“I’M off to see a man about a dog,” my dad replied, having been asked where he was going one summer Sunday afternoon.
Brilliant. Always wanted a dog and finally it was happening.
I waited with much anticipation and as time passed I assumed he must have had to travel some distance to pick up said canine. That or he was having considerable trouble persuading it to leave its current residence.
He eventually arrived sans (I had even learned a bit of French in the time he had been gone) dog, having no clue as to why I was upset at this or, indeed, what I was on about.
It turned out he had been to the Working Men’s Club and the reason wasn’t to procure me a new furry friend.
In retrospect, it should have been obvious. My father loved the club, but so did most men (and plenty of women) in the village. It used to be absolutely packed from late Friday to “the death” on Sunday night.
We couldn’t go anywhere without having to get back so my dad could make his way up there.
Through the week, if he was working the 6am-2pm shift at the factory he would have a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon, have his tea, watch some TV and go up for the last hour or so, always for three-four pints. The 2-10pm shift proved more problematic as he had to get home, change and charge up there for about 10.20 and neck his beer a good bit quicker.
On Saturday there would be a turn on — a “delightful duo” called Baker’s Dozen, a “terrific trio” called Three of the Best, perhaps — and that would involve a bigger night in the top room, then Sunday would be bingo and a decent play on the bandit.
If we had gone away, say to Blackpool to see the illuminations — this actually happened — we would do a quick swizz up and down the Golden Mile then bolt back to ensure he didn’t miss the night’s goings-on.
He wasn’t the only one who did this and it wasn’t just the beer that attracted him. It was the fear of missing out on something. I was never sure of exactly what that was, but now I think it was just being among his type and having a good old-fashioned chat. The sort where people talk about their day, the football, what they’ve done at the weekend.
It was a bridge between work and home that many of us need, a bridge that is currently closed with pubs not being allowed to open.
My father wasn’t one to talk about mental health, but the nightly visit to the club would have done him good (well it would without the four pints). Given him a means of escape, even if just for an hour, from the treadmill of the factory grind, which he endured for 45 years. Without that option of an hour away from home, spent with some people who you could be as friendly or curt with as you liked and they (unlike your family) wouldn’t take offence, you couldn’t put up with that.
Sadly our pubs can’t offer this escape at the moment and most communities have turned their backs on traditional clubs that, whether they knew it or not, provided the same facilities as a lot of groups set up as talking shops to help the lonely.
My dad never repeated that line about seeing a man about a dog though. He changed it to “I’m going fishing,” and we already had a goldfish.