Last Monday was a grim day in the Life of this Housedad. It was the day my local pub shut its doors for three weeks for a refurbishment.
Without question, it needed a lick of paint and new chairs that didn’t snag your trousers when you got up to the bar. But that was all. Everything else about it was perfect.
It has been my local for 20 years and I have no-doubt poured thousands into its tills.
It served my favourite Doombar bitter. It was the place I escaped to most evenings when my wife got home from work. It was where I wrote at least fifty per cent of these 400-plus posts.
It was where everyone knew my name but left me alone if I didn’t want company. It was where I made new friends for when I did want company.
And at weekends, it was where I bonded with fellow males over football on its three satellite TVs.
For the most part, it was a busy, bustling place: a magnet for locals from every striata. My pub mates are postmen, couriers, builders, teachers, media workers and much more.
I’ve had chats with Saville Row tailors, consultant surgeons, mathematicians, sportsmen and actors.
I stood at the bar, pontificating and piss-taking, engaging and cajoling, listening and learning.
But for a significant part, I kept myself to myself, content in my own company, relieved to be away from the melee of the demands of family life for an hour or so. Delighted to be in the company of other adults after relentless days of housebound isolation and my children’s needs.
I adore my kids, but I need to be away from them to appreciate what I’ve got.
That’s what my local gave me: escape; sanity. It was where I could be me, the man, rather than me, the housedad who was made redundant and swapped roles with his wife two years ago.
It was where my out-of-town friends came to meet me because they knew it was difficult for me to get anywhere else at a reasonable hour because my wife works so late, but also because, like me, they regarded it as the best neighbourhood boozer they’d ever been to.
But this week, I learned that all of that has gone, never to return.
The pub’s owners – a band of hedge fund managers who decided they’d like to be in the hospitality game – have decided that the pub isn’t making enough money; isn’t as fashionable as the other pubs in the area; isn’t family-enough-friendly.
They want to turn it into a gastro-pub.
Aaargh! Shoot me now.
There will be ‘sharing plates’ (including atrocities such as octopus stew) in a sit-down only room i.e. no waffling at the bar. They have already got rid of the Doombar and will replace it with more fashionable aka more expensive, drinks.
They’re ditching the tellies, and with it the football – a shocking decision, as only the day and night before, my local pals and I had spent a couple of hundred pounds of our hard-earned cash on beer and Sambuccas as we comiserated each other over Manchester United’s failure to – or more like Manchester City’s achievement in – lifting the Premier League title.
It short, it doesn’t want men like me, who enjoy their own and other men’s company, who want some time away from their kids, and who most certainly don’t want to spend their time with other people’s children – especially strangers’.
They want families and groups of trendy friends: the types who wear hats, skinny jeans and affected thick-framed glasses.
‘This is a disaster,’ said my friend Rob – a guy I got to know, and only know, through that pub. ‘What are we going to do?’
And so today – Saturday afternoon – I set off on a reconnaissance mission to find another bolt hole.
I’d done my bit with the kids. In the morning, I’d made my wife breakfast in bed, then emptied the dishwasher, then took my youngest to a classmate’s party, then took my other boy to the local park, then took them both for a trek for a Happy Meal, then prepped their teas, then pre-cooked chips for tonight’s dinner with my wife, and then nodded to my wife that it was Time. Time To Go. Time For Me Time.
I know this is selfish. I know there are many mums amongst you for whom the concept of Me Time is a far-off fantasy, and my wife is one of those, too.
But I’m lucky: she likes me being out of the house, so she can do the things with her children that she misses doing during the week, because she does a 10-hour day. And I’m very grateful for that freedom.
And so I was determined to find that freedom, somewhere, anywhere. A substitute for the boozer I have loved for nearly half of my life.
Did I find it?
Well, as I write, a woman is sitting next to me with a shrill American accent as she nurses what looks like a six-month-old baby.
The first pub I popped my head into was jam-packed with groups of 20-something friends – PR and ad-types – competing with hysterical laughter at lame nothingness.
Nothing wrong with friends getting together – I used to be like that – but I’m my father’s son now, and guess always have been. I like men. I like to talk about beer and football and fuck all. Most of the pub men I know don’t even know I have kids, because I never talk about them. That’s why I go to the pub.
The second pub was like a creche meets an old people’s home.
The third, a carbon copy of the first.
What am I to do? Give up drinking? Become even more of a reluctant housedad than I already am?
Or wean myself onto octopus stew!