Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades

Regular commenter “py” recently posted this link to a collection of students’ thoughts on “traditional pubs”. A lot of the comments are along the lines of “pubs are old-fashioned” and “pubs don’t cater for us”.

What a contrast to my student days! Yes, this was in the era of Small is Beautiful, the Good Life and Citizen Smith, but our approach was completely different. Pubs were there, as they were, warts and all, and they needed to be explored and understood. We used to go on pilgrimages out to the Black Country to visit the Old Swan and Batham’s, Holden’s and Simpkiss pubs. These were generally small, basic pubs with an older, working-class clientele, but they were still interesting and worth exploring. The regulars were probably astonished at being invaded by parties of students, but they took it in their stride.

The pubs (OK not the Simpkiss ones) are still there now, but you really can’t imagine today’s students doing the same. In those days, people put a positive value on the old-fashioned, individualistic, quirky and traditional, and were prepared to make an effort to understand it, whereas now they prefer instant gratification and having everything served up on a plate.

As I’ve mentioned before, the appreciation of the past has greatly diminished. CAMRA, to its great credit, continues to maintain the National Inventory, but a growing number of members fail to see the point. I remember when any move by the breweries to “knock through” or “gut” a pub was roundly condemned, but now it’s often welcomed as “making it brighter and more contemporary”.

Much the same is true in the beer sphere, which maybe deserves a post of its own. And I can’t help thinking that in this relentless pursuit of modernity and innovation we’re losing something. Give me a pint of Draught Bass in an unspoilt wood-panelled snug any day!


  1. And in those days you could smoke in all of those pubs.

    Just saying.

  2. And I can’t help thinking that in this relentless pursuit of venerating the past with rose coloured specs you're forgetting that much of the past was piss poor.

    I like an Ealing comedy as much as anyone but I wouldn't like to live in the cold grey austere world the characters inhabit. Give me today or the world of tomorrow! A world of colour!

    Progress is a natural human process. Things get better, Mudge, embrace it. Before you rage at the dying of the light, we will have jet packs and hover skate boards. Meals will come in pill form. New pubs will open on moon bases. Lager will be even cheaper!

    The kippers may wish it was 1950, but leave the rest of us the 21st century!

  3. @ Cookie

    Progress and modernity have their place, but they're not always better, and some things are worth preserving.

    If we all rushed headlong into the future without a thought for preserving the past, we would be living in a truly horrible world, devoid of all the great architecture and art that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors.

    And the British pub was an institution that was unique in the world. I'm not wearing rose-tinted specs when I say that I absolutely loved the quirky old pubs I discovered when I was young. The cross-section of people was invariably a given; from the old boy who always occupied his seat in the corner, through the farm workers smelling of manure to the stockbroker in the Savile Row suit who commuted daily to the City, and of course the students who thought it was a real hoot. All rubbed shoulders and chatted (and smoked, mostly) over their pints, and created a singular ambiance, one that is not easily replicated.

    I miss that. We've lost something precious. When I'm in the UK these days, I don't even bother going to pubs any more. They all seem to be empty shells, soulless drinking parlours which are inevitably empty and display all the allure of a doctor's waiting room, sterile and uninviting.

  4. Nisakiman - Nail. Hit. Firmly. On. Head.

  5. The pyramids = historic antiquity, stood for millennia, shows us a civilisation thousands of years before Christ.

    The Dog and Bollocks = Bit of a shit hole that will not be much missed. People got pissed there over the last few decades, talked a bit of inconsequential bollocks. Might make a nice new block of flats if knocked down.

  6. Cooking Lager noted Things get better
    Some things get better, some worse.

    Pyramids...The Dog and...
    ...The Crown and Treaty, Uxbridge.
    The Crown and Treaty was where Charles I negotiated with the Parliamentarians in an attempt to end the English Civil War producing the Treaty of Uxbridge between 30 January and 22 February 1645.

    Apart from civil war negotiations, the Crown & Treaty has been through many phases including being a quiet pub, a CAMRA aficionados pub, then a Uni Pub (for Brunel students) then a bit quiet again. Not sure what it's like now.

