Sunday 9 August 2009

Happy days

I was spurred by this post from Raedwald to think about my own days of adolescent drinking. I grew up in an industrial town in the North-West, but having passed the 11-plus, attended a grammar school seven miles away out in a more rural area. I made many friends from that area, and most of the socialising I did in the 18-21 period, in the latter period of the sixth form and during university holidays, tended to revolve around the rural side. The usual pattern was that we would get in one of our fathers’ cars and go out exploring the pubs in the rural areas around a fifteen to twenty mile radius, and also the nearest cathedral city.

It was a journey of discovery – we would find grotty pubs, snooty pubs, dull but welcoming pubs, interesting but unwelcoming pubs, and plenty of pubs of genuine character that we would return to again and again. We knew we had to be respectful to the locals and regulars, so we moderated our behaviour accordingly. One pub in particular, hidden away up a rural cul-de-sac, with two tiny rooms, a quarry-tiled floor and beer straight from the cask, really sticks in the memory. It isn’t like that now, of course.

This was the late 1970s, when the breathalyser had been in place for ten years, and it was drummed into us by our fathers that to be OK we should stick to two pints. In those days, when virtually no draught beer was over 4% ABV, that simple maxim made more sense than it does now. Sometimes we might push it to two and a half, or three over the course of an evening, but I doubt whether that would have led to a failed test anyway. I can honestly say I can never recall an occasion when anyone took the piss with the drink-driving law. On recollection, it seems to me that as a confident driver who passed his test first time before he was seventeen-and-a-half, I did more than my fair share of driving, but I didn’t really mind. And even those who weren’t driving would never have more than four or five pints, and weren’t puking in the streets.

Nowadays, young people just don’t do that – they go on pub crawls around trendy bars in town centres and get arseholed. The rural pubs have in many cases gone over entirely to food or closed down for good (although most of those I recall visiting, to be honest, survive in some form). I think we are missing something in terms of young people being socialised to the ways of pubs and finding out just what is out there on their doorstep.

It is also striking looking back how few of even the up-market pubs served evening meals, yet they were still busy, generally far more so than today. We may have lots more beers nowadays, but I can’t help thinking that the pub trade as a whole is a thin echo of its former self.


  1. I enjoyed reading your reminiscing about your early drinking days, Curmudgeon, as they reminded me of my own experiences.

    I spent my teenage years living in a small village, about three miles from Ashford in Kent. There was an excellent pub in the village, complete with two bars and gravity-served beer, and we took these sorts of things for granted.

    As soon as I was 17 my parents bought me a motor scooter, and in the company of a friend from school we would spend the summer evenings going out exploring other country pubs. Most still had two bars in those days and my friend and I spent many a happy evenng playing darts and enjoying a few pints.

    Neither of us was silly enough to have too much to drink, but we both thought that the police would not bother stopping two lads on 90cc scooters. We were right of course, and there probably were times when we both had slightly more than we should have done.

    Later on, after a couple of other school friends had passed their driving test, cars became the prefered mode of transport, especially during the winter months.

    I look back on those days with real affection, as pubs were really pubs in those days, and not fancy, upmarket eateries, or trendy town-centre theme bars. If you were out with the lads, the public bar was the natural choice, especially if you wnated to play darts or bar-billiards. If, on the other hand, you were lucky enough to be dating a girl, then the saloon bar, with its carpet and plusher furnishings was the alternative choice.

    These options were avaialable in virtually every pub, as they had been for countless generations. Whilst occasionally there might be the odd scuffle, there was never any trouble of the kind we witness all too often in our town centres on a Friday or Saturday night. Something has gone seriously wrong somewhere along the line.

  2. I too have fond memories of teenage trips with my mates by car to country pubs around Manchester Airport and further out in Cheshire. We too had a 2-3 pint rule of thumb for the driver, and indeed once on the way back home late at night one of my mates who'd had a couple of pints earlier in the evening was pulled over by the police and breathalysed and passed.

    I think the real reason for the decline in such pub-going though is not so much the drink driving laws but that those places have been transformed into eating places for a mainly older clientele and teenage drinkers now either wouldn't feel comfortable or be made welcome there.

  3. I'd say it's a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other - as the demand for drinking in out-of-town pubs has fallen, those pubs have either closed or switched to a more food-led format, which in its turn has further reduced their attractiveness to drinkers.

  4. It's not just related to driving, either. When at university in Birmingham in the late 70s, we used to go out on the bus to the backwoods of the Black Country to visit Ma Pardoe's and Batham's, Holden's and Simpkiss pubs. Hard to imagine youngsters doing anything like that nowadays.


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