How to find the Potwell Inn

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I know where the Potwell Inn can be found, because it’s somewhere around me.  It’s what you might call a ‘container’, a fictional construct whose elements are all real. This is all a bit philosophical I know, and as soon as I can I’ll post again and push this one down the queue – BUT – last week I was on the allotment alone, working away at filling several of the new paths with woodchip, a bit of an urgent job because supplies of woodchip are  spasmodic and can disappear within a few hours, carted away by any one of about 100 eager allotmenters.

So there I was in a world of my own (The Potwell Inn) when suddenly, walking down the path, came an old friend from years past who had managed to track me down in a way that I dare not describe for fear of all the regulars turning up in a coach one day.  How weird is that?  Then in the evening a text message from another person I’d been out of touch with – for 30 years at least – appeared on my phone out of the blue. Extraordinarily joyful but it threw me into a tailspin.

I love the freedom of imagination. The Potwell Inn, the bar, the garden, the kitchen and even the distant landscape and weather were – I always thought – mine to play with: like an imaginary friend in whom I could invest my deepest feelings. I hadn’t factored in the obvious fact that sharing involves risk.  The moment I press the ‘publish’ button my private world belongs not just to me but to the people who read it, who relate to it and are kind enough to want to share my space. All this is not simply some dry technical stuff about growing stuff and cooking it.  It’s about what really matters to me and what I believe should matter to everyone else as well. Without our Potwell Inns we shrivel and dry up.

Here we are in the midst of the age of extinctions, of what’s come to be known as the ‘anthropocene’, where we can see what we’ve done to the earth through our compliance with greed, through our own greed too. And part of the purpose of the Potwell Inn is to explore the idea that – in the words of fellow blogger Jon Moore –

we can change the world, one cabbage at a time!

The most radical force in the world is not fear or anger or intellect, but delight. Delight stops us in our tracks, changes the way we see things, changes the way we live our lives. If you want to find the Potwell Inn you must follow the line of delight and there, at the end of the journey, you will find the building with the crooked chimney and the sound of jackdaws playing in the trees. But it’s never an easy journey because so many people find delight annoying, at best, and at worst threatening.  How many times have you seen a beautiful fungus stamped into the earth, as if its very existence were a threat? Delight is the slow-cooking movement of the inner life. Walking anywhere takes a age because there’s so much delight to be found in the ordinary, and once experienced in that rather Blakean way –

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand.

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.

And Eternity in an hour.”

2017-09-05 15.44.28then the ordinary becomes the Ordinary and the most everyday actions like cooking and eating together; growing and harvesting, singing and talking are infused with delight, and it’s precisely that that so pisses authority off because delight is its own authority and its own legislator and defers to no lawyer or religion, and that is why it’s perceived as being dangerous.

 

 

As for the Potwell Inn – it’s an insidious corruptor of commonsense and small mindedness.

When did we get so scared of food?

2018-02-06 14.20.29I can answer that question for us at the Potwell Inn because one of our children suffered from his earliest months from what was thought to be lactose intolerance. It turned out to be something else and he’s now approaching forty and in good health, but that’s not the point.  For us that possibility – in the era before smartphones – meant that shopping became a nightmare in which small print was obsessively pored over and during which we carried a long printed list of safe foods which had to be updated every few weeks because manufacturers would change recipes and what was ‘safe’ one week would contain lactose a month later. Lactose was a cheap and easy recipe component that found its way into the most unexpected places. What that experience did – and this is the takeaway point – was to pathologise food for us. We were in an unusual and rare position and eventually, after several years of  hospital admissions, it became clear that lactose wasn’t the underlying problem and things kind of settled down again.

But once pathologised, food never really recovers and for many of us the relationship with it has become damaged.  ‘Lucky you’ you could justifiably say if you’re a subsistence farmer or relying on food banks to get through the week. What shameless narcissistic self-indulgence to be prattling on about the dangers of food when you’re so rich you can afford to throw it away.  ‘Just give us a share in that dangerous stuff you’re so scared of eating!’  This isn’t just an abstract ethical issue. Last night we were late getting home and I resorted to buying a ready meal (yes really) at the local supermarket just before it closed –  you should try it some time, it’s an eye opener.  There was a significant proportion of obviously poor people snapping up the reduced price food before it went to the bins. I even spotted one man who I know to be a street beggar with a basket of food. It was a big jolt, we mostly prefer poverty to be on the other side of a high cultural wall – who needs concrete and steel?  Wouldn’t we rather they waited an hour and stole it from the waste bins at the back or is it just their pride that stops them?

