How do you know when you really belong in a place? Perhaps when it stops feeling like you don’t belong. Small towns all over the world have locals and outsiders, and the chilliness towards the latter group varies greatly depending on location. Last weekend we had an ‘outsiders’ experience that made even the most glowering of looks from back home seem positively welcoming. The scene: a rural pub in a lonely coastal town. Thursday evening. The goal: have a quiet pint before dossing down for the night in our brand new tents, which were carefully erected just beneath the local satellite tower, in the only campsite in town. Course of action: head down the street to the local pub.
As we walked through the doors, all conversation ceased. Seven sets of eyes all swivelled round to appraise the foreigners who had dared to let in a draught. The woman perched at the bar eating her tea put down her fork with a ‘clank’ that resounded through the entire room. A fly buzzed against the inside of the window, desperate to escape. All that was missing was the banjo soundtrack.
To be fair, this particular town did not see many visitors. It probably didn’t help that one of our number was a six foot something Irishman who was sporting a drooping red moustache that reached almost to his shoulders, where it was carefully twizzled into two waxy points. Even in the most bustling metropolis, he would have elicited a double take.
We bid a good evening to all present, remarked upon the strength of the wind out, and took a seat at the bar. Bazza, Rozza, Timmo and Davo (names courtesy of the chalked scores next to the darts board) looked distrustfully on as we sipped at our pints. We spoke in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the living-room atmosphere. All ears were aprickle with interest – who were these strangers? Which team did they support? And were they going to talk through the best bits of their programme? Eventually all present turned back to watching the evening’s show, which consisted of a remake of classic tunes from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ featuring famous sports coaches in place of the original actors. On a scale of bizarre, you just couldn’t make the scene up. We only stayed for one, and made sure to thank the barman on the way out.
The next day was a scorcher. Come lunchtime, and post-hike, anything with ice in it seemed like a good idea, so we headed back for the local Hotel. What a difference! Instead of silence, we were greeted with nods, served our ‘usual’s, and granted leave to eat our fish and chips in the yard. ‘Timmo’ even joined us out there, imparting detailed advice about the local roads whilst finishing his cigarette.
The moral of the story? If at first you’re treated like an outcast, just try again the next day, when the AFL final is about to start, and the local team is about to win and make history. That subtle chin-raise greeting had never seemed more of statement, and cider had never tasted so good.
Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian