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A pint on a Monday morning in West Malling on the road back to normality as lockdown eases

Ah the sweet taste of normality... a pint of beer in a West Malling pub at 11.15am on a Monday morning.

Let's hope we can keep this way of life going for as long as possible, and I'll raise a double Astrazeneca to all those who have helped get us back to the bar today.

A first pint in a pub after lockdown
A first pint in a pub after lockdown

OK, in all honesty, there is something odd about this Monday morning, an unusual mix between the old normal and the new normal, which is just plain weird.

If I'd been doing this just over a year ago on a Monday morning, I'd be fired immediately, but today is a special day, hopefully - the reopening of the pubs after what feels like roughly a decade of plague.

The sun is shining, almost, apart from the occasional blast of snow and rain; the bar is open, if not physically accessible, and it's time to enjoy something akin to the summer holiday we haven't had for the last year.

So let's not freak out too much about the prospect of revellers in the High Street before midday, and think of this merely as the airport lounge morning pint on our journey to Destination Normality.

And as Five Pointed Star regular Paul Adams says, it's been a struggle to this point...

Paul Adams returns to the pub
Paul Adams returns to the pub

"A massive struggle," he says, "I've never been this excited since my 40th birthday in Ibiza to be honest. This is the best thing in a long long time for me. It's brilliant. It's nice to be back supporting my local pub. I love this place, they support us and we support them.

"As long as we don't ruin it I think it will be a fantastic summer."

In other words, it's not usual to order four pints before midday on a Monday, but it's okay today and we won't do it forever... promise.

Today is the first day of the holiday from Coronavirus which we hope will last the rest of our lives.

Exactly how long or short those lives are, and what will bring about their end - pandemic, liver failure, or some other lovely surprise - remains to be seen at this point.

People enjoying the garden at The Five Pointed Star

Before Paul turned up I'd ordered a pint and sat in the beer garden, watching the sun try to break through the clouds as the first few customers tentatively made their way in from the high street.

First a couple of older ladies asking for a coffee. Next, two lads dressed in work gear asking for a beer, unsure if the bar would be open. Then another two...

"Are they serving?"

"Yeah mate. I don’t think we’re getting much work done today. I think we’ll call it.”

Sounds sensible. And so it begins...

Slowly everything falls back into place, under the watchful eye of co-owner Tom Berhane. It might seem easy but it's been a long road to this point and it'll be a long road back to normality.

Tom, landlord of the Five Pointed Star
Tom, landlord of the Five Pointed Star

"It'’s been quite chaotic but in a good way," says Tom, with the garden steadily filling up. "Everyone’s set up so it should be good.

"I want the staff to enjoy it as well as the customers and I hope everyone enjoys coming back to the pub again.

"I just want everyone to have a good time.

But he says it's mixed feelings as the pubs struggle to fight back after the months of lockdown.

"It’s taken way too long and things could have been done to help businesses more," adds Tom. "The grants towards the end of the year were small but now they’re starting to pick up.

"You worry about the restrictions, you worry about the staff and you worry about your livelihood, but I think it’s looking good.

"We’ll see what happens in the summer and hope the vaccines will do enough to take us out of lockdown.

"Now I’m just looking forward to a really good summer from a takings point of view but also from the point of building the public’s faith in us."

Nevertheless, things are looking up, and with a large refurbished garden capable of holding 250 people, The Five Pointed is looking well set for the summer ahead.

Elsewhere the rest of West Malling looking to follow suit.

In the garden of The Joiners Arms, the staff from the Swan are having a lunchtime pint after a busy morning serving breakfast, and they'll soon be joined by a few pub regulars.

Sharon Stevens, landlady of The Joiners Arms
Sharon Stevens, landlady of The Joiners Arms

"The lockdown went on for far too long," says landlady Sharon Stevens. "It was really difficult for pubs to be closed for such a long time. A lot of the staff never came back so we’re all short staffed at the moment, but today we’re really excited about being open, seeing the whole high street open.

"Moving forward I hope that it will remain open. So far people are happy to be out. It’s cold but they don’t mind, it’s not raining. I think people have just mixing and just generally being out and about and seeing everyone.

"I’m hoping we’ll do the month outside and then everything stays within the boundaries and we can bring people inside. Hopefully in June we’ll be open as normal, that would be absolutely superb."

Mike Douglass enjoying a drink back in The Joiners
Mike Douglass enjoying a drink back in The Joiners

Joiners regular Mike Douglass agrees.

"It's been boring, but I'm glad it's over, sort of, if we're all sensible," he says. "Today I've had a couple of drinks and and it's nice to see some friends."

Which is basically what it's all about, and let's hope that sets the tone for the summer.

Overhead the cloud has given way to afternoon sunshine, and it looks set fair for the evening.

But this is a night out, and it's still early.

Read more: All the latest news from West Malling

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