The first sign of Adam’s arrival is the pause, as the door opens. Then, slowly, a wheelchair prods its way carefully through the opening. Eventually, the empty chair is pushed into the pub by its owner – a stooped, white haired man, dressed always in a blazer, jumper and shirt. Adam creeps across the threshold of the Stockbridge Tap, glancing over at the seat he always aims for. The wheelchair is left next to a radiator, and Adam slowly walks the short distance to that seat, from which he can see pretty much the entire pub. Even before he’s halfway through the door, the barstaff have started pouring his drink, and as he carefully sits on the padded bench, one of them brings it over, leaving it on the table with an ‘Evening Adam.’
Eighty years old, he’s no usual pub regular; every drinking house has them, those who come for the conversation, or the convenience. Adam does live nearby, slowly pushing his chair down the hill from the Stock Bridge, stopping to chat to anybody that recognises him. However, he comes to the Tap, and he sits in that seat, because of a different reason; familiarity. Back in 1951, when he was working as an apprentice painter, Adam turned 18. As an impromptu celebration, his boss took him out for a drink on his birthday – the first time he’d ever tasted alcohol. They sat, for the first beer of his life, in that same seat. So since then, he has sat nowhere else.
Adam’s seat is on a slight angle, in between a small table near the cellar and two larger tables that are often pushed together when people come into the Tap for food. Before I knew who he was, I’d often see Adam, incongruously shoved in the middle of a group of diners, chatting away or staying silent, depending on the company. I’d often wonder why he was there, when other tables were available. But of course, to him, they aren’t; age ensures he gets away with it. What if his seat is taken, though, and there’s no way he can squeeze in? Archie, the current manager of the Tap, chuckles. ‘He’d just sit on you, anyway.’
Adam doesn’t have an unbroken run of occupancy in the tap – he served in Germany, just after the war. ‘The Geordies, the guys from Liverpool, very friendly.’ When he returned, he moved to Granton, hardly close to Stockbridge. But, since he retired and left the painting business, he’s been heading to the Tap – in all its previous guises – every day at 6:30pm. I ask him why, and he looks nonplussed. ‘You never get any trouble here, everyone’s very friendly.’ Every now and again he waves to another regular, creased hands held aloft as they walk past on the way to the toilet. ‘He used to be a major in the army.’ ‘That guy’s from Norway, nice guy.’
Back in the day, he can’t remember what the pub was called. Beer was never more than sixpence. He points over his left shoulder, out of the window, at a small block of flats. ‘I asked a girl out who worked in the firm, her mother lived there. We brought her in here for a drink.’ The next table is suddenly occupied by a group of women, refugees from a nearby all-star tennis tournament, abandoned due to rain. ‘McEnroe was there!’ Adam tells them. ‘You cannot be serious!!’ He then talks about how the Tap used to be, with the different rooms, and how the women enjoyed the comfortable lounge.
I buy Adam a beer – these days, he only ever drinks Best shandy; half a Best, poured with lemonade. He has an early tea, heads to the Tap, and drinks three pints before slowly pushing his chair home. Before every sip of the shandy I’ve bought him, he thanks me. He used to drink regular beer (and buys me one soon afterwards, despite my protestations), but has cut down ‘on Doctor’s orders’ after the whisky part of the famed Scottish half n’ half became the most important. ‘Over time, you’d forget the beer was there’, he says. Did you like the taste of beer, that first pint you had, in 1951? Adam pauses, wrinkling his forehead, before smiling. ‘Oh, aye.’ he chuckles, reaching for his Best glass.