But for the lucky ones, aided by countless newspaper and television programmes, the message has become imprinted in our minds that food is potentially dangerous and by micromanaging our food intake we can live longer lives.  It’s a no-brainer as we all know, and so whilst we are fortunate enough (most of us) to live in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey [Oh my God, milk? factory farmed and lethal: and honey? – unless it’s manuka honey at £15 a gram – pure lethal carbohydrate]; many who can afford it live on an aetiolated diet that keeps them perpetually anxious and those who can’t, eat manufactured junk that gives you diabetes and makes you fat, and disabled by shame and guilt.  Of course we all smile bravely and tell ourselves we’re really happy but:

We’re secretly as miserable as it’s possible to be!

Having a bad relationship with food, and tap water, and the air we breath, and with any number of ordinary indispensible aspects of our lives is so widespread that we hardly notice it, and when we do notice there’s often an ‘expert’ on hand to help us through. But all too often the experts want to sell us their remedy rather than attack the basic problem.  So we buy processed ‘slimming meals’ – there’s an oxymoron for you.  We lug vast quantities of bottled water around and – if we can afford it – buy organic food not realizing that the major producers have negotiated exemptions on the use of many chemicals we assume we paid extra to be spared from. We buy food supplements and herbal snake-oil in case they can stave off old age. Our behaviour, and especially our children’s behaviour, has been pathologised as well and we medicate five year olds in order to make them more ‘normal’. Our relationships, our culture and family life and sadly our dependence on bacteria (think only of our terror of rotting, even controlled rotting) have all been pathologised too and we’re frightened of a caterpillar on our cabbage and a bit of dirt on a potato, so we’re reduced to buying happiness on interest free credit from some behemoth that knows that the effect wears off when you unwrap it and then you’ll buy some more. Surely this can’t be good?

The Potwell Inn doesn’t actually have a ‘mission statement’ because trying to express the idea of flourishing without getting into psychobollocks, merchandising and quackery is harder to do than you’d imagine. But ironically we all know what flourishing feels like even if we can’t put it into words.  Equally a discussion about ‘being fully human’ is fraught with difficulties in a society that runs away screaming if it senses that even a mention of humanness is attempting to chainsaw the legs off diversity.  When did we get so scared of food? When did we get so scared of getting old? When did we get so scared of germs, or other people, or commitment, or thinking about hard stuff?

The Potwell Inn stands for flourishing and not, most certainly not just happiness which is an ephemeral pleasure that’s always ready to be driven out by the next dark fear. It’s flourishing we’re committed to and in order to flourish we believe that we need to overthrow the tyranny of pleasure altogether. I’m talking about both ancient (how about Aristotle?) and modern – Positive Psychology [feel free to skip a sentence whenever your mind clouds over].  I’m no academic, but if I were, I’d be looking at the work the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham (UK) is doing.

What I am completely committed to doing is discovering through experience – through growing and harvesting and cooking;  through making and thinking, and learning not to be scared of my neighbours, and – to steal a phrase from Ernest Hemmingway in a letter to his daughter, “to recognise bullshit when you see it”; I’m learning about flourishing. What I’m conducting is a very practical experiment with the hope I might be able to share the results with a few other people.  It’s called the Potwell Inn because it’s open to anyone (except if you’re barred by the landlord for being a pain) and it’s a place of joy.

 

 

 

Today’s special

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There used to be  – may well still be – a building supply company down near the fruit and veg market in Bristol. The company was run by the friend of a friend, and they were very particular that they were “a specialist building supplier”  That’s to say although you could buy all manner of obscure and popular things on the builder’s mind, you could not buy sand and cement and other bulk supplies. This led to a good deal of good-humoured banter with customers who would deliberately request these unavailable items just for the fun of a firm but polite refusal – “I’m sorry sir, but we are a specialist building supplier”.

The reason I recall this is that this morning I’m pondering how best to avoid disappointing people who come to the Potwell Inn looking for something we don’t, (or can’t) supply. I suppose in the great Wild West of the blogosphere pretty well anything goes and, after all, a like is a like and a visitor is a visitor so why worry?  But I do worry.

