The Beat Down at an English Pub (#134)

Did I smell a rat at the pub?
Did I smell a rat at the British pub?

My Chinese-American husband and I have been lucky. Unlike so many other AMWF couples, Andy and I have never been harassed by racists. Maybe it’s because we live in Los Angeles, multi-racial city. Or maybe it’s because Angelenos are too self-absorbed to notice other people’s skin color.

Probably it’s because skin color doesn’t register when you’re always looking at your phone.

But even when we’ve been to rural Virginia, rural New Hampshire, and even Kentucky, no one has commented on our interracial marriage. Andy likes to think it’s because he’s big and mean-looking.

Probably it’s because I’m big and mean-looking.

When we went to London, we saw people of all colors and couples of all colors. Other than making a mental note that only men with melanin should attempt man buns, I didn’t really think about race.

Until we weren’t in London anymore. We drove out into the English countryside, where the fields are greener than green, the sky is bluer than blue, and the people are whiter than white.

When we stayed at Thornbury Castle, we, like all the other guests, were treated like royalty. As Andy noted, “Everyone is so nice! They must think we’re rich.”

Our second night in the country, Andy wanted to go to a pub. Andy has a thing for ale. He was determined to try an authentic “cask ale.” So we wandered around Thornbury, a quaint little town in the country, until we found a pub. The pub was two pubs, really. There was a wall of windows down the middle of the building, stopping only at the bar. On the right side of the glass was a rowdy group of young white men, watching a football (i.e., soccer) match. The left side of the glass was mainly occupied by a group of middle-aged white men with just one woman in their midst. There was also a younger white couple on a date. We chose the left side, which had more of a “restaurant” feel to it.

As soon as we entered the door on the left side, all conversation stopped. The middle-aged white men turned in their seats and stared at us. Only one table was open, and we slid into the seats immediately. The conversations resumed. So did my heartbeat.

I told myself I was imagining the hostile, what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here looks we’d gotten. If I wasn’t, well, probably they were just locals, unused to tourists on their turf. It might not have anything to do with Andy’s race.

IMG_7466 (1)
Andy at the bar. Notice the wall of windows?

Andy, who was either oblivious or pretending to be oblivious, went to the bar. While he chatted up the bartender about cask ales, the smallest Brit darted furtively to the couple at the table behind me. He whispered ominously, “Sorry for what’s about to come. Hope it doesn’t ruin your evening.”

He said nothing to me. In fact the man didn’t even look at me as he rejoined his mates. I turned, putting my back to the windows, and brought out my phone. In England, I reminded myself, you dial 9-9-9, not 9-1-1.

I flicked my eyes back at Andy, still at the bar.

Then back to the Brits.

As one, the entire group had bent over. They reached into the various bags that were on the tables and at their feet.

I saw the shine of dark wood and thought, are those pool cues? Maybe they are just here to play billiards…

Or maybe they are going to beat my husband with antique cues.

Adrenaline surged. I stood up. If one of those guys so much as moved toward Andy, I would take his fucking pool cue and jam it—

I blinked. The pieces of wood the Brits were holding weren’t pool cues.

They were…UKULELES!

Yes. Ukuleles.

Possibly the least threatening musical instrument known to man. I sat down, feeling like an idiot. Which seemed fair. Since I was an idiot.

Talk about jumping to conclusions. Those looks hadn’t been racist, what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here-looks. Oh, no. Those had been, “Oh, God, you poor tourist, you’ve no idea you’ve walked into a ukulele jam session, do you?”

And the man apologizing to the romantic couple behind me – that hadn’t been ominous at all. It had been genuinely apologetic! He was really worried about wrecking their evening out with ukulele music.

Although, I did wonder why he hadn’t apologized to me, too. I guess being big and mean-looking has disadvantages.

About the time Andy returned with his cask ale and my cider, the ukulele group launched into “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

And they were really, really good, gradually increasing the tempo while keeping the melody bright and crisp.

I sang along, softly, tapping my toes. Andy tapped his toes, too. Had there been room, we’d have danced.

When the song ended, I applauded wildly and yelled, “YAY!”

Apparently, such enthusiasm is rarely seen in English pubs. Or at least not before 10 PM.

All the ukulele players froze, then spun in their chairs to stare at me.

Despite a red face, I continued clapping and called out, “That was great!” Because, well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Or so the British saying goes.

One player’s face broke into a huge smile. He called back, “You can come back anytime!”

The rest of the players laughed, looking quite pleased. Despite the American’s unseemly outburst.

