Pub – not as we know it

As anyone who has read these blogs and other pages on this site will know, I have a love affair with pubs.

The guidance laid down by Government to pub landlords has made visits to my local hostelry a total anathema.

My first memory of pubs was when I was not even five years old. My parents took me to Regents Park and on the way home we stopped for a drink in the York and Albany beer garden at the top end of Parkway in Camden Town.

Many years later I revisited this with several mates and we each drank six bottles of Schlitz beer in return for a personalised frisbee. What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of drunken frisbee throwers.

Before this adult entertainment our local when at school was The Admiral Mann off the Brecknock Road. It was one of the few McMullens pubs outside of Hertford and here I am now living there. Not the Admiral Mann, Hertford.

The pub was famous for its Beatles wallpaper in the back bar. As soon as a member of our group came in they headed for the jukebox and requested ‘Yesterday Man’ by Chris Andrews; that or ‘Pied Piper’ by Crispin St Peters.

A little bit older and not much wiser we travelled the country watching Spurs with The Good Beer Guide as our atlas. Each away trip had its own route depending on where the ground was situated.

Midlands trips had to include a stop in Market Bosworth and a pint of Hoskins. I don’t think this is brewed anymore or has been absorbed into a larger chain.

Our journey took us past Bosworth Field; where Richard III finally lost the English Civil War. There was little around the site to let casual visitors be aware. What the Americans would have made of such a heritage site we can only wonder.

The home stretch had to include a fish and chip tea bought from a chippie we had discovered on the outskirts of Leicester which had the longest queues from which we deduced also served the best fish and chips.

You find all sorts of pubs using the Good Beer Guide. Inclusion is based on the quality of the beer served not the decor which could range from the ultra modern to the ‘spit and sawdust’. Not a term to be used in these environmentally friendly times.

The Good Beer Guide once directed us to a village in the middle of nowhere. The landlady and a regular drinker at the bar suddenly burst into song; belting out a duet from a little known operetta from Gilbert & Sullivan, or possibly Gilbert O’Sullivan. The words were almost indistinguishable but the ambience totally eccentrically English.

Which is why we value our pubs so much.

I enjoy standing at the bar, perhaps reading the local rag waiting for the good lady; or chatting to the hosts. Dart boards were a common sight, as were jukeboxes. Many regulars sat at their regular bar stool at the bar or in their favourite chair which gave excellent vistas. Other regulars sort of respected this arrangement.

Bar staff got to know your name, and vice versa. Some of us are blessed with ‘bar presence’ and get served however crowded the bar is; we don’t have to wave a large note at the barmaid.

Pubs are friendly places, some have blazing fires in winter; some allow dogs. The best ones have a selection of excellent real ales and the staff will allow you to sample each one until you find a flavour to satisfy your palate.

You see a friend on the other side of the bar, wave and you meet at one or the other end. Friends acknowledge one another and introduce you to their own friends, important conversations often take place in the toilets but no one is a fixture. The wonderful thing about pubs is that you can mingle. set the world to rights and meet new friends. I met Mrs B in a pub!

I haven’t been to any of Hertford’s wide selection of pubs and bars since the beginning of lockdown. It may be awhile before I do as the measures introduced go fully against the idea of what a pub means to me.

Let me explain. No , let John Betjeman explain; he is much better than me at this sort of thing. This is how things are at present taken from the final lines of his poem, The Village Inn.

Our air-conditioned bars are lined
With washable material,
The stools are steel, the taste refined,
Hygienic and ethereal.
Hurrah, hurrah, for hearts of oak!
Away with inhibitions!
For here's a place to sit and soak
In sanit'ry conditions.

The full poem can be read here. There’s nothing more to add.

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By John Barber

John Barber was born in London at the height of the UK Post War baby boom. He had careers in Advertising, International Banking and the Wine Industry before becoming Town Centre Manager in his home town of Hertford. He has been writing professionally since 1996 when he began to contribute articles to magazines on social and local history. His first published book in 2002 was a non-fiction work entitled The Camden Town Murder, a hitherto unsolved murder case from 1907.