I have to say that, while still very good, I wasn’t quite as impressed as with the previous issue I reviewed here. Inevitably, with the second sampling of anything, you lose the sense of discovery you encountered with the first. Maybe another reason is that, while I spent three years at university in Birmingham in the late 1970s, very few of the pubs mentioned are actually familiar to me. In those days, the city was dominated by the Ansells/M&B duopoly, and if you wanted decent beer you tended to head across the boundary, particularly to the Black Country. At one point there were only seven different cask beers available in the entire city of a million inhabitants, and one of those (Draught Bass) only in about six pubs.
As an aside, a contemporary of mine at Birmingham University was Anna Soubry, now the junior health minister who has not exactly been covering herself with glory over the issue of plain tobacco packaging. She was the leading light of the University Conservative Association and even then came across as someone whose ambitions were much stronger than her principles.
As always, the crowning glory of Doghouse is the photography, which this time includes some great interior shots of unspoilt urban vaults. And the following passage about the White Swan in Digbeth certainly struck a chord:
Indeed, the only thing that spoilt this vision of solid 19th century perfection was the distinct lack of custom. Upon enquiry, I was told this was just about normal for weekday lunchtimes. People still work around here, I interjected, did they not come to the pub any more? ‘Occasionally we have a few in, but the evenings are when we do most of our trade.’I have a facsimile of a (non-CAMRA) guide to Manchester city centre pubs from the mid-70s, and one point made there is that many of the pubs were busy at lunchtimes and much quieter in the evenings. How times have changed.
With a sigh, Agnes remembers a time not so very long ago when three people were required to work the bar during the lunchtime rush – but since those heady days virtually all the large employers had gone, the huge empty shell opposite once employing 600 people alone, while the redevelopment promised to take their place were killed off by the financial collapse. This, coupled with the senseless and relentless war against sociable regulated drinking, goes some way to explain why an amazing pub like the Swan can stand virtually empty when thirsty folk are close at hand.
Society will not implode, nor will the world spin off its axis, if people once again decide to do what their forefathers did for centuries, and have a couple of pints with a sandwich before returning to work. But we as a people have been cowed into thinking that sensible daytime drinking is an urban myth – any desire to imbibe before 6 o’clock being the preserve of the wastrel, scoundrel and Johnny Foreigner. Fight back, ladies and gentlemen, for the sake of our pubs and our society.