I stumbled in to a proper country pub in the depths of the Cotswolds when we were staying there over Christmas and New Year. It was a stone’s throw from the little cottage we had rented in the village of Broadwell (pronounced Bradell just to confuse things) and it seemed frozen in time.
Almost empty except for a sleeping beagle stretched out on the flagstones in front of the roaring fire and a group of four old boys sitting around a small table, clacking ivory-looking tiles together as they shuffled them.
Milly was with me and raised one eyebrow in disbelief when I announced that these farmers were obviously playing mahjong and how amazing it was that this game had reached a real rural English pub not that far from Stow-on-the-Wold.
I clearly haven’t played MJ for a while and it turned out they were actually playing a game with old fashioned domino tiles for hard cash. The name of the game was ‘Penny a Spot’ (or ‘Spot the Penny’ as I kept calling it).
It wasn’t too long before they invited the girl asking all sorts of questions to join in (I’m in a black poloneck on the right hand side, listening hard), although I think I was only asked to punish the player who’d taken a loo-break: I got to use his tiles and his money.
After about a minute it was pretty clear that this was basically a sort of unchallenging version of mahjong for beer drinkers, slowly getting harder the more you drink (or so I am told).
I actually hate beer, so am a pretty rubbish pub goer, but there was something idyllic and compelling in watching four locals play an old fashioned game (that has probably been played since Dickensian times) in a deserted pub on a snowy, cold winter’s evening. It really felt as if time had stood still.
I popped in a few days later and my illusions were shattered; it was packed with people stuffing crisps in to their mouths and shouting and I left without ordering a drink, wondering if I’d dreamt it all.
The Fox Inn is in Broadwell, near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire.