Friday, September 11, 2015

The Wyndham Arms

A word about Williton's pub, our sole source of connection to the outside world. Called the Wyndham Arms, it did not encourage one to imagine great food or inspired beverage concoctions from the outside. From the inside, it encouraged one to flee. Filthy tables, threadbare carpet, mismatched chairs--a dingy environment, populated by geezers.

We stayed that first night because we needed the 'net. Remember, our cottage was a dead zone. In seating ourselves, we selected a relatively clean table as far from the knot of white-haired men as possible. I brought the Mazzes' passports up to the bar and placed an order for one beer, one white wine, and one Jack Daniels with soda, no ice. As expected, the bartender--who reminded me of Marty Feldman, in appearance and manner--said he would need to see the IDs of the rest of my party.

He apologized for asking. Then he apologized again. I assure him that we expected the inquiry. Yet again, he apologized. "This is why I brought the passports to the bar with me," I say, trying not to sound exasperated. "It's fine."

He scanned Alex's passport and accepted that she was of age. However, when scanning James's, he stopped short.

"Hold on. He's only 12."

"I beg your pardon?" says I, confused at this nonsensical assertion.

"The boy's age," says Marty (the name I have privately given him).

"Aah," says I, "except"--mustering my most firm yet friendly, schoolmarmish tone--"that says 1997, so he's actually 18. Right?" Prompting the slowest of my students.

"Mmm, mmm....yes, 18," says Marty, and he putters off to fetch the drinks.

When I bring them back to the table, Alex's beer is warm and tastes of nothing so much as piss with a powerfully bitter aftertaste. Isn't that what the British always say about American beer?

As we sit, accessing, searching, and blogging, some younger patrons appear from who knows where. They start to shoot pool in the back room, the entrance to which is next to us. They also make unfortunate use of the jukebox.

70s rock. We're talking Foreigner. Alex said, "This sounds a little like Queen, except it's awful." Non-alt 80s pop, a la Whitney Houston. Hair metal. It is LOUD. We look sadly at one another as each tune begins. We find scant relief in the Police and MJ's Thriller.

Concluding our business, we pack up our electronics. Marty hovers nearby, worried and beseeching. "Everything all right? Yer drinks OK?" He stammers and stares and wrings his hands, looking a bit the mad scientist.

On the way to Wales, we agree that any future trip to the Wyndham Arms will require a drinking game. Since we are not fond of pub alcohol, we will order 3 small glasses of something tolerable, Grand Marnier or Chambord or similar. Each time an artist or song that we despise comes on, we will take one sip. We begin to hammer out the list of qualifiers: Bob Seger. "My Heart Will Go On," from Titanic. The Eagles.

The next night, James and I saunter over to the pub around 10pm, just to chat briefly with some people online before bed. Having checked the night before, we know that it's open until 11:30. Except that it isn't. It's dark and sealed up tight. We re-trod the block-and-a-half to the cottage, half perplexed, half annoyed. Why even post your hours, British pubs?

The following night we decide against the pub and watch a movie, but on night 4 we return. As we approach the front door, around 8:30, Marty exits, putting on his jacket. "Oh," I say, "are you closing up?" He says nothing for a moment, then leans in, eyes wide.

"I'm going home," says he, somewhat dreamily, skating on the edges of context.

"Um. Is the pub closed?" I repeat, and Marty gestures toward the door.

"You have to push it," he says, and is gone.

Stifling exclamations along the lines of "What the hell?" we take his advice and find that, while Marty's shift has ended, pub life rolls merrily on. We settle in at the only empty table, which is especially grimy, and begin our online tasks for the night. We forget about the drinking game and have cider, since we discovered a good one in Wales. The pub empties a bit. The jukebox isn't a factor.

Then, suddenly, a few men sidle in, from somewhere at the back. We aren't sure where; our brief exploration on day 1 found only the billiards room and the toilets in the rear. A few more enter from the same mysterious location. Then several more. Then a gaggle. Then what appears to be the entire male population of Williton arrives as though from an invisible clown car. They hang out for a few minutes, sucking up all the air, noisily quarreling and laughing. Then they vanish the way they came.

We start to giggle, fingers frozen above keyboards. James utters a "What the--" while I question the architecture of what appears to be a standard building. We eventually re-engage in online matters, then maybe 20 minutes later the scene unfolds once more: a trickle, then a stream, then a gusher of men erupts from somewhere at the back. It subsides.

We do not ask. It is something to do with how nobody offered any information, when we were clearly quite surprised. Like it was not our business. Like we were not welcome to inquire.

It's a little like a Stephen King novel, this place, the Wyndham Arms.

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