I admit it – I’m obsessed with pubs. The reasons for this are uncomplicated. I was brought up in a rural backwater where you had three options: stay at home, go for a walk or visit your ‘local’.
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Pubs carry a whole rag-bag of associations for me. I go there when I want to be sociable, or even when I wish to be left alone. They inspire quiet contemplation, and the gourmet delights of deliciously complex real ales.
Good beer may sometimes be bitter, but it can also taste of coffee, toffee and malt. A decent stout might remind you of rum and raisin ice cream, and be as silky-smooth as a midnight cat.
You can sit outside in high summer and smell the roses. Pubs are woven into the complex social and economic history of our nation. Sometimes this history is unwritten… or at least, widely unread!
The ancient town of Horncastle nestles gently at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds; a beautiful area, which is all the better for being about as obscure as raspberry-flavoured pony nuts.
Many years ago, Horncastle hosted the largest horse fair in Europe, and this was reflected in the town’s large number of pubs. There are far fewer now, but one of them was owned by a Mr Daft. ‘Daft’s Tap’ was a notorious local brothel as well as a house of booze.
This duel roll was not uncommon, and in the 19th Century the White Swan in Birmingham city was both a pub and a butcher’s shop. You would roll out of the factory doors at close of day, buy your meat and get piddled, all in one go.
There’s nothing particularly glamorous about any of this, but now British pubs are closing faster than you can say ‘ale’. I can’t keep up with the data, but in the UK there are around 52,000 pubs, with 28 closing every single week. By the time you read this, those figures will already be defunct.
It is as though the fabric of social society is being unravelled by the clumsy hands of… Whom? Us, I suspect. Towns are swamped with cheap supermarket swill. Good beer can be hard to find when the world is awash with the cheap pig’s piss that people call lager.
Jovial conversation – or even civilised debate – has given way to android-like acceptance. Why go out when you can gaze at a screen all day? Why talk to your friends and neighbours when you can text them… or simply ignore them altogether?
It’s true that some pubs are deeply inhospitable, or that the punters can be annoying to the point where you could cheerfully strangle them. It’s also true that an excellent pub can introduce you to new friends and remind you that you are truly alive. Try one soon, before it’s too late.