Like masturbation, free-form improvisation in the chemistry lab, and Stuff The Jubilee badges worn on the inside of your lapel, daydreaming was something we were continually warned off, in Form 3S. Most of the teachers were ex-servicemen who, on returning to Wales, had found the pits closing, and retrained as teachers. The majority specialised in geography, largely, I suspect, as in this new corporal punishment-free era, the least career-threatening form of chastisement for any of the above sins was a hefty blow with one of those cardboard tubes the maps were kept in.
In adult life, one comes to appreciate daydreaming as a thing of value both in and of itself. When I needed a job that involved getting up at lunchtime, I became a playworker for a while. In early years, I learned, ‘fantasy play’ ranks on a par with the importance of water and shelter. Why it has been intellectualised as essential solely for young children, I’m not sure. Don’t we have more than enough reality?
And so in adulthood we are obliged to take our daydreams where we can find them. What is supporting a football club other than spending hours, days and weeks in thought bubbles populated by such thoughts as: ‘What if we had a centre-forward who could score goals?’, ‘If Bournemouth lose by seven and we win by six, we could go up to 16th’ and ‘given that Selhurst Park is routinely 4 degrees colder than the Elephant, what shall I wear as my fourth layer on Saturday?’, only to have them punctured by a 90 minute outbreak of spiky mundanity?
I also recommend researching a holiday that you will never take. Negotiating train timetables, cross-referencing with maps and then scrolling through Google images is a highly satisfying use of a Tuesday afternoon. In its own way, it is a holiday. An entrepreneur might convert this idea into an Internet startup. I just dream about it.
And nowadays, I mostly do that in pubs.
Daydreaming, I would argue, is central to the Deserter ethos. It’s all very well to rate ‘chatty bar staff’ and ‘friendly regulars’ when voting in the World Cup of Pubs, but in excess, either can ruin one of the defining pleasures of any great bar: The possibility of staring into the middle distance unchallenged while the womb-like burble of pub life goes on around you.
A Sunday lunchtime for the early kick off. The Crown and Cushion opens at midday. No matter what time I arrive, there are characters already at the bar. Do they live in the basement? Food for idle thought already. A sunny day, as families with toddlers, young lovers and hipsters with frisbees bound joyously towards the park. In the Crown, the dark wood-panelling and all but blacked-out windows block out such ephemeral pleasures. Dust hovers in the lone sunray escaping from behind the roller blind in a frame the Coen brothers would kill for. Regulars return from a trip to the smoking yard blinking like the Japanese WWII soldiers discovered hiding in the jungle in 1974…
The greatest line written by any Amis: ‘Without women, life is a pub’. Thankfully now, variations on this trope are available. All Bar One memorably polled women drinkers on what would make them most likely to use one pub over another, and the overwhelming response was ‘being able to see in’. Understandable – and anyone who has hovered indecisively outside a windowless Glaswegian bar will know that opening the door is the closest thing to Russian roulette you are likely to experience outside of a Deer Hunter-themed weekend – but limited daylight is essential fuel for this very interior monologue.
‘Shame about Palace.’
‘Ah well, same old…’ Social interaction complete.
The pint settles languidly. I head for the seat of dreams, offering unrivalled opportunities for a 30-yard stare in any one of three directions. The screens show golf, motor racing, and Remember The 80s?. Yes I do, and relishing that the sound is only audible on the former, reflect that there is nothing as soothing as putting-green commentary; perhaps the gurgle of amniotic fluids is a primal distillation of Peter Alliss at the 14th, making even the sight of Cyndi Lauper temporarily palatable.
Regardless of which view I choose to take, my initial rumination is always on the theme of pub bric-a-brac. How does an object qualify? Bisto tins, Colmans’ mustard jars, clapped-out musical instruments, earthenware jars, old football trophies, radios from when ‘transistor’ was still a selling point… all in. Broken bathroom scales, strapless handbags, Jack Dee DVDs and single cowboy boots, all of which are freely available on the front walls of homes in my street… not so much.
In a pub like the Crown one likes to think that the collection accumulated organically over the years; the trombonist busking at Lambeth North, no longer able to get a tune from his horn, popped in for a pint and handed it over the day after a recently-dismissed sous-chef, without the funds for a drink, traded his pilfered gravy tins for a Doom Bar. The seven-a-side runners-up that celebrated so heartily, the trophy was left behind, to be stuck above the bar next to the typewriter whose stuck ‘f’ was the straw that broke the back of a promising career of a playwright who now spends all day sitting outside Iceland on Lower Marsh, alone with his thoughts, the lucky ucker.
I don’t want to be disabused of this version, and I can’t picture whoever last refurbished the place – around the time I was confusing cwms with cirques and corries and being map-abused by Mr Owen – having bulk-bought this trove of tack. Until the current wave of ‘shabby’ pub re-imaginings, the accent was on ‘authenticity’, and I am, if nothing else, an authentic daydreamer. What’s more, I’m convinced it’s good for you. More daydreams equals less nightmares, more reverie means less stressery. The burgeoning mindfulness industry would be decimated if people just stared out of the window more often.
I’ve steered clear of paid work for over a year now and daydreamed of many things, one of which was writing a piece praising daydreaming. I may indeed have broken one of the daydreamers’ founding principles by converting thought to action, but of all those transgressive practices of 1976, unless you still cherish a Stuff The Jubilee badge and are unfortunate enough to be doing something sufficiently serious to require the wearing of a jacket with lapels, it’s the one I most recommend performing. Preferably in your local.