Under a low oak-beamed ceiling, three middle-aged men were perched on stools around the bar. One of these greeted me, walked around to the other side of the bar and asked me what I was having. He wasn’t the landlord, he said. The landlord was busy out at the back for a moment. There was a small selection of real ales. I chose the Badger’s Todger. He poured me a pint and returned to his stool and rejoined his muted three-cornered conversation.
The bar was cosy enough but the quietness was oppressive. A big mistake coming to this place, I thought, as I took a sip. Nice pint, though. Then the landlord materialised behind the bar. He was a large man, well manicured, conservatively dressed. You could tell how he voted in the last general election just by looking at him. He greeted me warmly — or was it just loudly? — and there was something Fawlty-esque — that peculiar mixture of fear, anger and resignation — in his stare as he sized me up.
I had on a suit and tie, so that went down well with him, I imagined. But my regional accent, when he heard it, made him visibly blanche. And yet I didn’t appear to be intimidated in the slightest by a man of his size, style, social class and private education. I was a conundrum. To solve it, he went the direct route. ‘What do you do for a living?’ he demanded. I told him I was a journalist. ‘Who do you write for?’ I told him the Devon Association of Smallholders quarterly magazine and The Spectator — had he heard of either? My goodness he’d heard of The Spectator, all right.