Another English Civil War – Chapter 10. Dan.
…I have to stop talking for a moment. I look at the table and say this word in my head. Safe. I look at the empty glass. Safe. The bottles. Safe. Here. Now. I am safe. I know all about what lies beyond these walls and beyond this session, but if I try I can make it stay beyond, if only just for now. I can do this. I can. Deep breath. Then I turn back to the conversation with my friends. Here especially, I am safe.
It only takes me a short while to recover. I am in my safe place with good people, so the dip in my mood is brief and hopefully unnoticeable. We get in another drink, start talking about something else or other, and soon we have ascended to what we like to call the Happy Plateau. Yes, the hallowed Happy Plateau. This is the state of existence you could describe as being ‘As drunk as you need to be on any given night’. It’s a happy place, and I enjoy it while we are there. But it is also a sadly fragile state. All it takes is one pint too many, or a certain thing being said, and you are either flying too high, or falling off the cliff…
A running theme in both books is mental health, and specifically male depression. This is often seen in The Red Lion in two different guises.
Firstly, in those damaged by loneliness. Those, such as Henry, who come to the pub as their only source of human contact. They may get precious little even here, but the difference between getting these small interactions in the pub and the alternative vacuum of humanity without them can make all the difference. These are the people who lack the confidence to make functional relationships elsewhere in their lives, which is a reflection not so much on them, but the society that all too easily now allows this to happen. The pub may not always be the best place to find fulfilling relationships but for many they are the best, and possibly the only, place to start.
Secondly, there are those who function perfectly well socially but still find it hard to express their feelings sufficiently. Dan is the obvious example. He is perfectly happy to help people and listen to their problems but doesn’t know how to let others help him. He bottles up his guilt and depression to such an extent that causes him huge damage, while knowing full well the good that he can do when he lets people unburden themselves to him. Therefore it is also the confident types found down the boozer who may also be in need of help too.
So, for both Henry and for Dan, The Red Lion is their safe place, where they can be safe from their real selves as much as anything else. Matthew Hopkins is never able to follow Dan through the doors of the pub after all. So even when solutions are not sought or are not available at that given moment, the pub provides precious respite to enable it’s patrons just to keep going another day.
I’m looking to get across the point that much good can begin to be done for mental health in our pubs. Relationships small and significant that can be born in them, and all of these connections should be seen as positive. But a good pub is only a start. They are places where community and support can be fostered but the mere existence of these places is not enough. It is the people within them that have to use the pubs they love to create these communities. They will not just create themselves. Our characters discover that a great pub is only a place of potential, not a solution in itself. And nor are they the only places that can help. After all, Dan finds that the park can be a great place to have a chat and make a connection while feeding the pigeons. But what a great asset our pubs are! They have already been our community hubs for centuries. Where else would all of us mix and meet without them? These places are already here and are the ideal places where we can begin to fix the loneliness and hurt around us. But as the numbers of pubs closing increases every week, the prospect of losing one of our best solutions to mental health issues is real and needs to be addressed.
‘Use them or lose them’ is part of the message. But the other part is…next time you do use one, perhaps just say hello to someone you don’t know. It may do more good than you think.