At the top of the page is a carefully considered statement – it says: “A sceptic’s take on being human” . So it’s not a guide to being human in any sense not least because I’m a sceptic and I can’t buy into big systems and I’d be pretty crap at guiding anyone anywhere. But it also suggests that being human is a deeply puzzling business that isn’t just a given, like breathing. The Potwell Inn isn’t the destination but a place I can go to and feel a bit human.  It’s a left luggage office for memories, ideas, experiences and overheard conversations that people can come to to search for something they think they might have lost even though they can’t exactly name it.

And so in this restless business of being or becoming human there are some things I’ve discovered that seem to help. Firstly and above all there’s people, there’s eating and cooking, there’s growing things on the allotment and are books and poetry and the visual arts and there’s French Nouvelle Vague films and botany – and so the list goes on.  But this isn’t a blog about any of those things on the list although it includes them all. So I don’t do recipes or advocate any one particular way of running an allotment I don’t promote vegetarianism, veganism, paleo diets or anything lke that.  I just ramble on about stuff I’ve found that I like and stuff that makes me wonder why I don’t like.

I once worked for a tree man, a forester called Pat McGlyn. Knowing next to nothing about forestry I would help him out in all sorts of totally unskilled ways like directing traffic and dragging tree limbs around.  He was a pretty terrifying character -he had lost an eye blowing up tree roots, and in extremis when he was collecting a bad debt he would remove the glass one leaving a deep and horrifying hole there.  He usually got his money! We lost touch for  couple of decades and then one day he unexpectedly turned up at the door, obviously suffering from some sort of dementia. He said – “I know I know you but I can’t remember your name”. He’d parked his old Volvo outside and he was very proud of the fact that it was full from floor to ceiling with discarded artificial limbs which he was going to send to some war-torn corner of the Balkans where he thought they would be useful. We had several cups of coffee and talked about the various friendship groups he’d set up in troubled parts of the world. He drove away and I never saw him again. Being human comes in all sorts, shapes and sizes and Pat was uncompromisingly human.

On my last day working with him we stopped off for a pint on the way home somewhere near Castle Combe.  The pub was closing down for good that night, and he looked at the long mahogany bar and stroked it and pondered aloud about its beauty, the trees that had provided the timber for it and the history and all the conversations it had been a silent party to over the years. That old bar has become the bar at the Potwell Inn. We serve anybody here – fancy today’s special?  Game terrine, piccallili and sourdough bread and butter, every bit of it prepared in our kitchen and grown on the allotment.

Thank you so much!

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I was wandering around the Potwell Inn this morning, surveying the seasonal carnage, when I glimpsed into the front hall and saw a pile of letters there – thirty or forty of them.  The thing is, no-one opens the front door. It’s very gloomy, the doors are rotten and the hinges are rusted through and haven’t been used in years, –  so the front hall is a sort of improvised storage area full of junk and incomprehensible stuff with a letter box at the back marked “spam”.   Who on earth looks in letterboxes marked “spam”?  Anyway, my curiosity got the better of me this morning and I looked, and among some fairly random stuff about footballers I’ve never heard of I found a number of very supportive and enthusiastic comments on the Potwell Inn.  What a nice surprise! It seems that WordPress are so keen to preserve my sanity that they’ve been sweeping any general comments – ie not attached to a specific posting – into the spam filter.

So thanks to all those who’ve been so positive, I really appreciate it. There were also one or two questions about technical issues that I wouldn’t dare try to answer – when I get stuck I just go onlne, there’s mountains of help out there.  The visual format is one of the “off the shelf” ones that comes with the package and I took the photo of my son walking with my grandson 2 years ago – lucky shot.  Yes this is a WordPress hosted site – basic level but not free. I’m computer literate but the least glimpse of code sends me looking for the smelling salts!

As to “why Potwell Inn?” Please don’t run  away with the idea that there must have been anything so advanced as planning or focus groups (eeoogh).  I must be the only human being on earth to be inspired and radicalised at the age of 14 by an Edwardian (1910) comic novel,  so I’ve spent the rest of my life torn between looking for it and building it for myself. The reason for turning it into a blog was that the journalling software I’d been using daily for three years was upgraded without warning so that the various clapped out old machines here at the Inn wouldn’t talk to one another any more. When I looked around for an alternative I had a moment of inspiration and thought – “why not make it into a blog – there’s nothing in it I couldn’t share ? ” So the Potwell Inn became a virtual place that I already felt comfortable in.

