This evening I took an unexpected and very vivid trip down memory lane.
I was spending the evening tidying, doing a much-needed load of laundry, and generally minding my own business; itunes was playing in the background, and suddenly a few strains of the music caught my ear, and just like that, I was on my way somewhere else.
It’s funny how that works – to hear the opening chords to a certain song, or smell a certain smell, and you are instantly transported to some memory, familiar or perhaps forgotten, just like you were there all over again. And that is how I came to find myself whisked away from a quiet, temperate night in Nanaimo and standing suddenly in front of a familiar brick building in downtown Winnipeg on a crisp Sunday night….
A chill greets us as we shrug out of the car that seems to have just warmed up when we arrived. Do we have enough to pay for parking? (in the good old days, this parkade was a dilapidated, roofless hovel which, while significantly higher in the we-could-get-mugged factor, was a place we could park for free) Coins are dug out of purses and pockets by frosty fingers, and parking payment is found.
It is not snowing; the night is clear and sharp, and our breath swirls around us and crystalizes to hang in the air as we hurry past the pre-show smokers in front of the pub – and this is not just any pub, this is The King’s Head, this is our pub, and we all have the membership card to prove it. We stamp snow and dirt from boots as we dig them out to gain our way in, and head for the stairs at the back of the room. The pub has two levels, but we never trifle with the first, it is on the second floor where our reason for venturing out Sunday night after cold Sunday night is due to begin shortly.
The upstairs is already quite busy. We are early, but not early enough it seems, and most of the tables are already occupied. Our eyes scan the tables, looking for an opening. As usual, James is cajoled into procuring chairs for us at a stranger’s table. We shed our coats and scarves, and everyone’s cheeks begin to lose their rosiness as we feel the warmth creep back into our bodies. I glance around the room and its warm, familiar decor: flags and banners advertising various English beers and soccer teams adorn the old brick walls. One wall is painted like a giant beer stein with its foam overflowing, and outside the second story windows, I can see the stark outline of jagged bare branches against snow, lit by the faint glow of The King’s Head neon sign just below. I peer at the honey-colored wooden bar and gauge how busy it is. Then suddenly, my attention is brought back to the room with the strum of a guitar – the Band is ready to play.
And play they do – every Sunday night we are entranced through two sets (they do play three, but alas, we have classes in the morning) of amazing musicianship. This is why we get in our frozen cars and drive the distance to the pub – while the beer is good, and the company and atmosphere are better, it is truly the Band that draws us.
The end of the first set comes much sooner than expected. The braver of our group head (along with a fair number of fellow patrons) out the door and weather the cold for a mid-music cigar. On a fairer evening I might join, but on this frigid night I am more content to covet the warmth that the indoors has to offer.
The cigar-goers file back up the stairs, and set two begins. Midway through the first song, the Guitarist rips into an improvised solo. The drinks have been flowing which heightens everyone’s visible appreciation – all eyes are locked on his fingers flying over frets, bewitched; here and there a head nods vigorously in time to the music, and in a few individual’s cases, it is their whole bodies that seem to be under the song’s spell (sooner or later we know these will be up and dancing). Suddenly the other musicians are back in, and the solo is over. Raucous applause! Several enthusiastic “yeah!s” and “woo!s” are clamored around the room, and when the song is finished, the cheering is immense. More music please! And perhaps another round of drinks!
All too soon, the second set is through. “We will be back for one more set!” promises the Band, but we wont be around to see it. We button our coats and secure our scarves around our necks, and slowly return to reality. We hesitate at the door as Mellaina adjusts her sleeves around her gloves, and feel the cold swirl in as somebody pulls open the door. My teeth chatter heartily as we pile into the car. Somebody cranks the fan on high and freezing air bursts out of the vents – it wont heat for a while yet, but we do need to keep the windows de-frosted. ‘Goodnight, King’s Head,’ I think to myself, ‘We will be back. We always are. Until next time…’
The songs ends, and iTunes shuffler selects another song for me to listen to. Without warning, the neon King’s Head Pub sign fades, I can see my breath again, and I am back in the present. My husband is here on the couch reading a book, and my laundry is still waiting for me. I am far from Winnipeg now, far from my college days and certainly far from that cold Sunday night so long ago. But I smile. I turn to the laundry basket and I think to myself,
‘Kings Head, and old friends and ideals and loves, it was you that came back to me, it always is, finding me when I least expect. Don’t stay away too long. Until next time…’