It's that time of year again so why not regale you with one of my favourite Christmas anecdotes.
It's the late 90's. I'm in my hometown (just like Joseph I have returned to pay tribute to those who raised me). The traditional thing is to get blasted on Christmas Eve in the Feathers, the premier pub in town. Trouble is, everyone else always has the same idea and my erstwhile drinking buddy Mr Goodyear and I have decided that we'll need to get creative in order to maintain the world class buzz we are accustomed to.
We decide to try the Feathers until it becomes impossible to get beer. Think Times Square on New Years Eve. Times Square with priviledges but even so, being 6'5" and on very friendly terms with the barstaff isn't alway enough to ensure smooth drinking.
After a while and a bunch of hellos and bumps and spills we decide to move off in the direction of something a touch, well, quieter. This is a moment in time, a point has been reached. We have spent every available youthful moment in our hometown in the Feathers. We have drunk away many a summers evening there, we love the place and it loves us back. It's not a big pub, it's smoky, old and dark and only serves real beer. Untill a few years ago the landlord refused to play music, deeming it a mod con he could do without. He retired to the golf course and his daughter took over. She allowed music (both jukebox and fantastic open mic evenings), some flowers by the bar and even some design tips from regulars. My old room mate and cricket bat donor Blazeby and I once had a lenghty conversation about the lighting in the garden, a few days later Blazeby's suggestions were in place. Even now, it's a place of pilgrimage when returning home to visit the folks.
You get the idea. Going elsewhere on Christmas Eve was not a choice made lightly. The Feathers offers many things to many wonderful people, It's that rare thing, a pub that genuinely crosses class and cultural barriers without any sense of effort. What it is not, on Christmas Eve, is a quiet haunt.
We were getting old.
We stumbled over to the Green Dragon. This instantly placed us into a much older, grumpier demographic. If the Feathers was all bending about, spilt pints and loud, boisterous smiles the Green Dragon was a smaller crowd of folk whilstfully drinking the remainder of the year away. The oldest pub in town it dated from the 1500's (the Feathers a mere child being only about 250 years old)and had a reputation for misery.
Still we thought, why not? it'll be quiet, we could catch up with each other (Mr Goodyear and I had not seen each other in a while and didn't mind having a conversation) and most importantly we might actually get a beer.
We find a seat and soon get chatting to an Irishman. He's older than us and is in town visiting his sister for the holiday. Grand! We'll all just hang out and talk politics! What better than that? Me the Republican, Mr Goodyear the Unionist and Pat with no fixed abode. We enter the pub raffle. The grand prize is 24 bottles of Becks.
We win! We Drink! We talk Irish history! We laugh! We stop laughing, we are in the Green Dragon.
Another traditional aspect of Christmas Eve is Midnight Mass. The town has a very large and very old Abbey. It's the bastion of the local conservatism and whilst it's an impressive building it's never been my idea of a place of worship. The usual thing is to get slightly, rather, very drunk and when the pubs close rush over to the Abbey stand at the back and belt out a few hymns. It's like the best of both worlds, religion without the faith and drunkeness without the... no , wait.
The trouble with the Abbey is that it gets packed on this night, the back overflows with drunks, you can't see or hear anything and you spend an hour needing to pee.
Anyway, I'd grown tired and bored of this charade yet something inside me wanted to be festive, I wanted to join in some type of celebration. The Abbey was not for me. Then it hit me, The best idea of all...
We would cross the street and go to the local Catholic Church!
I was a failed Catholic, I could get us in the door. Mr Goodyear was raised a conservative Protestant and we'd pulled some Irish bloke. That and the 24 bottles of Becks, we were laughing!
The Catholic Church would be full of real people who actually cared about the reason for the season. It would be warmer than the Abbey as it's smaller and only 60 years old (The Abbey is almost 950 years old and built for mediaeval worshippers who didn't seem to mind drafts and the cold winter air). Catholics are warm and friendly. So what if we're a wee bit tipsy? It's Christmas Eve for God's sake. We'll sneak in the back, relax, sing a few hymns and leave in time for Santa. Yeah! An honest alternative to the mayhem in the Abbey.
So looking at our watches, we grab our pints and set off towards the Catholic Church.
To be continued....