The biggest challenge for writing a blog was the discipline to keep going – a habit which I’d already got, and more importantly, the capacity to treat setbacks, indifference and critical remarks as par for the course and I’ve had plenty of experience of that!  This is a tiny enterprise with a handful or so of regular supporters (I’m old so I don’t need to bull it up!) – so I’d be delighted if anyone wanted to share web the address with anyone they thought might enjoy it. At the moment I’m more likely to be hit by a lump of the Mars Lander than I am to get even 100 supporters.

But above all: Happy 2019 and, once again,  thank you so much.

Last bit of civil engineering for 2018

IMG_4820Is there something about New Year’s Eve that compels us all to reflect back on the year? Two years ago we were at St Ives in the campervan, being rocked and battered by the remains of a huge Atlantic storm.  Then last year we were with friends in Shaftesbury.

Last night we were at a lively gathering of neighbours next door and consequently I woke up at the usual time feeling very sleep deprived and – shall we say? – a bit muzzy. Rather too much wine, I’m afraid, but three and a bit years after we moved here we’ve made friends with most of the people who live in the street on a long-term basis. Every year we have a fluctuating population of students and temporary residents and it can be hard to tell one group from the other when you first move.

I would love to be able to say that I’d finished all the raised beds by today, but it’s been a much bigger undertaking than we ever dreamed, and apart from the expense, much of the earlier layout and borders on the first allotment have needed to be replaced and repurposed in other places. It took two years on the waiting list for us to get a second adjoining plot and so all the original rotation plans had to be changed, and it’s taken a year to bring the second plot completely into a new design so we could then move back and redesign the first one.  The bed on the right of the photograph is the foundation for the new compost heaps from which we aim to produce a far greater quantity of compost during next year. There will be three bays each capable of holding approximately two cubic metres of material, and that’s a big ask because the existing setup is so full of brandling worms it simply eats up the waste, which means that the first bay will shring to less than 50% of its original volume.

As I write this I hear Madame calling from the snug where she sits holding her glass of milk stout. (I made all of that up).  “Where are you?” ; “Writing”, I reply.  “What are you writing about?” she asks.  “The new compost heap”. “Are you completely bonkers?” she says, “- who in the world is interested in the compost heap?”

Well, I’m not sure that I know who is interested, so passing on rapidly I can say that most of any achievements on the allotment are pretty small-fry compared with crossing the North Pole on a unicycle, but for allotmenteers life is marked by a good deal of hard work and the odd moment of unexpected joy.  ‘Though I felt pretty miserable when I woke up and reflected on the many occasions during last night when I could have refused a top-up; I also knew that if I didn’t get up to the allotment and at least try to do some work I would feel much worse. So that’s what I did and I felt better after a lot of earth moving and wheelbarrow pushing and if – and I mean if – if it all comes together then next season will go well, BUT whereof I cannot speak, thereof I must remain silent – to nick a phrase from Mr Wittgenstein…. and Madame nods approvingly.

But we’ve had a good year and grown things we’ve never grown before. The extra space meant we were able to grow some potatoes which will last a week or two longer, and tonight we baked a couple of them and among other things we enjoyed our own home made tomato ketchup in a lashed-up marie rose sauce.  Earlier in the day I snacked on the remains of the game terrine between slices of my own sourdough bread and anointed with last year’s piccallili.  It feels good to write that!  This day 12 months ago the seed potatoes had already arrived and we were worrying whether we should chit them straight away. This year we’ve bought them from a different supplier who promises to send them a month later. It turns out that life’s rich tapestry is woven from many tiny threads.

Have a great New Year.

 

Winter thoughts at the Potwell Inn

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In the world of virtuality that we bloggers inhabit, it’s tempting to create a parallel unverse in which we are self-perfecting and untouched by the blights that affect lesser mortals. And so, by carefully selecting from the events of the day and choosing our words as poets might, we convey our privileged position on the sunny highlands of human consciousness without for a moment descending into bragging.

It will be a strange sort of book, I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho you may get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree ; – & to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be as ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves.  Yet I do mean to get to the truth of the thing , spite of this.

Herman Melville in a letter to Richard Henry Dana on the first draft of Moby Dick

I read blogs. The best of them fire me up and get me back to work, but the worst of them make me feel inadequate – as if the only place to start a new life is “anywhere but where you are”. I see photographs of perfected lives, perfected allotments and perfected meals and I know that I could never compete. Nobody’s going to stick my face on an advert for the good life, so I created the Potwell Inn as a place where the real, the blight, the shit that happens, has a place as well – a place that I’m allowed to live in because I am fallible, I am human and I have never lost the longing for something better.

