Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.
First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Murree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)
Then there are illustrations for articles and stories which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accompanies a comic tall tale of the adventures of an RAF officer, and the second a soupy tale of a soldier falling in love remotely with a comrade’s sister.
Finally, though it has no illustration of note, there’s a fantastic piece called ‘The Man in the Corner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Corner is a hectoring bore who argues in favour of continuing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for people, good for society, and inconveniences people he doesn’t like. The punchline is:
There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war running from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s regular customers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.
All of this ties into a theory we’ve had brewing for a while: that the reason beer and pubs suddenly became respectable topics to write about, and acceptable as hobbies, was because of the general breakdown of class distinctions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a little more in another blog post soon.
Balmy Nectar is a collection of all the longer pieces of writing we’ve produced for CAMRA, magazines such as Beer Advocate, and here on the blog.
It also includes a foreword by Tim Webb and a new piece pulling together into a coherent whole the best of the many ‘pub life’ observational posts we’ve been writing since 2015.
In total, it runs to about 80,000 words, a similar length to Brew Britannia and 20th Century Pub. Which is to say, it’s a proper chunky book, unlike Gambrinus Waltz which was only ever what they used to call a monograph.
And though collating and editing it all has been hard work, it’s also been really lovely to be reminded of how much good stuff we’ve turned out. We’re especially proud of the voices we put on record, from beer festival volunteers to publicity shy brewers.
If you want a copy, and of course you do, Balmy Nectar is available from the Amazon Kindle store now for £7, or $9.22 in the US.
It would be a handy thing to have loaded up when you go on your summer holidays, or just to have handy in the free app on your phone for dipping into if you find yourself waiting for a mate in the pub.
And here’s what the collection includes, to save you a click or two: Foreword | Introduction | Beer geeks in history | Brew Britannia: the women | A pint of Old & Filthy | Only a northern brewer (David Pollard) | 1974: birth of the beer guide | The pub crawlers | 1975: birth of the beer festival | The Campaign for Unreal Ale | Craft before it was a thing (Williams Bros) | Michael Jackson | Belgophilia | Lager louts | Cornish swanky beer | The Quiet One (Peter Elvin) | Newquay Steam | Spingo | Bitter | Watney’s Red Barrel | Boddington’s | Doom Bar | Guinness in decline | Pale and hoppy | The mystery of Old Chimneys | Mixing beer | The pubs of Boggleton | German Bierkellers in Britain | Welcome to Adnamsland | The Good, the Bad and the Murky | Don’t Worry, be (mostly) happy | Pub Life
In 1964 Batsford published a guide to London with a twist: it was about where to go and what to do on sleepy Sundays. Such as, for example… visit the pub.
We picked up our copy of London on Sunday at Oxfam in Cotham for £3.99. It’s not a book we’ve ever encountered before, or even heard of.
We haven’t managed to find out much about the author, Betty James, either, except that she wrote a few other books, including London and the Single Girl, published in 1967, and London for Lovers, 1968. She was older than the girlish tone of the book might suggest – in her late forties, we gather – and twice divorced by the time she was profiled in the Newcastle Journal in 1969.
Before the main event, individual pubs crop up here and there – the Grapes in Wapping is accurately described as ‘an old sawdusty river pub’ where the staff give directions to a particularly good but hard-to-find Chinese restaurant.
One of the best lines in the book, thrown away in an itinerary for a walk, is, we’re certain, a dig at male guidebook writers of the period who couldn’t resist rating barmaids:
The Colville Tavern at 72 Kings Road… [has] the best-looking barman in London. Ask for Charles.
Pubs are given real, focused treatment in the dying pages of the book, which is a statement in its own right.
From Monday until Saturday this Sunday is the Local Public House of somebody else in whom once has no interest whatsoever. However… on Sunday at the hour of noon it is entered immediately by the knowledgeable tosspot in order that he may refresh himself in convivial company, while his wife cooks the joint to which he eventually return too late to avoid unpleasantness… Meanwhile, the regular visitor to this Sunday Pub (whose Local Public House it is from Monday until Saturday) will repair to another Sunday Pub because it is considered not schmaltzy to take drink in one’s own Local Public House upon a Sunday.
This very old pub is impossible to find. You can wander around the chi-chi little mews surrounding it, absorbing the untraceable emanations of Guards subalterns and debutantes without actually ever seeing anything but a chi-chi little mews… A dread silence occasionally falls upon the place… [because] somebody has mislaid a debutante.
The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea sounds like fun, with people drinking outside in the embankment gardens on Sunday morning, or blocking the road ‘where they risk being knocked drinkless by other cognoscenti in fast sports job’. It is, Ms. James says, ‘exclusively patronised by absolutely everybody who isn’t anybody’. Sadly, this one seems to be a goner.
Of course we got really excited at the description of a theme pub, the Square Rigger in the City, near Monument Station:
Fully rigged with seagull cries and the sound of breaking surf there is also an enormous social schism between the Captain’s Cabin and the Mess Decks both 1 and 2… ‘Tween decks there are rope ladders, sails, and yard-arms and that. Together with a lot of beautifully polished brass bar-top.
Back to those classic mews pubs of west London, the Star in Belgravia, of course, gets a mention, and rather a cheeky one: ‘Well now… The best thing we can say about this pub is that all the aforementioned missing debutantes may be discovered here… recovering… And some of them simply aching for the utter, utter blissikins of getting mislaid again as soon as possible’.
The Windsor Castle in Kensington apparently had ‘Luscious sandwiches’ and quite the scene going on, with actors in the bar and ‘a pig ogling a cow in the pleasant walled garden’.
