I was here

That room in the bar evolves like the twisted beech outside its door; every year a silent alteration, change so gradual to be imperceptible. Foot high, the door’s stone threshold is whitewashed each Spring, only for studded boot soles to scuff it back by June. The flagged floor is hard grey, it’s natural round fractures rubbed clean by the sopping mop and the queuing feet of muddied, sweaty bodies above, scuffling, swapping aching foot to aching foot, the first pint and bag of scampi fries impatiently sought.

The bar, estate-painted and three quarters of a person high is topped by hand pumps hand polished by palms of valley men since before the war; the same brass, the same oak, but spruced up with the dainty neckerchiefs of local breweries’ beers, their trousers the sud-soaked bar towels, their coats a shield wielding their coat-of-arms. The fire though, wears its work clothes; an old cooker, blackened and cracked; a grate, made up with crisp packets and mossy logs.

IMG_3863In the corner, a collage of memories from my under-canvas nights across the way. A bearded man, a sea dog far from the shores, playing a mandola, calling eyes closed to the Blackwater where his love was lost. Climbers, bejeweled with carabiners and pitons, sashes of lashed rope, eyes sparkling, talk jabbering, the fear of the overhang fading fast. Fell runners, salt crusted but laughing, mud and crud cementing their impossibly lithe limbs. All rest their pints on the old table, still here. Too small for plates but wide enough for two rounds. Planked, not true, legs as immobile as ever and the crack a touch wider now; but the marks are still there, scratched deep. Tattoos to time made with a knife tip not a needle: Tom; Mamut; Southman; Shaz and Bart. I drink my pint and leave no trace this time.

Back home there’s an old tree with characterful roots erupting through the pavement in twists and overlapping knots. Despite its age, it abounds with living vitality; the roots pushing up and out not down and across. Perhaps in a gust it will fall, a victim of its own vanity. Those roots have become a natural seat; school kids waiting to meet friends; an old timer resting his back; even those waiting in the queue for the Monday fish van. The bark, higher up gruff and rough is down here, polished and glossy. And the marks, scratched and scraped: Peter; MadJack; Fi; Marksman.

Maybe this is what it all boils down to. An old table in a valley pub; the bole of a tree poking above ground; petty vandalism or art; a sign to say “I was here”. A legacy of sorts.

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