A couple of days ago I was up and about at the crack of dawn. My wife was still sleeping soundly so it seemed like an ideal opportunity to get in an early morning run. Before venturing out, I strapped on my trusty iPod; listening to music is my therapy, it allows me to think, to reflect and from time to time escape.
Ten minutes into the run, with the soothing sounds of Acoustic Alchemy in my ears, my mind began to drift; to reminisce on times gone by. Thoughts turned to my student days, fond memories of time spent in a particular pub.
By chance, my friends and I had come across it whilst out on an afternoon pub crawl around town. We'd opted to pop in and check it out; as pubs go it was nothing special, in truth it was small, cramped, quaint you might say and spotlessly clean.
We approached the bar and were greeted by the landlord. We ordered our drinks, sat at the bar and got chatting. The landlord's name was Dave; it turned out he'd been a merchant seaman and we sat entranced as he recited tales of his adventures upon the high seas.
Looking back on it now, many of his escapades were undoubtedly the product of a highly active imagination. Let's be honest, when anybody tells you they served under a captain who went by the name of Ahab it's difficult not to be a little sceptical!
It mattered not, as the beer flowed and the sounds of laughter and revelry echoed across the bar the veracity of his tales seemed unimportant. We felt no inclination to move on, indeed we remained encamped in Dave's pub throughout the course of the afternoon and, it must be said, well into the evening.
My friends and I had recently arrived in this town, relative strangers in an unfamiliar environment; finding this little pub and meeting Dave changed all that. From this point on we felt a profound sense of belonging, we were no longer outsiders; we had a pub, our pub, our 'local'.
We also had a great landlord, one who served great ale. Not only that, he knew our names, chatted to us as if he'd known us for years and had a great sense of humour. What more could we possibly want?
From this day on we rarely drank anywhere else. "The usual is it Bob?" Dave would enquire whenever I walked in; confirmation if any were needed that I'd now been elevated to the status of 'regular'. "Please Dave" I'd reply proudly.
This little pub became our sanctuary, a place where camaraderie and comradeship prevailed, a place where all life's little problems were left at the door, a place where we found true contentment.
Even if one of us were having a bad day it didn't seem to matter; Dave would crack a couple of his jokes, we'd all laugh and suddenly the world seemed a much better place.
If, on the odd occasion, one of us were stuck for cash, Dave would put his hand in his pocket and hand over a fiver. I always remember the feeling of gratitude I felt when he'd furtively slip me some cash; after all, he was doing me a favour, wasn't he?
"I want it back by Friday" he'd say as he handed it over "or I'll kick your a..." "No problem Dave" I'd reply, beaming from ear to ear, "give us a couple of pints of Bass."
On another occasion I bought a girl into the pub; Dave gave me that 'look' as we approached the bar. He remained silent as my pint was poured but I knew it was only a matter of time, needless to say he didn't disappoint.
"You're not going out with him are you?" he asked my lady friend as he put my drink on the bar.
"Trust me love; you can do a lot better!"
"Thanks Dave" I responded. Needless to say, I escorted my date to a table as far away from Dave as possible.
On Friday and Saturday nights people would cram into this tiny little pub. We were never short of aspiring musicians so invariably someone would pick up one of the many guitars in the bar and start playing something, more often than not a Beatles number.
The sound of music would inevitably inspire someone to burst into song, in no time everyone in the bar would join in and we revelled in an evening of song, merriment, companionship and good ale. It was an unforgettable experience, one we were fortunate enough to relive, weekend after weekend.
A large bell hung in the bar, one Dave had acquired from his seafaring days. It was rung every evening to signal closing time; "Thank you for your custom" Dave would say in his own imitable style, "now it's time for you all to bug....r off."
As naive nineteen year olds we felt an overriding compulsion to comply, although I do recall thinking it a little odd that a number of customers did not appear to share our sense of urgency.
Then one evening, as the bell duly rang and we obediently reached for our drinks, I felt a hand on my arm, it was Dave. The look he gave me made it clear that there was no rush; we didn't need to be going anywhere just yet. I allowed myself a smile, we'd been promoted; we were now fully fledged members of the 'lock in' club.
During the three years we spent in this town the majority of us rarely considered drinking anywhere else. Why would we? After all we had everything we wanted right here. Looking back on it now, it was quite simply a special time spent in a special place.
I don't think I've ever drunk in a pub where you could meet such a diverse range of weird and wonderful people. It has often been said that a pub can never be 'all things to all men'; that maybe true but this was probably as close as you could possibly get.
Students, hippies, college lecturers, locals; they all drank here, united in their love of this wonderful little pub. Dave fostered a unique atmosphere, nurtured it to the point that it became a place we all wanted to be. Everybody said it was great little pub, but in truth it was what it was because Dave made it so.
That was all a long time ago, thirty years to be precise. Time has moved on, things have changed beyond recognition but the fundamental principles of running a good pub appear, to me at least, to remain the same. Creating a place people want to go, a place where they feel welcome, a place where they feel they belong.
Thanks to Dave I discovered what a good pub is all about; the importance of the 'personal touch', for this I will always be grateful. I would hope that the youth of today are fortunate enough to share my experience, to come across a 'Dave' during the course of their travels from pub to pub.
Last year an advert appeared on TV seeking to recruit new teachers. The slogan read 'We never forget a good teacher'; I would suggest that this is equally true of our profession; a good landlord/landlady will always live long in the memory.
So, in recognition of that fact, I dedicate this piece to Dave; a special man who gave us a special time in a special place.