On Friday, just after work, I took a couple of colleagues up on their invitation to go for a couple of drinks before heading home.
Half an hour and I'll be there I told them, as I had a few things to tidy up and file away (more in a mental sense than a literal one).
I knew which pub they were in, it was just a few minutes walk away. When I arrived there I could see no sign of them either in the main bar or the back room. My colleagues both being smokers, I bought myself a pint anyway, making the presumption that they'd be having a cigarette out the back somewhere.
The barwoman had asked if I was looking for someone. A man and a woman I'd informed her, narrowing the odds down considerably (well it wasn't the busiest pub in the world). She pointed out how to get into the garden - round the back of the bar, turn left then right.
I got out there, pint in hand, and found a little enclosed area, verdant and charming - to the right was an awning with seats and space for a barbecue. To the left was a small enclosure with a little, open door - inside my two colleagues were sat on comfortable armchairs on a carpeted floor. It was a quirky, intimate space full of ornaments, a footstool and a solid old wooden table. As I sank into my all-too-inviting seat, I noted that the wall behind me was made of brick - it was part of the outside wall of the pub, backing onto the garden - whereas the remaining walls were wooden. It was like a garden or allotment shed which had been customised for maximum luxury within the means available.
It had the feel of a secret den, a cosy, homely little corner tucked away from the rest of the world. The roof was made of clear, corrugated plastic - so the space was light and airy too rather than dark and dingy.
I couldn't help but talk about what it reminded me of - one of my fondest memories, that of sitting in the greenhouse as a child (usually keeping one or more of the cats company, sprawled out on the trestle or the soil), especially at the onset of a heavy rain or thunder storm.
That feeling - as with being under canvas also - of being simultaneously exposed to the elements, and yet of being very comfortably insulated from them too. To be able to smell and feel the change in atmosphere as the storm hit, to be thrillingly close to it, but to remain warm, dry and comfortable. Only the cats would display any consternation, annoyed that the weather would be so rude as to disturb their sleep.
The sound of heavy raindrops hitting the glass of the greenhouse roof, just above one's head. And knowing that if the rain got so heavy, there would be little choice but to stay put until it had significantly eased off. I still recall the smell of the tomato plants, the paraffin heater, the bags of compost under the trestles.
Well my colleagues and I talked about all this, and then got on to talking about more contemporary topics, setting the world to rights and all that. I could see that it would be dangerously easy to stay here for hours, to settle in for the evening, had I not other plans.
Then, all of a sudden, the heavens opened and we had the heaviest, harshest showers of the year so far, huge drops of rain hitting the corrugated roof with such force and intensity that I couldn't hear the conversation any more. Rather than shout above it, we largely just opted to sit back in our huge armchairs and just listen, talking only when there was a momentarily lull.
It was fantastic. The sheer din just accentuated our cosiness. Then there was a flash of lightning, and a huge clap of thunder followed. Perfect! I hadn't intended to stop for long, but here I had no choice if I didn't want to get soaked through to the skin. In fact the colleague who was brave enough to get another drink during all this got a good soaking as she dashed between the exit of our den and the back door to the pub, a mere 20 feet away.
The lovely smell of the garden wafted through, fresh and refreshing. I just wished there was a paraffin lamp to light. The incessant rain impacting on the corrugated plastic a few feet above our heads continued for a good hour or so, and we three were pretty much enveloped and pleasantly stranded for that time. We managed conversation by leaning forward out of our armchairs and shouting above the din when it was at its heaviest.
Much of the time I was just happy to sit back and just drink in the atmosphere: to enjoy the moment and its powerful evocation of all those other memories, but this time with added beer. I got home an hour or so later than I'd planned, but I wouldn't have missed that for anything.