There were two occasions at the Jolly Sailor which stand out in my memory and both, at the time, seemed to epitomise the whole reason for the existence of the English Pub and were a tremendous contrast to the drinking ethos of Belfast at that time, where drinking had seemed to be a serious business not to be taken lightly.
I had just been installed as a teacher and was still living in Leydene when Frank and the others took me under their wing and introduced me to the delights of the Jolly Sailor. It was my first night off as a member of the teaching staff and as we walked into the pub to celebrate, Frank said to the owner, ‘Al ! “Here’s another recruit.’
Al was pouring a pint into a silver tankard and as we approached the bar, after passing it to Frank, he took another from a row hanging at the back of the bar and started to fill it. “Has he brought his own tankard?” Al asked with a knowing smile, handing the second tankard to Don, and again went through the ritual with yet another tankard, a glass one this time. “You’d better instruct him,” he added, handing the glass tankard to me, following that by bringing out three sets of darts from below the counter and passing them over. “Al, here, keeps our tankards and darts for us, he does it for all the regulars,” Frank said, “You’ll have to get a tankard and some darts for yourself.” Al lent me a set for the night with the admonition that I would have to get myself kitted out pretty soon if I was to be a regular.
I know it was a ploy to keep the regulars loyal and Al was no sentimentalist, but he had the human touch so many pub owners seem to have either by instinct or cultivation. For a man miles from home, in a new environment and a new way of living, that little bit of schmaltz, that consideration, fake or not, was a great lift. It seemed to be the form that we each bought a round of four pints of beer and then played darts, bar billiards and dominoes, for small stakes, ending up in a manner reminiscent of my days in Newcastle, singing in harmony all the latest hits as we walked home. I was hopeless, of course and had to take the melody, I could never put a left hand to it no matter how I tried.
The suggestion that the attitude of the owner of the Jolly Sailor to us on my first night might have been contrived rather than instinctive was negated several months later when, after Sophie and I were married she came over from Ireland to share my meagre one-room-flat. We, the gang, were due for our regular trip to the Jolly Sailor and as Sophie had sent me my pewter tankard it seemed only reasonable she should see the whole routine for herself. We entered and she was duly amazed at the way we had integrated into village life. We then went to play bar billiards and as there were now five of us and she had no wish to play, she was left to do the scoring. When Al saw this he came over to her and said “you must be bored with these chaps, come with me.” He went to the bar, collected a sherry and then took her to the other end of the room where there was a roaring fire and a group seated round it chatting. He introduced her, sat her down with the sherry and left her to enjoy the other’s company. This was a salutary experience for both of us, it was the best introduction Sophie could have had to the camaraderie of the English pub, but it also taught me humility, and the duties of a new husband and not to be selfish, all of which I promptly forgot.