang to book up yet another roast in yet another pub (we’re cramming in as many as we can), I heard myself telling the very young-sounding woman about how I last visited their pub when I was 17. I didn’t add that a gang of us used to pile into as many cars as were available and go bombing off down the country lanes. I also didn’t tell her that, in the days before compulsory seatbelts, a gaggle of excitable girls would be crammed in the backs of said cars, shrieking our heads off as the drivers whipped around the bends on two tyres, our heads banging on the roofs of the cars. It was crazy, but thrilling. Just as well there were far fewer cars on the roads back then. I did, however, mention that I recalled a shove-halfpenny board behind the bar and she said she’d only been polishing it the other day. My grandparents had one of those and I’ve always regretted not keeping it.

On our arrival, I was very disappointed not to remember a single thing about the place. I stared around carefully, and even went on a little exploratory stroll. Nothing. The aforementioned games board was hidden away somewhere, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask to see it. It might have triggered too much.

There was a jolly blackboard notice next to the bar, which read: “Barter Board.  Please bring in your fish, game and home-grown produce.  If we can use it, we will give you credit at the bar.” Great idea!

We had a lovely lunch and watched, rather bemusedly, as the bartender hugged and kissed all the regulars as they came in – with not a local accent to any of them, we noted wryly.  All wore an air of comfortable affluence, with some talking about the dilemma of keeping two homes running and others casually announcing they would pop in on their way down to their place in Cornwall the following weekend, while someone else was heard bleating that they needed a large lunch to sustain them on their long journey down to Devon that afternoon. The poor loves. Better get down there quick, then, before that second wave…
































Author: Hampton Caught

The rants and ramblings of an ex Deputy Fiction Editor of Woman's Weekly magazine.

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