(james benedict brown) on the road

Dog and Duck

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 16 January, 2008

There’s a pub not far from my house in Sheffield that sits on the corner of two steep streets of terraced houses. This quiet little backwater of Sheffield is away from the city centre, and away from the parts of Crookes and Walkley that are more popular with students. I moved here last year, into a house I vaguely knew on a street that I had walked up only once or twice. I knew of the pub, but didn’t quite appreciate that it was so close, and that it would in time become the closest thing that I have to a ‘local’.

From the outside, it is an unassuming place. The curtains are always closed, and there is only a modest sign outside. The light of the doorway is usually all the beckons to those passing by on the quiet street.

Inside, the decor is notable for its strangeness. A typical chintzy pub interior with worn but heavily patterned carpet is framed with green velour seating and numerous nick-nacks and toby jugs. A small and slightly tatty bar looks onto three different rooms: the main bar, a snug and a pool room. So far, nothing unusual. But what makes this little place utterly bizarre are the lantern-style wall lamps that, with the bleak ceiling lamps, illuminate the room. These lanterns frame alternating panes of blue and red glass. So what is essentially your average cosy back street Sheffield pub is illuminated with bizarre shades of red and blue light.

The jukebox is, however, amazing. Plentiful golden oldies from Elvis to Big Momma Thornton seduce the pound coins from my pocket each time I visit. Once I accidently deposited a two pound coin instead of a pound coin, and had to spend a good ten minutes selecting some classy tunes. Thankfully, it’s not a modernised touchscreen digital jukebox, but a now-antiquated CD jukebox with four rotating triangular columns that can be turned to display the tracks on the selection of Greatest Hits albums.

This place is rarely busy. It’s a delightful break from crowded student bars with top-40 jukeboxes and touchscreen Who Wants To Be A Milionnaire game machines. On those nights when I can’t be bothered to descend and ascend a few hills just for a drink, this pub is a discrete hideaway.

I’m not the only one who enjoys the atmosphere. Just before Christmas I was there for a drink with a friend when the barmaid came down the stairs from the upstairs function room to offer us the remainders of a cold buffet. Icy chicken wings, pork pies, buttered slices of white bread and sandwiches were left over on doilyed plates. A small crowd of friends and family of a young man with a moustache came downstairs at the same time, took up residence in a spacious booth and ordered another round of drinks. Politely accepting the offer, I discretely asked the barmaid the nature of the function. Nodding over my shoulder, she indicated a soldier home on one week’s leave from the British peacekeeping activities in Afghanistan. The moustache fell into place – where better for a young man to cultivate a career and a moustache than the British Army? In a cruel deal of the cards, this young officer had been granted leave to return home in mid-December – returning to the dangerous Afghan provinces just a few days before Christmas.

With nothing much to say, nor any opinion to express, I ate a grated cheese and white bread sandwich, occasionally lifting my pint glass and sometimes overhearing the cheerful banter of a family that had their son home for a week. A melancholic blend of despair and warmth all rolled around inside me, and as the cold mid-winter night darkened around us – concealed from our warm interior by thick red curtains that never seem to open – I failed to think of any way to express my respect, thoughts or opinions to the main sitting so close to me who would soon be sent back to somewhere much less welcoming than this pub.

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