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.
1. The Locals
The true regulars, those for whom your pubs is their one and only ‘local’… [Their] instinct for self-preservation requires them to take their coats off and administer rough justice at the drop of a hat. Touchy to a degree, they nevertheless show more consideration for us and our house than many a more sophisticated crowd… Their capacity for ale and enjoyment is prodigious, their natural wit exhausting…
2. Social groups
[A] highly gregarious group of young couples [who] dominated the scene for several months… Then we had our ‘cultural period’ when I felt we almost had the making of a salon, with writers, painters, dramatists and what-have-you among us… Saturday lunchtime has recently developed into a City session, with the younger local commuters aggressively relaxed in their jeans and sweaters, having laid aside their bowler hats.
3a. Solitary Drinker
First, there is the ‘solitary’ who, when he wants to be alone, makes sure that he is. After the initial greetings, you will only suffer acute embarrassment if you try and pursue the matter. He will put up either smokescreen or a newspaper, and it’s your job to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.
3b. Solitary but Talkative
[The] ‘solitary’ who wants to talk is… perhaps the hardest… For the first few minutes, your interest may be genuinely aroused… However, they nearly all overdo it, and before long your responses become automatic and your smile mechanical. I honestly believe that we render a valuable social service by providing an outlet for so much from so many. But if you allow yourself to show signs of becoming involved, you will find yourself lumbered for good with someone else’s life, and by now I have learned to remain slightly detached…
[They] consider it is their mission in life to tell you exactly how to do your job. This includes ramming the virtues of rival establishments down your throat, and amazing virtuosity in displaying intimate knowledge of the trade as a whole. The interesting thing about these experts is that, almost without exception, they have the most utterly plebeian tastes you can imagine.
5. The Gregarious Type
[Another] thorn in the flesh… Anxious to be on the best of terms with everybody, the only way he can make his presence felt is to make an extraordinary amount of noise — about nothing — and intrude with both feet in all directions. The sad thing about this one is that he is no doubt the meekest of husbands and as clay in the boss’s hands… All he succeeds in doing in your bar is to make a perfect ass of himself…
Why is it that perfectly normal, charming, intelligent, capable women turn into prinking show-offs in the pub bar? One can forgive the very young, still delightfully under the illusion that a certain style of manner and mood denotes maturity. But when it comes to women of my own age, who suddenly turn into tittering exhibitionists, I’m baffled.
We wonder what Mrs Mullis’s customers thought when they read that lot? We might have been Number Fours from time to time. We will heed the rap on the knuckles and behave from now on.