When I was at school I had, for a short time, the nickname of Norm. Based on one of the greatest comedy characters of all time, Norm Peterson from Cheers. This was because, at the tender age of 16, I was already a regular at a local pub, (The Fox and Hounds in North Hykeham) so much so that the landlord would know my name and what I was drinking as I walked in. (nb. Drinking at 16 is very, very wrong.) I’d like to think that it had nothing at all to do with Norm’s rotund appearance. Incidentally visiting this pub every Friday leads to another school memory of people in my year singing “don’t go drinking alcohol” to the TLC tune of “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” after one slightly heavier than usual session led to me sleeping over at a friends house and being sick over him in the middle of the night (sorry Tom Nixon). A lesson very well learned and something that I thankfully never repeated.
Anyway, back to Norm. His character would enter the Cheers bar at some point of each episode to the universal greeting of “Noorrmmmm” and would take up his place on his usual stool at the end of the bar and be served his usual pint of beer. There is something very warming about the whole thing. To be able to go to a place “where everybody knows your name” and get treated simultaneously as a king and as a friend is something a lot of people would aspire to. Maybe not the sad part of spending your entire life in a bar, but the friendliness and community spirit that this purveys is something that has been lost from a lot of modern life. I’m sure that feeling still prospers to an extent in villages up and down Britain, but for many communities it is a lost way of life. But not here is Saint Helena. This is a place where pretty much everybody, always knows your name. I’m not sure they’re ‘always glad you came’ (admit it you’re singing along in your head aren’t you) but they certainly act like they are.
With not a great deal of different activities or choice on the island, it is easy to fall in to a routine and it easy to become a regular at certain places. Strangely enough I wouldn’t count myself as a regular at any of the bars, though I do go to them all at some point or another. I am however a regular at The Coffee Shop and Get Carters. It feels really nice to walk into the Coffee Shop’s outdoor area and get a warm welcome from Jill, Vi, Suzie, Kayla or Megan and pretty much have my coffee ready for me immediately. Depending on the time of day, I will generally have a different drink, so depending on the time of day I visit the appropriate drink is ready. I generally just ask for the usual and it arrives, no hassle, no waiting and after a bit of a chat with them all I’m away again. People can even order for me and just say “Tom’s usual” and it will arrive. And the coffee is good, very good. Napoleon described it as some of the best coffee he had ever had and the real beauty is that it has barely changed at all in all the time since.
The other place that I am a regular, Get Carters, is probably something that I shouldn’t brag about. I should probably even be slightly ashamed…it is the local pizza takeaway, you probably shouldn’t be on first name terms with the local pizza takeaway, they certainly shouldn’t recognise your voice and know your order the minute you call them! But here it is far less of a negative. Run by David and Mercia George it really is excellent pizza, freshly made, with quite a traditional Italian feel (none of this rubbish deep pan stuff). I have to admit that we have pizza EVERY Saturday night (they do generally only serve pizza on a Saturday night), without fail. It really is a weekly treat. At some point during Saturday I will pop in or phone them up, say the immortal words “the usual please” and two medium pizzas will turn up at the house at 7pm ready to devour. Once or twice all I’ve had to do is walk past Mercia on the other side of the street and give her a nod of the head and I know that pizza will arrive that night. Now how is that for service.
It’s definitely something that I will miss when I eventually return to the UK. The idea of actually having to explain to Starbucks or Dominos what I actually want will be frustrating, the fact that I might not get it exactly how I like it and without the genuine friendliness will be abhorrent!