The Potwell Inn, in its first iteration by H G Wells, is set in the South Downs and it’s all orchard and grass and gently murmering river. It doesn’t rain – in fact the sun seems never to stop shining – but over everything hangs the shadow of Uncle Jim who may return at any moment in a drunken fury. H G Wells knew better than to write a novel of perfection.

So, mea culpa, in all my postings I’ve never mentioned anything much more frightening than allium leaf miner or a late frost; and you might run away with the idea that the Potwell Inn and its allotment exist in a faery glade at the edge of an exquisite Georgian city. It’s true that the city we live in has a lot of Georgian architecture – we’re lucky enough to live on the edge one of its most beautiful parks.  But Bath itself is a monster with a severe personality disorder that can’t make its mind up whether it’s a University town, a Roman tribute act, a continuously ‘in session’ meeting of the Jane Austin fan club or a vibrant modern shopping/eating/clubbing experience. In fact, “Bath – the experience” occupies a limited area at the centre and it’s surrounded by a hinterland that’s not so lucky.  Our beautiful Georgian terrace comprises mainly houses in multiple occupation filled with a shifting population of students, young families unable even to look in an estate agent’s window, and housing assocociation properties many of which have some deeply troubled residents.

So we live in a lovely flat near the centre of a beautiful city and the corner of our street next to the flat is a favourite spot for drug dealers because there’s no CCTV and there are four or five escape routes inaccessible to a police car if trouble kicks off. Through our windows we can enjoy a view of the river and the trees and also – at times –  violent domestic disputes, machete wielding ‘county lines’ enforcers and crack smoking minor league dealers on bikes. Most of the trouble never comes near us – just once I was the victim of the most pathetic attempted mugging in history. There’s a young man who lives a block away who we call ‘mong’ because he shuffles around as if he is permanently on spice or ketamine. He’s well over six feet tall so potentially could be a bit frightening if the fog ever cleared. I came down the road and despite the fact that he was already holding a mobile, he said “give me your phone” in his best menacing tone. I replied “fuck off!” in my most menacing OAP manner, and he said “there’s no need to be rude”. He probably had a good polite upbringing some time back.

The police and the local council are having a purge on rough sleeping and street begging in the centre because it scares the tourists. Naturally this means that the problem moves outwards towards us and street begging becomes petty crime – burglary, shoplifting, stolen bikes, muggings and such like. Sustaining a £200 a day habit either means a good begging pitch in town or something much more scary around the edges.  Our posturing local councillors – many of whom are part of the problem inasmuch as they own property and let it out at increasingly ridiculous rents – like to grandstand with talk about ‘zero tolerance’ but that does nothing to help the elderly residents who are terrorised by dealers and users.  We have no police station any more, and our air quality is so polluted by heavy traffic that we regularly break EU limits. So that’s where the Potwell Inn can be found – not in an  idyllic imaginary parallel world, but here on a cold December day when it’s too wet to get on to the allotment (again).

But this is where we’ve chosen to live and we love every moment. I’ve always had a conviction that there’s no better place than where you are set down, and the best way to live a flourishing, fully human life is to transform the place you live in rather than spend a fortune in time and energy looking for somewhere better. And so we get involved in the local neighbourhood and in its politics.  We all know that the source of many of these problems is lack of compassion and lack of resources compounded by a malignant ideology.  We love the fact that we can hear a dozen languages and more every day on the streets and we can shop in half a dozen food cultures within a mile.  We love the allotment and its capacity to provide for us, and our neighbours who live such interesting and occasionally complicated and exotic lives.

In one of those long meandering chains of thought that sometimes sieze my attention I began ten days ago with watching the riots in Paris on television and emerged 24 hours later with a changed perspective. That change of perspective took me to a single word; a crystallisation of the chain of thought and it was the word “commonwealth”.  The absence of the capital letter is absolutely deliberate because it is not a proper noun.  It doesn’t refer to any of the manifestations of the original idea that has been misappropriated so often from the days of Cromwell’s parliament to the cultural remains of the British Empire. It’s been so often misappropriated, in fact, that when I googled it, I looked at 27 pages of results without finding a single reference to its original meaning – a political community founded for the common good. This lovely idea seems to me to be slap bang in the middle of the Potwell Inn mission statement, or it would be if we had one!

