Finding the Potwell Inn – and why it doesn’t matter where you find it.

Plas yn Rhiw – overlooking Hell’s Mouth Bay

So this is not a photo of the Potwell Inn – it’s a photo of Plas yn Rhiw in North Wales; BUT IF I was going to actually give the Inn an address it would serve admirably. Writing this post about the Potwell Inn has become important today because the last week has been almost ridiculously busy on the website for no reason that I can figure out.

Thanks for dropping in – we’re here every day

It started when someone probably posted a link to a piece I wrote on harvesting borlotti beans and it attracted an awful lot of readers. I suppose I should be celebrating, but being a born again self-doubter, I instantly attributed it to some kind of mistake until, that is, another post went even wilder and tripled my readership overnight. OK I’m pleased but also puzzled because I’d like to say thank you to my invisible promoters but I can’t. It’s also a sobering reminder that once you press the ‘publish’ button, your little darlings become public property. So here’s a general thank you to my loyal band of regulars and the new brigade of irregulars who’ve appeared out of nowhere. Thank you for coming, it’s been great!

However I noticed that several searches recently have dug out an old post on “Finding the Potwell Inn” – possibly in the hope of dropping in for a pint in front of the log fire. Back along I had a lovely email from a reader who thought that he’d found, (and had a drink in) the original model for the fictional pub that came to life in H G Wells comic novel “The History of Mr Polly”. Sadly the landlady was not properly proportioned for the part: is anyone I wonder? so I’ll stick with Madame who’s perfect for the job as far as I’m concerned.

…… smelt like a combination of billy goat and cottage pie for most of the summer

So to save putting you to the trouble of sorting through a shoe box full of old papers like an accountant the day before the tax returns are due; I’ll say again that the Potwell Inn is not a place at all. It doesn’t exist and yet it could be anywhere that’s a place of refuge in a world that’s falling apart. Sorry for the gnomic definition but I can’t think of any other way of putting it. It first became a place of refuge for me when, at school and locked in an airless room with thirty other teenagers who (in the days before deodorants) smelt like a combination of billy goat and cottage pie for most of the summer; we studied Wells’s novel ‘Polly’ and I made up my mind that my life’s work would be to escape and find my own Potwell Inn.

Looking back on it I’ve realized that the Potwell Inn doesn’t so much exist as a place, but as an experience or – as some modish philosophers would have it – a process. Not, I mean, the kind of elevated process that leads to great discoveries, but the utterly everyday processes of growing, cooking, eating, cleaning, singing, laughing, remembering, loving and dreaming. A place where such ordinary things are encouraged and not disparaged by those who like to sit in judgement. One of the happiest men I ever met was a pallbearer – he carried coffins in and out of churches with an appropriately sombre air and loved his family. He gave me some china eggs once because we had a broody hen who was making a nuisance of herself; and his idea of paradise was to be on holiday with his huge extended family on a caravan site overlooking the brown and turbid waters of the Bristol Channel.

And so the Potwell Inn – that’s to say my (our) version of it has no postcode (or zip code) but is the culmination of houses, journeys, meals cooked and shared, drunken nights and sober ones, pots pans and knives acquired and treasured (each with its own history), holidays, seasons, gardens, allotments and jobs; children being born, growing up and moving away. It leaves behind a rich furrow of ideas, faiths and skills learned, embraced and abandoned; turned in to the soil of our many places. Dust to dust – I can entertain that thought without feeling sad at all; it’s just the way things have to be. Love can only be love when it’s vulnerable.

This is the Potwell Inn in which the produce and people who come through the door become sacramental and a savoy cabbage (today’s treat) can be a feast that’s unavailable at any fashionable restaurant. The Potwell Inn can be a loaf of bread or a cassoulet made with our own beans. More plausibly it could be the first cut of our asparagus, the taste of an apple fresh from the tree or the smell of a clove of garlic crushed. It can be the sound of the tawny owls calling to one another that we heard on our first night sleeping in the centre of Bath and who told us we were in the right place. It can be the smell of the river on a summer evening or the earth as it warms up in spring. It is a world of signifiers where the signified always hides out of sight. The Potwell Inn is a language that lasts as long as a mayfly lives; the burnt crust at the bottom of a paella; the skin on the rice pudding.

The Potwell Inn is not about public houses

If you’re old enough (I mean seriously old) you might have come across a novel by Richard Brautigan called “Trout Fishing in America”. On the back cover was a sentence – Warning to librarians – this book is not about fishing. I’ve described the Potwell Inn in as much detail as I can muster. I could probably write an entirely different version tomorrow morning, and so I’ll close this piece with a similar warning. The Potwell Inn is not about public houses (although anyone who could run a decent pub would have a head start at finding it or building it).

And please feel free to post links back to this blog, or recommend it to your friends if you like it; but let me know because I’d like to thank you personally.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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