When I was growing up in Bridgwater, Somerset, there were lots of pubs, and my parents took care to educate me on the merits and quirks of each one. The Bristol and Exeter, aka the B&E, was one of the few pubs that deserved a flat-out warning: I was never to go there. It was, they said, the haunt of scrumpy casualties, so addled by their constant intake of super-strength, mindbending ‘natch’ that they’d probably eat my face as soon as look at me.
The B&E certainly never looked very welcoming as nicotine-stained curtains made it impossible to see inside. Once, walking home from my waitering job after midnight, a nervous seventeen year-old, I was passing the B&E when the door flew open with a bang. I had to leap clear as two rather poorly-looking women rolled out, mid-fight, and tumbled into the gutter, where one proceeded to throttle the other, pulling at her hair and screaming and swearing in the fruitiest fashion. This was not atypical.
Now I hear from the parents that, forty-years after it began, the ‘real ale revolution’ has hit the B&E. It is under new management and so cask ales from Moles are on offer; the impenetrable screening curtains have gone; and there is even the promise of free Wi-Fi.
Next time I go home, will I be able to overcome years of fear and conditioning and actually cross the threshold? And is Bridgwater poorer for the loss of an authentic rough pub of the old school?
Picture to follow when my Mum has popped round and taken one for me. Thanks for the pic, Mum! (The pub is now pink!?)