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Laurence Inman’s Blog



The Highbury

Laurence Inman reflects on the decline of the British boozer - and asks "what makes a good pub?"

Most mornings I run past the Highbury pub opposite the Dad’s Lane chippy and wonder how much longer it’s got left. I’d be amazed it survives another year. Everywhere I look, those big suburban pubs are being ground to dust and replaced by blocks of tiny apartments which nobody now wants.

Actually, come to think of it, by any sensible definition real pubs disappeared decades ago.

There are only two simple criteria for a pub being a pub.

1. 75% of people in them must know each other by sight and 50% know each other by name, to talk to, in a friendly way.

2. You can take your dog in there and it won’t raise a comment of any sort, even if the dog is the most flatulent dog on earth.

Country pubs are, or used to be, different things entirely to city pubs and they in turn are both completely distinct from suburban pubs. It stands to reason.

The ideal country pub would be like (or identical to) The Blue Anchor (or Wanker) in Aylesbeare, South Devon thirty years ago.

The floors were ancient stone. Oak tables and chairs,a hundred years old at least, furnished the tiny bar,. The landlord was a lovely bloke called Rusty, who had been a Hurricane pilot in the Battle of Britain, and had the moustache to prove it.

The beer was gorgeous and we often spent all day sampling it, because the UK licensing laws didn’t apply to this tiny pocket of land south of the A30.

We played Euchre, a game so arcane I’d need a week to explain it. You can tell when people are playing Euchre because they throw all the cards in after twenty seconds and shout things like ‘Djeeowwww! Badger gasser’s luck!’ or ‘’E caaan’t play the nine there! I’m getting onto Ottery Committee!’

The Wanker was bought by a couple of city dwellers, trippers basically, who took one of he things they loved about the country and destroyed it.

They moaned when the local farm-workers trod mud and dog-ends into their new carpet. They had no fondness for farting dogs. They introduced gassy beer and food so expensive that only their snotty friends from London could possibly afford it. Not that they ever came more than once.

The best city pub in Birmingham used to be The Windsor in Needless Alley. I loved that pub. I loved the Guinness, beautifully topped off by old Joe. They did proper roast lunches. You could take your mother there, and I did on more than one occasion. I go past whatever’s there now, but I can’t bear to go in.

My local suburban pub used to be The Jolly Fitter, on the corner of Longbridge Lane and Turves Green. It was between my old primary school and St John’s church. It’s gone now. Someone I know tried to buy the old sign, but they even threw that away.

There were clubs and societies and teams centred on the pub; fishing, darts, dominoes. They went by coach to other pubs or to a far-off spot on a river for competitions. In the summer, people sat outside late into the evening, chatting and laughing. Drinking was not the primary purpose of being there. I bet if someone had proposed a poetry society it would have taken off, for a bit anyway.

The last time I went into the bar it was full of dangerous people drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol, making them even more dangerous. I got bored with the danger. You do in the end.

But no! We must fight back! We must show that there is such a thing as society, even in the alcohol-delivery-barns on Broad Street.

I am going into the biggest one – which is it ? – and I am starting up a Cribbage Club, then an Angling Association, then a Rupert Brooke Appreciation Society.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


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