    If, during one of the phases it had become a bit of a dive, should it have been closed down, not to be missed?

  7. That's an interesting one, westcoast, can only say what I would do. I'd knock it down for student flats, myself. I might allow a blue plaque on the wall if anyone was bothered about it by way of caring about the community. I'm sure Charles I got pissed up in a lot of places and had a piss in quite a few fields too. Don't see them preserved for antiquity.

    If Maggie supped in any boozers, I'd save them for antiquity, for the nation, like.

    Thinking about the pyramids, there is a far few of them and they could knock down a couple and not miss them. I'd say you need to keep at least one. Might as well keep them all as it's only desert outside of Cairo, no prime real estate. If they were in a major global city I'd flatten 'em and build a Starbucks.

  8. Once the many pubs catered for a very broad strata of society,from the dog rough to the refined,as was the nature of the English throughout the ages. Choice and freedom to exercise it was the essential ingredient of the English Tavern. Nobody was ever forced into a smoky dive or serene
    saloon. We, the children and grandchildren of thousands of our kinsfolk who left their bones on
    foreign field ,we were not put of by the sweaty stench of honest toil nor the fumes from dangling Woodbines hanging from oily lips.
    We did not suffer nannies,muttering health freaks and know-it-all bourgoise parrots. Now we have mausoleams and crypts wherein gather the
    flickering embers and withering
    ghosts eager to justify todays folly and intolerance,constantly whining vague reasons for the demise of the Pub

  9. "Applause".....

    Perhaps the best ever Anon contribution.

  10. Ah yes, Cooking Lager, the man who would happily demolish Chatsworth (a well known 18th century dump) and build a theme park in its place. You Tories are always in league with grasping property developers :p

  11. I think when today's students talk about 'pubs' they're talking about places they don't go - not because they don't drink socially, but because they don't think of the places they go to drink as 'pubs'. In my generation we didn't have that luxury (came over all Four Yorkshiremen for a moment there). What I remember from my student days (a couple of years after Mudge's) is that there weren't any student pubs, let alone bars: you basically had to choose between the pubs where you were afraid you'd get beaten up, the pubs where you'd get overlooked by the barman and sworn at by the regulars, and the pubs where the barman would glare at you and the regulars would ignore you. What's weird, thinking about it now, is that there were young people's pubs in the suburb where I grew up - when I started drinking regularly (under age) there was even one pub I'd never go in because the crowd was too young(!).

    It seems odd that nobody ever saw the mileage in catering to students in those days. Perhaps it's just because there were far fewer students then - anyone catering specifically to us would have been putting off far more people than they attracted. Hard to imagine now.

  12. Even in those days, there were plenty of "studenty" pubs, although the cool students would make a point of going elsewhere.

    The point is that we students were making pilgrimages many miles away, generally by bus, occasionally by car, to visit pubs that served what was then "exotic" beer.

    I was in Birmingham. Manchester students would have been heading out to Eccles for Holts, or to Stockport for Robinson's.

    It doesn't happen now.

  13. Chatsworth, Mudgie, would make a splendid shopping centre with free parking and for pub lovers, an on site Spoons.

    The Spoons offering efficiency, modernity & low prices. A far more efficient booze delivery system than small inefficient pokey centuries old pubs, with inadequate cellars, no space for cooling equipment, dodgy wiring and unable to accommodate the throughput required to sell cheap grog.

  14. Back in the days of my youth we had simple choices of music, New Wave, Punk, Ska, Reggae, beginnings of electronica, Metal, Rock, foundations of hip hop, Disco and the popular artists for the making of girls knickers to be wet.
    Lets say that the disco and the electronica along with hip hop created House music. In 1986 there were 4 types of House music and now there are over 50 recognised styles. Metal, over 25 styles. Fans of a couple of sub-genres will have no truck with fans of opposing sub-genres.
    Any surprise that a Public house cannot cater for all tastes. Not really.
    the pub used to be luxurious compared to a persons own home. That certainly is not the case anymore. Leave my leather clad, electric reclining, massage enabled chair to go to a shit hole. No thanks (actually, I do but the point is pubs were cutting edge 50 years ago and further back) Pubs have not remained honest to the people, why should people remain loyal to the pub?
    I ran a pub years ago, interesting history and local meant local to that area - not the town. Anyone entering from outside the local area was set upon, for they were different and not welcome. If one thing that the pub has kept alive is rampant bigotry and the promotion of bigotry.

