I missed my train back from Shrewsbury last night, by thirty seconds.
Faced with the prospect of 70 minutes on a freezing platform, I headed off to the station pub.
If you take trains regularly, and like beer, you'll know what station pubs are like. They're awful. They don't have regular drinkers. No quiz nights, no groups of friends catching up, no row of real ale pumps.
No, station pubs are horrible dens of misery designed to trap, for a brief period, the desperate and alone. They don't need to entice you with warm fires and cheery banter. They've got you already. Where else are you going to go?
Last night's was a prime example, and it gave me a huge rush of nostalgia. The grime, the threadbare banquettes and sticky floors screamed honesty, a 'take it or leave it' atmosphere. There was no attempt to pretend that drinking alone was somehow sophisticated. Your loneliness and desperation was magnified by the two televisions showing different programs at loud volume (Crimewatch and some police fly-on-the-wall 'documentary'), by the surly slowness of the landlord, by the stained glass and bottom of the league pork scratchings (though 2.90 for a pint of mild and said scratchings was a bargain).
The place had all the charm of the station pub in which Arthur Dent eats someone else's crisps in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide sequels. The lights were low. The place was held together with wooden beams - which might have been charming - but they were painted black, and extra planks of plywood had been painted and nailed randomly to the walls to make it look somehow more beamy. Worst of all, the smell was overpoweringly awful. Thanks to the smoking ban, the true stench of desperate humanity (despite their absence) reinforced the owner's contempt. Sweat and urine mixed with the cheapest of industrial bleaches and wet rot. Every gulp of beer involved taking in a mouthful of this foetid atmosphere.
I loved it. Every day, I sit in my fake university tapping away at a computer that promises Californian new media sophistication, before heading back to my warehouse-conversion pseudo-home, perhaps detouring to a fake pub that models itself on a real pub minus the organic social life which distinguishes the real from the fake. Shrewsbury's Albion Vaults is a place where no-one Twitters. It's a horrible reminder of what we're all like, a metaphor for the human condition.
I couldn't wait to leave.