IT's Christmas and once again my friend Bruce from Australia popped in on one of his flying visits. He's the friend who insists on being taken to a "real English pub" and has often decided which one long before he arrives on my doorstep.
This time, he came clutching a rather worn copy of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, wrapped in crumpled Christmas paper.
"Thought of you, Sheila, when I bought this," he said, as he pulled off the festive wrapping, then pushed the book into my hand. "It's got a dog in it."
I was touched that he should remember I had a dog, but angry that he still calls all the women in his life Sheila.
However, as his spasmodic visits are always great fun, I can never be mad at him for long. Inevitably, it was no time at all before he began thumbing through the pages of Three Men in a Boat, stopping when he got to the bit about Clifton Hampden.
"Here, Sheila, listen to this," he said excitedly as he began reading the passages referring to the time the three friends moored at Clifton Hampden and visited The Barley Mow in 1889 - "It is, without exception, I should say, the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river. It stands on the right of the bridge, quite away from the village. Its low-pitched gables and thatched roof and latticed windows give it quite a story-book appearance, while inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timefied."
I knew what was coming next, so I settled my border collie in his basket (dogs are not allowed in The Barley Mow now) and immediately prepared the car for a trip to Clifton Hampden.
Despite it being a tourist trap, I must admit The Barley Mow is the perfect place to visit at Christmas. The low beams, the roaring log fires, the Christmas decorations and the general ambience of the place really is reminiscent of times past.
I didn't want to spoil Bruce's fun by telling him that I remembered this pub before it was given a makeover by Chef & Brewer just a decade ago and I certainly didn't tell him it had been burnt to the ground in 1975. If Bruce wanted to believe all those small, intimate interconnecting rooms had remained untouched since Jerome K Jerome's time, that was fine by me.
He was gobsmacked by the chocolate box exterior and even more delighted with the interior. He walked from room to room, touching this and that, and giving out little gasps of delight every now and again.
I finally got him to decide what he wanted to eat. His initial enthusiasm was dampened somewhat when he discovered you can't order food until you have chosen a table and can quote a table number.
He got even more upset when asked for his credit card, so that it could be swiped to enable our order to go through. Refusing to let his card out of his sight, he paid for what we'd ordered there and then, muttering something about it being their loss if we didn't have a pudding.
The food was fine. I had an aromatic Thai king prawn curry and rice (£9.95) and he went for the Whitby scampi with chips and peas at £7.45.
I just wish he hadn't kept looking at the size of my prawns swimming about in the curry sauce. "You call them king prawns?" he asked with genuine surprise, adding that he thought king prawns were far bigger than that.
As Bruce often fishes off the South Australia coast, where fish are big, bold and beautiful, I understood where he was coming from, but said nothing.
After all, the history that oozes from pubs such as The Barley Mow is unique. Who cares about the size of the prawns if you can boast you have visited the very spot Jerome K Jerome once sat with his friends and their dog Montmorency?