The England of my youth had more pubs than New Zealand has sheep. On a Friday night you could have a pint in any one of a dozen boozers and not even scratch the surface of what was on offer.
Times change and people change. Friday night these days means the stark “choice” of the pub or the club, but the urge to wander runs deep.
This Friday I found myself at Lightning Ridge Bowling Club. At the club’s core are the two large rooms devoted to (1) eating and watching the big telly and (2) drinking and watching the monster telly. Room 2 also doubles up as a venue for the occasional live act (think Rodney Rude).
I was sitting at the comfy lounges in Room 2 with the usual crowd but we were twitchy and restless. I took a Year 10 Science class this week and we were looking at how molecules vibrate more quickly when subjected to heat, and maybe the warm weather was causing us to turn from solids to liquids to gas. Either way, the group – already hypersensitive to noise and light – was spooked by a sudden movement near the Kino and rose as one, like a herd of startled wildebeest crossing the serenghetti, and headed towards Room 1. I was finishing a schooner and so I didn’t immediately follow which was lucky because, by the time I’d made it to the bar, the herd was on the move again, this time back through Room 2 and in the direction of the smoking area by the bowling green. Which is where we settled into a distracted stillness.
Our idyll was disturbed by an announcement that, following the meat raffles, everyone would have to leave Room 2. This was not a drill. It was prep for the Big Act of the night: Adam Harvey. (No, me neither.)
With everyone now squished into Room 1 we had to find a new venue, which is how I found myself in one of the queerest places I’ve ever had a beer: the Pub in the Club.
This enormous air hangar is part of the club. I didn’t realise it at first but I had been here before: it’s where they set up the stalls during the Opal Festival.
The feeling now was very different. The late afternoon sun slanted in through the shade cloth, lending an ethereal tint to the light. Sound disappeared into the rafters as the place is so high you could build submarines or airships in there. Although we were right next door to Room 1 we couldn’t hear a thing. The atmosphere was like one of those creepy abandoned Russian theme parks you see on BuzzFeed.
It put me in mind of the sets of Fifties sci-fi flicks about Roswell or Area 51. And yet … it was unnervingly attractive. Perhaps it was the ersatz urbex vibe, like we’d broken into a disused branch of the London underground and found a tube stop that no-one had visited in decades. We could have done anything in there; acid raves were suggested, as was an illegal cock fighting pit. It all seemed entirely possible in the plausibility-free zone of the Pub in the Club.
We ate chips and gravy, wandered around smoking rollies, marvelling at our good fortune.
The decor added to the visual dissonance. John Murray murals sat next to an olde worlde outback-themed bar, with super-low-quality tellies and a pair of speakers repurposed from a 90s hi-fi.
Piles of stuff sat around: kids’ sumo suits, crates that looked like they may contain body parts, cans of cooking oil.
And, of course, a genuine Louis Quatorze throne, of which we availed ourselves.
Even the men’s bogs were extraordinary. Is it just me or is that a big surprised face?
There was some discussion as to whether it looked like the digital animations to Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing video. That seemed possible when trying to remember it while drunk, but when you’re sober the next day and you look at the video it doesn’t. Trust me.
Could I ever go back to the Pub in the Club? I’m not sure I could. It was such a surreal experience that perhaps it’s best left in the realm of one’s past, the kind of thing that one looks back on and wonders: did it actually happen or did I dream it?
Even with pictures I think it was all a strange – a very, very strange – dream.