Charlene White: I never understood Dad’s obsession with his local pub – and then I found my own
I didn’t grow up around pubs – my entire education of pubs in my younger years came from watching the goings-on in the Queen Vic in EastEnders or the Rovers Return in Coronation Street. As as far as I was concerned, “the local” was this magical place where there was a ton of argy-bargy, and a shedload of shouting. So it never really appealed to me.
01 May 2022
My Dad used to hang out at what I and my siblings would call “the old man’s pub” a few doors down from my grandma’s house. It wasn’t really a pub, though – it was more of a local community space where older Caribbean men would sit and play dominoes and drink rum and Red Stripe into the early hours. When we’d visit my gran, you’d almost always be guaranteed to end up having a catch-up with one of my Dad’s mates when the drinking spilled out outside.
I’d love to be able to describe what it was like inside, but we were never allowed through its hallowed doors – so it was an endless fascination to us as to what they actually got up to in there. And when I became a teenager with a driving licence, I was always instructed by my Dad to wait patiently outside in the car until he finally walked back out those doors so I could drive him home.
Even when the boys from the local school started hanging out at one of the pubs that was… er… not awfully concerned about fake IDs, it still didn’t appeal to me – although that probably had more to do with the fear of my parents finding out that I was partaking in illegal activity, to be honest. The telling off just wouldn’t be worth it, trust me.
But then I hit my early twenties, and the lure and pleasure of a pub started to draw me in. And it began with… Yates’s in Lewisham, south-east London. Hands up if you remember your local Yates’s pub, eh? Ah the joys of the sticky carpets.
But my tentative steps into pub life weren’t really about the pub-ness of it really; it was more about their party nights on a Friday: decent DJs, good music and dancing the night away with your mates. It didn’t feel like “a local” per se, because I was only ever going on a Friday night dressed to the nines in a Topshop dress and Dolcis heels.
But then my friend Ellie and I happened upon karaoke night in Yates’s on a Sunday: the perfect end to a raucous weekend of raving in central London. Our Sunday-lunch recovery time turned into us taking to the stage, mics in hand, to sing our hearts out to Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera and spitting bars to Jay-Z while making friendships that would last a lifetime. An afternoon that had started with just the two of us, became an evening of 10 new friends who quickly became old friends. And the start of becoming a “regular” in a local pub
Without fail, every Sunday night we’d gather at Yates’s to have a few drinks, sing a few songs and create one of those friends-who-become-family situations that you see in American sitcoms. The bartenders would know “our” drinks and serve us, almost without a word passed between us, because we were – by this point – regulars. And I began to understand just how inclusive and wholesome that can be.
But it was when I moved round the corner from a pub (as in less than 30 seconds’ walk away) a few years ago that I realised just how integral a pub can be to a community. And how beautiful it is.From the bartenders embracing you like a long-lost friend when you walk in, and sitting down for a chat and a catch-up, to the locals’ joy when they realise you are expecting a baby; to the regular who’s an avid gardener, whose face beams with pride when he brings vegetables from his allotment to the pub so that you can grab some for dinner; to the landlord Martin, who made it his mission to make everyone feel like family. I had never ever experienced that before – one little place had the capability to make everyone feel a little less lonely.
And it was all those years ago that the penny dropped about the joys of a local pub. And I realised why my Dad loved his “old man’s pub” so much: it can feel like a home from home, right up until kick-out time. Weirdly, although I’ve moved house, we are still about 30 seconds from the local pub (we didn’t plan it, it just happened). But it has been closed for various reasons since last year, and increasingly I have realised just how much a pub can feel like the heartbeat of a community.
It’s not about the booze; it’s about the faces you see, the catch-ups you can have, and the way it can lift your soul. Especially when you walk in and the landlord shouts, “A glass of red tonight, Charlene?” My goodness, I miss it dearly.