It was in 1979 – nearly 40 years ago – that I graduated from university and started my first “real” job. I can still recall the excitement of taking this first proper step into adulthood. It is odd how such recollections can simultaneously feel like they are in the distant past, but also just like yesterday. Although this first job very much set the agenda for the rest of my career, this time period was also about learning how to fit into a new place and build a life …
In some ways, I had it easy. A good friend from university, Nick, was starting at the same company at the same time. There were also a couple of other new graduates, so our social life was jump-started and we found an apartment for the 4 of us. [One of those other graduates is still at the firm. I just checked his LinkedIn profile and it says he has been there 38 years and 10 months.]
Nick and I liked the odd pint of beer and started to explore the local pubs. We were in High Wycombe, but the town did not provide anywhere that we found really suited us. So we started looking further afield. The nearest small town was Marlow, down on the River Thames. This was much more to our liking and we sampled a few hostelries, eventually happening upon one that looked particularly promising: The Clayton Arms.
Although it was a weekday evening, when we entered the main bar from the front door, we realized that the place was rammed. Getting a beer might take a while and we were not pleased about that prospect. We spotted a door behind the bar that appeared to lead to another room – probably a “snug” bar. Leaving through the main door, we walked along the front of the building and, sure enough, there was another small entrance. We fiddled with the door handle and suddenly we found ourself in a room, which was, indeed, a traditional snug bar. It was quite a small room, with a single table down the middle and chairs around; there was a doorway at the end leading to behind the bar. An elderly couple were sitting at the table [I say “elderly”; we were 22, so they were probably in their 50s!]. We would later learn that they were almost always sat in the same seats, every evening. Nick and I ordered a couple of pints [of excellent Brakspear’s Ordinary] and found some seats. We were soon in conversation with the couple and were joined by Kath, the landlady, who, from her seat at the head of the table, was in command of operations, while her very rotund husband, bumbled around and sweated behind the bar.
In due course, we learned about the “magic door”. When we had first come into the snug, as I mentioned, we fiddled with the door handle to gain access. The key thing was that it did let us in. It seems that the door was selective about who was allowed to pass. As we had been admitted by the door, we were automatically welcome. On more than one occasion, in the months following, we would be sitting there enjoying our beer and we would hear someone try and fail to gain access through the door. It really did seem to have a mind of its own.
A few months ago I was chatting to a friend, who mentioned that he used to live in Marlow. He was familiar with The Clayton Arms and gave me some stern advice. He said that, if I happened to be in Marlow, “Do not go to the Clayton under any circumstances!” It seems that I would not enjoy the experience. Checking their current website, I can see why. It is now called “Clayton’s” and is a trendy, London-style cocktail bar that sells over-priced burgers and generally seems very pleased with itself. I may never go to Marlow again.