We’re hoovering up books about pubs at the moment and Behind Bars: straight facts about keeping a pub by Peggy Mullis got sucked in and clogged the filter.
Mrs Mullis was a freelance country lifestyle journalist who, with her husband Brian, took on the Crown Inn, Wormingford, Essex, c.1970. (She doesn’t give a date — that’s a guess.)
We Tweeted some bits about beer last week but the best chapter, without doubt, is at the very end, where her accumulated frustrations boil over, Basil Fawlty style: ‘The Customers’.
When we embarked on this venture, I made the naïve mistake of imagining that pub customers were ordinary mortals. They are not, of course. They are a unique race…
She goes on to explain the tension in the relationship: customers ‘pay your rent, your brewery bills, put the clothes on your back and the food on your table’, so they must be important. But they are also pains in the arse. (Not Mrs Mullis’s phrasing.) It starts out fairly tame but gets weirder as it goes, sounding like a transcript of a session with a therapist by the end.
Strange coincidences and connections have led us to a collection of family photos of one of our favourite local pubs.
A brewer we interviewed last week (Paddy at Crossed Anchors) noticed that we had a picture of the fabulously Art Deco Yacht Inn, Penzance, as our Twitter header image. He mentioned that his great aunt and uncle, Frank and Phyllis Glasspool, ran it from 1949-c.1959. He emailed his dad, who emailed a cousin, Susan Glasspool (Bottaro), who provided the following fantastic collection of photographs and said we could share them here:
It was very hard work there, especially for my mother, who did all the cooking (plus the extras for the bar, pasties, sandwiches etc.), a lot of the cleaning, and then ran the cocktail bar in the evenings. Hard to have any family life. Thank goodness for the swimming pool over the road — 10 bob for a season ticket and I spent all my summers there!
We might be the first people to be experiencing the sense of the death of a time. In two years, this freshly-minted century will have raised its first 18 year olds. There’s a change to the order of things. Perhaps it’s the death of the 20th century that we’re feeling.
The death of the 20th century. That’s a thought that hit us hard, and which rings true.
It explains the thrill of going to watch a retro-styled Star Wars film that was almost identical to the first Star Wars, which came out just before we born, when Harrison Ford was young and on the up.
It explains why, in the last few years, disposable concrete buildings that were at best ignored and at worst despised are now regarded with the same nostalgic fondness as was the Euston Arch in the 1960s.
All that concrete, pale-red brick, linoleum, muted Festival of Britain glamour… It was the landscape we grew up in, and now it’s disappearing.
It explains why in 2015 the BBC gave us The Kennedys, Cradle to Grave and Danny & The Human Zoo — three weirdly similar programmes in which comedians attempted to summon the spirit of the 1970s as they were actually lived, while there are still people around who can recall the minutiae.
Maybe, getting to beer and pubs (at last), it’s why old brewery brands such as Magee & Marshall are being revived — your grandfather, with his war stories and Sunday best, may be long gone, but you can at least drink his favourite beer.
This anxiety over the passing of time is certainly behind our current obsession with estate pubs and theme pubs, dismissed for so long as diversions from the true path of ‘pubness’, and now almost all gone, along with many of those who remembered drinking in them when they were new, their Formica fresh and blemish-free. We find ourselves following leads only to discover that the person who commented on a messageboard in 2007 died five years ago.
The only complete surviving post-war prefab pub we’ve identified (thanks, @TenInchWheels) the Arches at Bradwell, we now learn (thanks, Lorraine) is scheduled for demolition.
We gather around us bits of tat (ephemera, if you’re being kind) because that branded pint glass or now useless pub guide are physical connections to a drowning past.
What we’re trying to do, in our small way, in our own field of trivia, is cling on to the twentieth century as it slips away — to grab what we can before there’s nothing left, and we find ourselves orphaned in this weird future, like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
For us, this was pretty much like writing about water, or bread, or the sun — that is difficult despite, or maybe because of, the apparent simplicity and familiarity of the subject.
Anyway, we were quite happy with how it turned out, and people on Twitter seem to be enjoying it. Here’s a good bit:
Today in the UK, Bitter is not a strictly governed style and beers bearing that appellation might be golden to red, drily bitter or honey-sweet, rich in hop perfume or rather austere. Depending on strength, they might be called “Ordinary,” “Best,” or “Extra Special Bitter (ESB).” It is easier, perhaps, to say what Bitter is not. Once the classy alternative to Mild, then the conservative alternative to trendy lager, it is now the preferred choice of the anti-hipster—not Double IPA, and definitely not fruit-infused barrel-aged Saison.
And asking nosy questions paid off here, too:
“Southwold Bitter is still our best-selling cask beer and its place as No. 1 is probably secure for some time yet, but it has been caught up by Ghost Ship [a hoppy Golden Ale] in the last few years,” Fergus Fitzgerald explains. “When I joined Adnams 10 years ago, Bitter was about 70 percent of what we did, but it’s now closer to 40 percent as we have expanded the range of styles we brew, and as tastes broaden.”
Sadly, since we wrote it last summer Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter has ceased to be a regular brew (Twitter) and is now seasonal only. When it comes to writing about specific brands beer is a moving target.