The meanings of pub

There is no universal understanding of what ‘the pub’ means – no single image that materialises in the mind at the sound of the word.

For us, it’s a space with low light, nest-like corners and the murmur of conversation. Though not right now, of course. Together with the world but separate. This is the George Orwell ideal, about contentment more than excitement.

Some hear ‘pub’ and think, oy oy, here we go, lads! It’s going-out clothes, perfume and lippy, aftershave and flash the cash. It’s laughing, shouting, hugging, tumbling into cabs, he’s not worth it, babe, I love you mate, you know that, don’t you, like a brother? Crawling, ranging far and wide, biting into life like a hot kebab.

For others, watching from outside, the pub is chaotic and dangerous – a place where people lose control, behave badly, practice a form of self-harm. They get pickled, get gout, disappear into the fog. Maybe they fight, or fall over, or superspread – “Please sell no more drink to my father…”

Some see the pub as a place where they’re not and never can be welcome – “He smelt of pubs/ And Wormwood Scrubs/ And too many right wing meetings…” Opaque windows, a glare from the doorway, no incentive to ever step across the threshold.

For our ruling politicians, up above the clouds, the pub is where you go for your down-to-earth-chap photo op, or to eat an informal meal in the Cotswolds, pointedly tieless in chinos and deck shoes. It’s a prop. Abstract. A line in a spreadsheet.

In suburbs like ours, there are those for whom the pub is the only manifestation of The Community. It’s where they see the couple with the poodle most Sundays and Nick the Electrician and Pete the Widower who keeps dropping his stick down the back of the radiator. The pub connects them to the world and makes it all make sense, for an hour or two, which is why it’s worth the risk.

All this is why when we talk about pubs, we’re often at cross-purposes – how can you keep them open/let them close? How can you love them/hate them so much? Won’t somebody do something.

5 replies on “The meanings of pub”

A Sociologist Writes: some of these come a lot closer to a verstehendes attitude – an empathetic understanding without preconception or caricature – than others. (The Jam quote alone is crying out for unpacking – even at 20, I’m pretty sure Paul Weller wasn’t repelled by pubs.)

Well, that’s an interesting point: as a teenage mod revival revivalist, I remember reading about how pubs and beer weren’t very mod; we were supposed to drink espresso in late night cafes, I think, or take drugs in clubs. Pubs – Victorian, dark, down-to-earth – were at odds with the ideal of clean living under difficult circumstances. So I wouldn’t be surprised if young Paul Weller did have a love-hate relationship with pubs. Especially a certain type of pub.

I, like many, go to the pub with friends, but also used to enjoy going on my own. Finding a nice little corner, have a couple of pints and read the paper or a book (or more recently, scrolling on the phone). Used to love going on Sunday for a roast and knocking off a few chapters of the latest book I’m reading. I miss the spontaneity and anonymity of a visit to the pub used to be. I’ve been to the pub a few times recently (mostly to watch the F1 on Sunday afternoon, but a few visits on weeknights just to get out of the house and mix things up), and all the rigmarole around signing in, having to sit, waiting for table service, it’s not the same. I understand why we are doing it, and support it, but it isn’t the same as it used to be.

A pub is a metaphysical concept – although it has a physical manifestation, it’s mostly all in the mind!

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