The last pub tip is given reluctantly:
There is of course one Sunday Pub to which afficionados resort of a Sunday evening. However, it could so easily be completely ruined by hypermetropic invasion that I hardly like to mention it. This is the Lilliput Hall, a Courage’s house at 9 Jamaica Road SE1, where, at around 9 pm, commences the best not-too-far-out jazz this side of paradise. The hundred per cent professional group renderings are led by the guv’nor, Bert Annable, a name to be conjured with in the business, since he’s worked with Cyril Stapleton and Paul Fenoulhet, among others.
Every time we think we’ve at least heard of every substantial book about beer or pubs, a new-to-us specimen pops up. This weekend, we came across They’re Open! by Ronald Wilkinson and Roger Frisby, with illustrations by Neville Main, from 1950.
It’s fluff, really – the kind of thing the chaps at the golf club would buy for another chap known to like the odd pint of bitter on the occasion of his birthday. Still, it’s a revealing time capsule, as throwaways often are.
The gimmick, as with T.E.B. Clarke’s What’s Yours? from 12 years earlier, is that the book claims to be a manual for those keen to learn the mysterious ways of the pub:
The student should on no account embark upon the theory of Serious Drinking without first pausing to consider certain fundamental concepts and general principles… It should be clearly understood from the outset that the subject must not be approached in a light or frivolous vein…
Another section from the introduction is probably meant to be a joke but it’s hard to tell from this side of the real ale revolution, when we’re used to this kind of thing being uttered in earnest:
It may strike the sceptic as odd that the word ‘serious’ is applied in this context. However, the word is not chosen at random. It is, in fact, the keystone of the whole arch of Alcohology. For the Serious Drinker drinks not to be sociable; neither does he drink to drown his sorrows, nor for want of anything better to do. Above all, it cannot be too strongly impressed upon the student that drunkenness in any shape or form must never be the aim, nor indeed must it be the concomitant of Serious Drinking. The Serious Drinker drinks on a rational basis. He drinks for no other reason that that he likes drinking. One would never ask a stamp-collector why he is serious about collecting stamps…
This introductory section also sets out the book’s stall on the issue of women and beer:
In all the authors’ experience, they have never encountered a woman who held forth even the remotest promise of successful development into a Serious Drinker. Her very make-up prevents it. Charming, lovable, fascinating as women may seem, all attempts on their parts to become Serious Drinkers have so far been but empty threats.
(That’s me told. – Jess.)
There’s disappointingly little about beer in the book, of course, beyond a warning against foreign beer, where foreign has the broadest possible definition: “For the Serious Drinker is a drinker of beer, and beer is only to be found in England.”
There is a chapter on what to wear in the pub: thick-soled shoes to raise you above the sawdust, with beer-coloured uppers to conceal stains; and drinking trousers with expanding waistline and a deep left-hand pocket for change.
The bit that really grabbed our attention, with 20th Century Pub still ringing in our brains, is an attempt to classify different types of pub:
The Roadhouse… Construction in concrete… Design frequently of the pseudo-Tudor or bogus-rustic…
The American or Cocktail bar… Neon signs… Stools… A plethora of chromium… Preponderance of women… It is difficult to find words adequate to condemn this type of abomination…
The Chain House… This is a large establishment usually of brick which sports a car-park. It is by far the least offensive of the non-serious types of drinking establishments, and at a pinch it is perfectly correct for the Drinker to enter it…
The Pub or Local… The is the ideal locus bibendi for the Serious Drinker. Now, the true pub is not always easy to recognise… it will in all probability be tucked away in some side-street, mews or alley…
There are then pages and pages on the subject of pub doors – the various types, their actions, how to operate their handles – and then a whole lot more on where to sit once you’re inside for optimum efficiency. There’s a section on posture, one on how to grip your glass, and on how to chat up barmaids. All of this is more or less tedious.
Things pick up again with an attempt to categorise types of drinker:
The Serious Drinker…
The Solitary or Introspective Drinker… unshaven… unethical ties…
The Crypto-serious or Miscellaneous Group… This group includes inter alia, the dart-players, the shove-halfpenny boys, the domino kings, the cribbage enthusiasts, the bar-billiards men and the pin-table fiends…
The Celebratory of Extrospective Drinker… a noteworthy hazard to the Serious Drinker…
The Social or Gregarious Drinker…
The Medicinal or Therapeutic Drinker… On no account should he be engaged in conversation, because this inevitably consists of an interminable repetition of his morbid ailments, past and present…
The Casual or Intermittent Drinker… He looks at the clock between gulps and speaks in an anxious tone of voice…
All in all, this is a minor work, perhaps of greatest use to those with an interest in attitudes to women in pubs.
Camaraderie is forced on men. They have little else in life. Forced especially on the desperate, the unimaginative, who must drink the same drink in the same place every day.
How to be alone in the midst of fellowship? One can turn the other stool, try to indicate with the shoulder one wants privacy. One can snap like a little animal. But this breeds suspicion. In the end one is never left alone.
But neither does camaraderie really exist. It is a creation of racists and war-novelists. Rather, there is an erotism about men drinking together.
Come. Come, you must come with us into our happy love cloud. A public bar is the boudoir of a comic-opera seductress…
That’s an extract from a piece called ‘Drinking Men’ by American writer Todd McEwen. He moved to Scotland in 1981 and this story is set in a pub called the Auld Licht. It portrays the relationships between the public bar and lounge, and between the regulars who drink in them.
It’s funny, bleak, and rather sour, capturing a time when pubs were overwhelmingly male, everyone smoked, and the cardboard backings from which packets of peanuts were sold were items of everyday kitsch erotica.
Having recently written about masculinity, beer and pubs for BEERmagazine (see the latest issue here) we found plenty to chew on even in these few hundred words, and would certainly consider include ‘Drinking Men’ in that anthology we’re hoping someone will ask us to edit one day.