Beer history pubs

Grasping at the Twentieth Century as It Slips Away

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.

Those are words written by Hamish Thompson in reaction to the news of the death of pop star Prince yesterday, but also addressing the bizarrely long list of celebrity deaths 2016 has brought, from Bowie to Victoria Wood.

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 KennedysCradle 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.

"Cradle to Grave" -- pub scene w. Peter Kay as Danny Baker's Dad, Spud.
Spud (Peter Kay) in a lovingly recreated London pub in Danny Baker’s autobiographical Cradle to Grave.

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.

Logo on an Arctic Lite beer glass.

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.

14 replies on “Grasping at the Twentieth Century as It Slips Away”

Alternatively, you could neck as many cranberry-and-lime-infused smoked Berliner weisses as you can, in preparation for when the current era is the one fading away. To be replaced by something even worse, natch.

I forget others are so young. I hit my teen years when punk started, when Star Wars first appeared. I got a full measure of my own 20th century while hearing my folks talk about being bombed by Nazis in their Clyde towns. The old guys at church early in the 1970s had been in WWI trenches. I think I had enough of the 1900s myself. By the way, my job includes preparing contracts for demos of 1940s to 1980s buildings. That concrete is hellish stuff to smash and dispose of. I prefer this world without asbestos.

Welcome to CAMRA! Here’s your accordion.

To say I know what you’re saying would be a bit like saying that I know of these ‘trousers’ of which you speak. The cause of good beer and good pubs has always, always been a ‘blue remembered hills’ thing for me – something ‘we’ had ‘back then’ & which is perpetually in danger of being lost, if it hasn’t already been snuffed out. And if what we had back then was estate pubs with one bitter on – or if what we’ve got now is sparkly and exciting – so flippin’ what, if you’ll pardon my language: what we had back then was what we had back then (or what our parents and big brothers had & we just missed out on), and it’s valuable for that alone.

Mind you, the 7% keg IPA I had yesterday was bloody nice…

“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.”

Take it from me, you will eventually reach a stage when you decide you’ve accumulated enough of said tat, and it will all end up back at the charity shop. I gave away a quite extensive collection of bottled beers, because they were just sitting there gathering dust.

The same applied to pump-clips, beer mats and other items of breweriana, along with umpteen old pub guides. Take it from me, it’s very therapeutic, de-cluttering one’s life, but you have to reach a certain point before you realise this!

“umpteen old pub guides”

Pub guides have a distinct life cycle, though

1-2 years old – useful aid to finding good places to drink
3-8 years old pointless ephemera cluttering up the home
8-15 years old interesting reference point to show how things have changed
15-50 years old increasingly valuable source from the past
50+ years old treasure trove of fascinating info

I have a Baedeker’s guide to London fom the 1890s which is quite wonderful

The guides I have kept hold of Martyn, by and large fall in to the 10 – 50 years old bracket. I’ve kept all the Kent ones, purely for local interest and to see how things have changed over the years. Ones I’ve got shot off tend to be local guided to parts of the Kingdom I once visited, or holidayed in.

I’ve got an unbroken run of GBG’s from 1974 to 2011; all packed up in boxes, somewhere up in the loft, with the exception of the first guide. This proves their lack of usefulness, and the only reason I am still hanging onto them is the effort it will take in unearthing them.

If anyone does want them, they are free to a good home; as long as the new owner arranges collection.

Since a set of GBGs from 1974 to 2009 sold on eBay last year for £151, I’ll happily take them off your hands for nothing, Paul, indeed, I’ll even come and hunt them down in your loft for you! Single 1974s have gone in the past for in excess of £300, and even 1975s have sold for £100+. So that’s definitely a case of Cash in your Attic.

Seriously, I refer to the 1970s editions quite a lot when, eg, checking on the gravities of dark milds, or seeing what the strongest draught beer was in 1976, or how many brewers were making something called an IPA in 1979. They’e a tremendous historical resource.

We’re still trying to get hold of 1974 and 1975 having borrowed copies when we were working on the book. We’re too stingy too pay the going rate — our hope is to stumble across tatty but readable working copies in a pile of junk somewhere.

(Ed Wray kindly donated copies of 1977-2006 and we we picked up 1976 separately.)

I will get them sorted out over the summer Martyn, and let you know when they’re available. Mind you I wasn’t planning on parting with my well-thumbed 1974 Guide; and in view of what you say I might hang on to my 1975 edition as well.

I was teasing, Paul: but I have little doubt if you put a small-ad in What’s Brewing you’d get someone happy to take them away for you.

Ah Arctic Lite, probably the greatest folly during my time at Allied Breweries in the 80s. If you are a real fan of beer ephemera, see if you can track down a pair of Arctic Lite knickers (yes, really….)

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