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About A Week: Let's All Meet At The Slug And Lettuce

Peter Hinchliffe is not amused by fanciful pub names.

I've patronised some fancifully-named pubs in my time. Take, for instance, The Printer's Pie in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Lord Thomson of Fleet wished to house his Newcastle newspapers in a sparkling new building. There was a snag. The site on which he proposed to build contained an old-established pub.

"Can we buy your pub?" asked a servant of the Lord.

"No you may not," said a commoner from Scottish and Newcastle Breweries.

A compromise was reached. A compromise which delighted Lord Thomson's journalists in the North. The newspaper office would be built. And lo, the architect would incorporate a new pub under the same roof.

So the Printer's Pie came into being. A name which was immediately whittled down to The Pie by the sub-editors of the Evening Chronicle who were schooled to believe that words were rationed.

Many of the pub names in Newcastle were far less imaginative. During the heydays of the mighty Vickers engineering works there were more than 100 pubs on Scotswood Road. Workers coming off shift walked no more than 300 yards to wet their throats in establishments such as The Gun, The Engineer and The Electrician.

Then there was a pub in the city centre called the Victoria And Comet which was known to one and all as The Spit And Vomit.

When I worked for the Daily Nation newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya, the office local was the Sans Chique. Few places had less chique than the Sans Chique. It was a basic drinking den where Africans and Europeans gathered on hot equatorial evenings to swill Tusker beer with the intensity of folk who know that the "last orders" of a lifetime are about to be called.

Five Brits then worked for the Daily Nation, all of us northern lads. We couldn't bring ourselves to ask: "Are you going round to the Sans Chique?"

"Are you going for a Tusker?" is what we said instead. Tusker being the local brew.

Huddersfield has the Rat And Ratchet. Not a pretty picture to call to mind while sampling ale, a ratcheted rat. The beer's good in the Rat though. Likewise the company, and that's what counts.

Former Culture Secretary Chris Smith was once in a froth about re-branding pubs by giving them trendy names. He said fancy new titles such as the Dog And Donut or the Goose And Granite are destroying the links which pubs have with local history. Mr Smith urged pub owners to consult regulars and the local community before changing a name.

Some of the new names raise a half-smile at first glance: The Slug And Lettuce, The Pig In Hiding, The Dancing Newt. At a second glance the intended wit is already tedious. Cynical regulars can be forgiven for expecting that a name-change should acknowledge the exaggerated price of the product which pubs sell. The Pay Through The Nose or the Two Pints And You're Broke would more closely reflect today's beer prices.

Actually a name is the least important thing about a pub. Good ale and entertaining conversation are the primary requirements, the latter being
just as important as the former.

Who would admit to drinking in an establishment called Cheers? Yet the TV programme featuring a bar of that name highlighted the best aspects of pub life. Friendly folk and funny chat. Drinkers round the world longed to pull up a stool and join Norm and Frasier, Sam, Woody and Carla round that Boston bar.

Remember the Cheers song?

Be glad there's one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came.
You want to go where people know
People are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name
.

Unfortunately there's no gathering at the bar in all too many so-called pubs these days. Bar meals rule. It's a case of sitting at a table and trying to look cheerful until the food arrives.

Tradition lives on in certain drinking quarters though. Places which shun such modern branding as the Phantom And Firkin or the Pig In The Middle. They are happy to be labelled with three letters. WMC.

Working men's clubs are among the last sure refuges for those who value a good pint and amusing company.

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