I wondered for a long while whether to post this, and here it is. A provisional mission statement for the Potwell Inn, driven by the sheer baffling and beautiful complexity of human flourishing.

Commonwealth: A political community founded for the common good.

 

Calling time? I think not.

 

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So 25% of British pubs – mostly the small ones like ours  – have closed down since 2001 according to the Office for National Statistics.  We at the Potwell Inn have bucked the trend and stood firm against rent and rate increases by the simple expedient of not existing. We are expectantly waiting for the day when an eagle eyed official with too much time on their hands and an irony deficiency sends us a rate demand or accuses us of not having a current license.  We do not, of course have any such documents.

But what of the others? What of the ones whose ceiling were so encrusted with nicotine that they would loose acrid brown drops the colour of iodine on the heads of the inebriates beneath? What of the pubs where the landlord and his wife, having fallen out with one another decades previously, entertained the customers by trading ferocious insults between the public bar (hers) and the lounge (his – normally empty). What of the clandestine meetings at the Ich Dien followed by frantic couplings in a mini parked in a layby, with passers  like Madame and I slowly driving past eager to catch a glimpse of the owner of that voluminous tricell skirt? What of the dockside pub where you could drink every night in a lock-in, as long as you bought the landlady a gin each time you got a round.  Even the police used to drop in there. I could go on for longer than the doctor would be pleased to hear, but the fact is, something unique is slowly dying. The pub is often deadly, the beer terrible, or the locals may eye you up strangely and polish their shotguns, but there’s always the possibility of something happening.

So forget the bucket lists and the industrialisation of pleasure, the most unforgettably beautiful moments are always a surprise – across a crowded room etc – you know the trope. Here are two of mine from the same winter in the early 1970’s. Strangely, both were facilitated by industrial action so massive that the country virtually ground to a halt.  Art schools in the early ’70’s were properly counter-cultural in the days before the suits learned how to merchandise the air we breath and sell it back to us, and one of the new forms of expression creeping in at the time became known as “happenings”. They were often spontaneous and unscripted and sometimes they were unbelievably tedious and then sometimes they were life changing. This one started with a postcard sent to every art school in the country with nothing more than a time, a date and a grid refrerence.  That was it – no explanation or any clue what might be happening so of course, we went along. The grid reference led us to a track just east of Avebury Henge and there were about twenty people milling around with a couple of special branch officers trying to blend in inconspicuously.  It was worth the journey just for that – they were spectacularly inept at blending. A rather tall and thin young man with a wooden staff led us up the Ridgeway with a commentary full of leylines and mystic connections which we mostly ignored and got along with chatting to one another. We climbed eastwards to a high vantage point near Fyfield Down just as the sun was beginning to set and as we turned and faced the dusk we realized that there were no electric lights anywhere. Aside from a few distant car headlights, the miners had arranged the most perfect view across Chippenham and Bristol towards the Severn and the Forest of Dean beyond.  The electricity had been cut off and we had become a band of accidental pilgrims on an ancient pilgrimage route and with a view that I had never seen in my lifetime and never will again.  It was gin clear and the stars above us shone with such intensity we were transported. Later we walked down to Avebury village and found the pub open by candlelight and so we celebrated with a few beers and cemented one friendship that has lasted to this day.

The second experience was during the same dispute and we had cycled out to a pub on the A420 near Castle Combe.  At about half past eight, with the bar filled with talk about the strikes, a coach load of miners came in on their way back from London. There was a bit of a frozen silence and almost all the customers, except us, walked out attempting to look hard – in case their little protest should inflame the strikers.  But the miners sang. There are tears in my eyes as I write this, because they sang their hymns so wonderfully that we had our humanity dusted off and straightened out free of charge.  For an hour they ministered to us and we listened in rapt silence, knowing that this would never happen again.

And so – the Potwell Inn? Well, we haven’t smoked for years, but if the couple in the Mini want to drop in and celebrate an anniversary we would serve them without a trace of reproach.  We would wecome anyone who was on Fyfield Down near Avebury that day, especially the Special Branch officers and Gandalf the half-demented leader and it goes without saying that if any group of singers, miners, saints or sinners should drop in, we would have an all-nighter. We would even welcome Henry and his wife who could do with a good night out together. We would welcome all the ne’er-do-wells and undiscovered poets and talk gardening until the sun rose over the runner beans and Madame and me could sit down to a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea and say – “Haven’t we been lucky!”