I eventually learned that the group called themselves the “Uk-a-holics.” They were the part of a larger “Ukulele Jam” group – the part, they told me, “that likes to drink.”

The Uk-a-holics’ next song was John Denver’s “Country Roads.” They could not have possibly known that John Denver had been one of my mother’s favorite singers. Every road trip into Virginia – and there were many of them, when I was a child growing up in Washington, D.C. – my mother, my siblings, and I sang “Country Roads” at least once. I hadn’t heard that song in years.

Turns out, I still remembered all the words.

As my blogger friend Lani wrote on my Uk-a-holics Instagram post that night, “They might as well have hugged you!”

But a song about Virginia from an American named Denver was as close as to a hug as they’d get.

They were, after all, British.

In case you think I’m lying or want to hear a little snippet:

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

40 thoughts on “The Beat Down at an English Pub (#134)”

  1. This is just great. Reminds me of some randomn people starting playing guitar few times in Helsinki bars, never experienced that anywhere else thus far.
    So what did Andy think about them (and the ale)?

    1. Andy loved everything about the evening except the fact that I laughed hysterically when I learned that he had always thought the song was “Country Rose” — about a woman named Rose.

      He enjoyed trying lots of different ales, but still thinks there should be more alcohol in them. Apparently our next trip should be to Germany.

      1. You’re kidding! Andy thought John Denver was singing about a woman named Rose? That’s funny.

  2. Ukuleles are great, especially for people who don’t want to hurt their delicate fingers with those hard old guitar strings. I taught myself to play the baritone ukulele when I was in college. It sounds a little more like a guitar, but it still has only four strings to contend with. That was in the heyday of the folk song revival. I was a big fan of Joan Baez/

  3. LOL. Another excellent post. You kept me hanging till the end!! And I love the music from ukulele 😀

  4. That’s a fantastic story. I also come from a John Denver family. Did you ever go to a Baltimore Orioles game? They play “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” at every game during the 7th-inning stretch.

    1. First, thanks.

      Second, thanks for making me hum “Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riiiiiiddddddllle!” all morning. 😉

      Third, no, never been to an Orioles game. How random that they sing that song. I wonder where it comes from?

      1. It started in the 70s, when that song was popular, and then just stuck. John Denver himself came to Baltimore to sing the song during the 1983 World Series, which the Orioles won. (As you can tell I come from a family of die-hard Baltimore sports fans.)

  5. This is such a nice little moment in a quaint little bar so many miles away from home for you. Talk about feeling home when you haven’t felt it for a long time. You could have bought them all a drink in the end, but I think that would hurt your wallet quite a bit.

    “the people are whiter than white” There will always be towns like that 😀

  6. I was mentally prepared to read a post about racism and I got… ukeleles! That’s so much better, haha. I thought it was super cute when you stood up and were ready to stick an eye out with a cue stick for Andy. If that aint true love I don’t know what is.

    I’ve never been to a UK pub and it’s a dream of mine. From the sound of your post, it sounds like the experience lives up to the expectation! I always imagine a warm, cozy, everyone-is-willing-to-talk-to-you type of place. Sounds so nice!

    I had to sing Country Road in Japan for my English class (my poor students had to memorize the whole thing and perform it at an assembly) so now it has a lot of meaning. It took me back to America, I’m sure it really takes you back home to the mountains in Virginia!

  7. Thanks, Mary!

    You know, there’s part of me that feels guilty that Andy and I haven’t had to deal with racism the way other couples have. There was a part of me that was all, “YES! Finally I get my chance to stick up for interracial couples! Come at me, bro!”

    But I guess it’s a good kind of letdown.

    The pubs were lovely. Many of them even allowed dogs. We should all get to bring dogs to the pub. Stupid America is all backwards.

  8. That damn instrument has traveled so far. Ukes are actually quite popular in Thailand. They were trendy for a whlie and I don’t know if they still are, but I was surprised by how many of my students know how ot play them!

    Thanks for the mention and great story teling 😀

  9. Autumn, your post reminded me of the first time my husband visited my small hometown. I was ready to attack anyone who looked at him the wrong way. However, he was greeted with open arms, had the best time ever, and even people who didn’t meet him before knew him.
    Can you imagine being hugged at the supermarket by a 50 year old woman [my relative] you have never met before in your life? Well, that happened to my husband. When I went to introduce my husband to her, my husband said ‘We know each other, we have even hugged.’

    1. LOL — hilarious about hugs from random strangers! Good thing he has a sense of humor.

      Yeah, I wasn’t too worried about my liberal family, but I was ready to rush into battle when he met them as well.

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