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About A Week: Pickwick And Pubs

Peter Hinchliffe bemoans the passing of the traditional English pub.

Lay the blame at Charles Dickens’s door. The Victorian novelist created a glowing image of the English pub.

Jolly, rubicund gents, gathering to share news, dreams and jokes, while supping pints of old ale.

A glowing fire. Good company and cheer. A welcoming haven in a troublesome world.

For years and years I carried around in my head my own adaptation of a Pickwickian day.

… Walking in the glorious green hills of the Yorkshire Dales. Ancient stone walls and tight-sheltered barns, grazing sheep, the plaintive sound of the curlew. The delight of escaping into a near-wilderness on a crowded tarmac-and-concrete island. To descend as evening approaches to a remote village, and a welcoming pub. The Shepherd’s Rest. There to encounter good beer, friendly folk, relaxing conversation, re-discovering myself as a character on a Dickens page …

Charles Dickens would groan if he entered many an English pub today.

What would greet him?

The boom-boom-boom of mind-twisting music.

The greedy ching-chang sound of electronic gaming machines.

And the smell of food.

On the bar, fake beer pumps, behind which lurk taps, from which, under the pressure of gas, foreign-sounding acidic lagers come spewing from metal kegs.

But a large slice of a pub’s profits these days is derived from serving hamburgers and chicken nuggets, rather than beer.

Customers are now expected to sit at tables, not to cluster in cheerful converse at the bar.

Changing times, changing habits. British supermarkets now sell more beer than British pubs. If a work-weary chap says “I think I’ll have a drink’’ it means he’s on his way to the ‘fridge to get a can of lager, not that he is about to amble to the local hostelry to share a convivial hour with his mates.

Having a drink for the majority of folk now means slumping an inch or two deeper into a living room armchair while watching the latest mind-freezingly dull “reality’’ TV show.

Here’s a programme about a hedonistic lass whose clubbing-smoking-drinking hedonistic life has led her to run up debts of £33,000. And here’s a can of so-called beer from a mass-market sewer-brewer. The “beer’’ blunts the inanity of the programme. The programme takes one’s mind away from the foulness of the “beer’’.

There are small rebel bands of males who, remembering the pubs of yester-year, try to roll back time. These can often be found in working men’s clubs, or side-street city centre pubs that have no truck with boom-bang-ching-chang modernity.

Theirs is a last-ditch battle. An attempt to hold the Castle of Conviviality’s central keep as the lager-swilling horde presses in.

Sooner or later, the keep will be taken. The Castle will be captured.

And no pub will allow customers through the door unless they agree to buy a hamburger, with two packets of onion-flavoured crisps on the side, and put at least £5 – bought at the bar as tokens – in the gaming machines.

Ah me. Mr Pickwick, where are you?


But what’s this? A report in a British newspapers announces that a German brewery is producing a beer which it claims helps you stay young.

Neuzeller Kloster’s Anti-Aging Bier contains flavonoids, iron and vitamins A and D, which are said to enhance skin elasticity.

Could this be a lifeline for the traditional pub?

“Won’t be long, darling. I’m just going down to The Shepherd’s Rest health centre for a quick pint.’’


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