British pubs are a threatened species. Take, for instance, my memories of Southhampton’s Wig and Pen, which were calling to me on another trip to England. Sadly, a plague of developers erased it in the mid-1990s.
It was almost the prototype of a stiff-upper-lip city pub. Dark brick construction, attached to the landmark Bargate, a part of Southhampton’s city wall dating to 1180. A gracious and typical pub, less smoke-filled than most and a warm haven from the fogs and winds churning off the Solent channel. A city crowd: the usual mixture of news reporters, lawyers and bureaucrats.
Nobody is a stranger in a pub, so when Al, the publican, learned that we had crossed on the Queen Elizabeth 2, he was quick to relate tales of 20-years’ service on the Cunard Queens. Al was a firm believer that the unpredictable North Atlantic and not a tropic isle was the natural habitat of British ships.
“Where are you from?” was the next query, and when Al and his crowd of kibitzers learned Arizona was our home, the questions came at us like a North Atlantic squall. “Are roadrunners really faster than coyotes?” “Are lizards the fastest of them all?” “Is the javelina any kin to the jalapeno?”
Al was a man trained to battle the North Atlantic, not on a yardarm but at his own action station on the QE2. The swells of the gray northern seas could send his entire stock of glasses crashing to oblivion. The cash drawer would fly open and shut in the throes of a “Force 7” and the barkeep had to time it perfectly to make change out of the starboard roll.
Then came a round of the Seven Seas trivia: What countries border the Sargasso Sea? Answer: none. The sea, a becalmed area, lies in mid-Atlantic.