As the latest storm lashes our soggy and hatches-battened islands, there really are only a few options on where to go if you’re brave enough to venture outside. You don’t have to, of course; you can stay indoors, keeping one eye on the floodwaters and the other on Call of Duty. After all, until the fire brigade wade along your street either side of a yellow dingy*, there’s no point in endangering any lives (other than the Russian ghost terrorist cells, or whatever you have to frag in CoD; if people still use the word ‘frag’). Stay put, keep warm, and hope the Xbox controller batteries aren’t commandeered for the emergency torch/rescue beacon.
*where do they keep those?
But what if you have to venture out? If you must don the North Face goretex and shuffle along the street like a Channel 5 TV presenter who drew the shortest straw? Well, there are plenty of places you could aim for, to escape the thrashing wind and horizontal rain. As you might expect, I would have to rank the pub as being right at the very top – there really is nowhere better to hunker down and see out a storm, particularly if there’s an open fire within. If you’re lucky enough to have a local within (forty-five degree) walking distance, then put the heavy collar on the beagle, grab a fistful of change, and get shuffling. Here’s why…
One of the best things about being in a pub during horrendous weather is simply the approach; that moment of walking up, the last gust near lifting Bernie off his paws, as you loop the lead again around your fist, and look up at your destination. Although the pub sign looks about to part company, the windows are all cosily fogged, there’s a faint glimmer of flickering hearth and, rising above the sou-wester, a faint sound of packets of dry-roasted being opened. It’s worth the disapproving glances as you break the seal on the door, trust me. Once that first sip of porter hits your tastebuds, you won’t want to leave. Besides, pubs usually have a decent supply of sandbags.
So what’s the alternative to Britain’s greatest institution? On Sky news, the church hall always seems to be the most commonly-seen destination for those caught up in appalling weather. Rows of static, war-time mattresses made up with grey woollen blankets await, prepared by kindly volunteers who have fearlessly ridden their half-ton bicycles through three feet of grey, sludgey water to get there and help. You can’t fault their sense of community and spirit, but the alcohol situation is pretty thin, and at least school halls have those climbing frames to pass the time on.
Tesco Metro/Sainsbury’s Local/My Mini Morrisons
The only good episode of Dr Who ever made was Blink (and not just because it featured Carey Mulligan). In it, the genuinely scary angels advance if you don’t look at them, or even if you blink – pretty much like Tesco Metros or the small brown and orange Sainsbury’s. They appear everywhere, incessantly. So, chances are, if you wade through the burst banks of the River Blimple to a hill near your house, there’ll be one there, open, selling a range of packet bread, packet fruit, and packet cake. Trouble is, there are only so many just-baked rolls you can use as hand-warmers before people get suspicious; and the doors opening every eleven seconds just lets the cold in.
Ah, the cinema. At least you can (usually) buy beer here. Before I moved across town, my local cinema had a fairly decent range of bottles on offer, that you could tip into a (boo!) plastic glass and try to carry in, with that odd half-squeeze you have to do to grip the glass yet not disturb the surface tension. Anyway, if you’re after somewhere warm and cosy to wait out a storm cell, the cinema isn’t bad – but although they have plenty of snack foods, they tend to lack that personal touch a pub has, and every three hours the credits roll and the hide-and-seek begins with the bored usher. Stay out of the torch beam! Don’t blink!
If you can’t make it to the Cork and Cumulonimbus, where would you head for to ride out a storm and get some decent beer at the same time? Or is the pub the only option?