  15. "Manchester students would have been heading out to Eccles for Holts, or to Stockport for Robinson's.

    It doesn't happen now."

    I don't wish to dismiss or denigrate Eccles or Stockport. I'm sure both are lovely places with charming and delightful inhabitants.

    I don't believe there was ever a day when students had so little options for entertaining themselves they would ever consider a day out in Eccles to potter around some dumpy pubs. Never has happened, never will.

    If we ever end up in some dystopian post apocalyptic waste land where Mad Max takes on the punks on Fury Road and the choice is a day out in Eccles or fighting for the last drops of diesel fuel on Fury Road, the choice will always be Fury Road.

    The past may be another country, Your past, Mudge, is another alternate universe that requires a quantum multiverse to exist.

    Eccles? FFS.

  16. Anon adrift from verse delves into a mystery of the Universe.
    Maybe some bright sober under 50
    can ease my curiosity
    Near me a Robinsons pub charges
    £3.40p for a pint,for the lesser educated that equates to
    ........£27.20p PER GALLON
    Not far down the road a Shell Station charges £1.30p per litre for petrol which equates to
    ........£5.90p PER GALLON
    As petrol costs 4-5 time as much
    to produce as ale ,can I assume
    anyone buying ale in pubs are total prats or what ?

  17. I’m from a similar era to you, Mudge. We used to do the same with regard to visiting pubs selling rare or unusual beers for the area, only this was in Greater Manchester, rather than the West Midlands. It was the era of “small is beautiful”, and it was both fun and interesting tracking these places down.

    Times move on though, and with the awakening of interest in cask beer came a huge increase in the number of free houses offering a wide range of real ales from up and down the country. The sense of discovery that accompanied beer hunting in the early days vanished, as beers that were once rare or cherished, started popping up all over the place.

    I still like traditional old pubs, but pubs have been evolving over time, and continue to do so. Even those pubs on CAMRA’s National Inventory will have evolved into what they are now, from what they were when they first opened their doors. The simple beer house is no longer viable, and without the addition of a food option, most have now all but vanished.

    We cannot totally preserve the past in aspic, but need to accept and sometimes embrace change, so long as the changes are for the good and enhance what was once there, rather than totally destroying it.

    Agree though, that one can’t imagine today’s students doing the same thing.

  18. @Paul - so where around Greater Manchester did you used to go beer hunting in your student days? (Cookie doesn't believe it ever happened)

  19. Well, dare I say it Mudgie, Eccles, as I was in digs there during my first year at Uni.

    We used to drink mainly in the White Horse, a large modern and totally characterless Robinson's pub, with electric pump dispense, purely because it was the nearest pub to our lodgings.

    Sometimes we would venture a bit further afield, down to the pedestrian precinct close to the church. There was a particularly grotty Boddington's pub there if I remember correctly, but also a pretty decent Bass pub (Cross Keyes?) almost next to the church. There was a chippy nearby, which gave us a respite from the quite frankly appalling food served up by our landlady! (Students today wouldn't put up with that sort of swill!).

    Occasionally we would visit a few of the Holt's pubs, but their names escape me. One or two though were really fine, unspoilt Victorian/Edwardian masterpieces.

    In my last two years at Salford I lived to the north of the university, fairly close to Agecroft colliery. There was a Marstons pub, called the Staff of Life, close to the pit. I remember seeing it featured quite a few years ago, on a programme about Britain's roughest pubs! It wasn't like that in my day, but the colliery was still open then and there were plenty of well-paid miners amongst the clientelle. They certainly would not have tolerated any trouble there.

    The Star, in Back Hope Street, Salford, was another favourite, and even became known as a student pub for a while. Robinsons at the time, I beleive it may still be functioning as a free-house?

    So I am living proof that back in the mid 1970's, students DID venture out in search of Holts and Robinsons; and to places like Eccles. One in the eye for Cookie, me thinks!


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