Dog's Legs, Goat's Head
We're in a picturesque village, the kind where gabled cottages nestle beneath a tall church spire. A babbling brook runs through, taking with it most of the mobile phone signal. The side door to the only pub is stubbornly shut. Mrs Scoop looks at me.
"No, really, it's closed," I say. "I'll check round the other side".
Curtains in the rooms facing the road are drawn firmly, even though it's now past noon. Yellowing paper stuck to the inside of the glazed front door carries apologies for the lack of credit card facilities. And no food 'til further notice. That door is locked too.
In hindsight, the huge "To Let" sign hanging off the side of the building should have been a give-away.
The idea is to meet up with friends at a dog-friendly pub. This is - was - a dog friendly pub according to a website they'd consulted. Fortunately, they knew of another pub in the next village. With phone signals steady just long enough to swap texts, the rendezvous is re-arranged.
Ten minutes later, we're in an even-more picturesque village. Solid Georgian brick. Neatly trimmed privet. St George flag flying from the church tower. And a statuesque, timber-framed pub that was most certainly open.
Walking into the bar of The Goat's Head in Abbots Bromley, I drop down through my mental gears. There's something just-so about it; eclectic seating on the right side of comfy, music assertively in the background, a floor almost evenly uneven whose boards show the scuffs of customers long since passed.
Pump clips adorn the walls, whole sets from those brewers clearly favoured by the owners. On the bar, there's reliable bitter immaculately kept. St Austell Tribute couldn't be finer balanced if it were shod in ballet shoes. Timothy Taylor Landlord is in fine form for an exiled Tyke. And the local beer is Marston's Pedigree, whose red-bricked tower brewery is only ten miles away eastwards.
Our friends master their sat-nav and arrive. Their dog, an English pointer, enjoys bounding off the walls and tables and anything else it can find. Old boys read the newspaper at the bar and drink Stella out of chalices. When our food arrives, the table groans a little. Chips are as thick as your thumb. Proper pie, made in a tray in the kitchen from scratch. Service is motherly; "clean plates....good! Now, what are you having for dessert?"
We clearly have the mien of pudding eaters. One portion of sticky toffee pudding and warm toffee sauce later - all home-made, of course - and I'm firmly into Mr Creosote territory. Although I do manage a Drambuie. Which is almost inexplicably the right thing to do: the last drops knocked into my pint, honey and malts and toffee and citrics caress each other in sybaritic fashion.
The bar is filling with locals as we drink up. A framed page on the wall explains the Horn Dance and how Dick Turpin stayed here after stealing Black Bess from the horsefair at nearby Rugeley. There's adverts for their St George's Day quiz with fish and chips served out of newspaper, for a beer festival over the Diamond Jubilee weekend. Everything about the place is effortlessly English.
Our friends are wondering why they didn't phone the first pub to make sure they were actually open. I'm really glad that they didn't.