Thursday, 1 August 2013

Dog’s lunch

The latest edition of Doghouse Magazine recently dropped through my letterbox. This one concentrates on pubs in Birmingham, but it starts in Rhayader in Mid-Wales and follows the course of the Elan Valley aqueduct to the city. There are also general articles including one from beer writer Mark Dredge bewailing the “craft beer wars” and another on beer and crisp flavour matching.

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.’

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.

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.


  1. I've ordered my copy and I'll be interested to see what they made of what looks like a list of Brum's finest pubs. Do you get a commission?

  2. To some extent it's more a quirky selection of pubs than the obvious gems. No Black Horse in Northfield, for example. They are oddly unmoved by the British Oak in Stirchley which I know is one of your favourites, and rather dismissive of the widely-touted Wellington.

    No commission, unfortunately, although I would say that while the magazine is right up my street it could benefit from some slightly more critical editing.

    The next edition covers the Liverpool area so may include more pubs I am familiar with.

  3. "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."
    - Peter De Vries

  4. I'm afraid I'm not going to spend an extra £35 a week and end up sleeping at my desk every afternoon simply for the sake of saving the great british boozer.

  5. Not 100% surprised about British Oak - it can be hit & miss!
    I haven't been in the Black Horse since I was a student - I ought to go and see what Wetherspoon's have done to it!
    The Wellington is a victim of its own popularity - always full, but not particularly welcoming!
    I await the mag to see how much I agree with!!

  6. "I'm afraid I'm not going to spend an extra £35 a week and end up sleeping at my desk every afternoon simply for the sake of saving the great british boozer."

    Nobody's suggesting you do it every day, although in the past I have known highly productive workers who would typically have a couple of pints with their daily lunch.

    And you're falling into the trap of believing that a lunchtime drink will inevitably lead on to taking a snapshot of your arse on the photocopier mid-afternoon.

  7. The decline of the lunchtime drink is apparently about "productivity". Or most likely the employer's perennial concern, nay, pathological fear that employees may be enjoying themselves rather than making money for the company.

  8. I tried it once Peter, and that's exactly what happened.

    Trust me, I was a student long enough to become extremely well versed in the soporific effects of lunchtime drinking. Two pints and that's any chance of doing something useful gone for the rest of the day.

  9. If you are an old codger at the end of your career, hoping to potter along long enough to cut an early retirement pay off then a lunchtime pint will have you marked down as dead wood helping you achieve your goal of fucking off before you hit 60 with enough geld to keep you in pints and allowing you to afford the gas bill.

    If you are a youngster at the start of your career hoping to climb the ladder for the smart suits, money, prestige & TDI Volkswagen Passat then it’s poor advice to piss your meagre earnings down the pub at lunchtime. Brown nose, follow the rules, don’t be seen as a boozer and the greasy pole is yours to be conquered. Only go to the pub when invited by the boss then pay attention to whether he is boozing before choosing your own. Follow suit.

  10. "a lunchtime pint will have you marked down as dead wood"

    It was not always thus.

    Tbh, much of my lunchtime work drinking was at the invitation of the management.

  11. Martin, Cambridge1 August 2013 at 18:06

    25 years ago, starting out on my career, the successful managers in their 40s were the ones down the pub at least 2 lunchtimes a week, for a good two hours on a Friday. The deadwood were the ones stuck at their desk with a sarnie. How times have changed.

  12. One Friday lunchtime in the 1980s, we were in the drinking club next door to the office. Five minutes before we were due back, a manager rolled up and ordered a pint. Encouraged by this, several lads also got pints in. The manager downed his pint in one and went back to work, leaving quite a few members of staff forlorn with full pints.

  13. Martin, Cambridge7 August 2013 at 11:18

    Just noticed you can download back issues of Dog House for 99p, which is great value although some of the quality of the photographs is lost.

    I wonder how quickly the authors will exhaust the material around the Wales/England border, which is admittedly fabulous pub/café country.


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