An unexpected beer (or two)

A jug of real aleThought I’d visit the pub for a couple of jars. ‘Just two,’ I said to myself. This was the height of folly because I’ve had more ‘just two’ sessions than I care to remember. The trouble is people don’t want me to leave while we’re having fun. Or something like that…

Actually I was serious this time. In, out and home. That was the plan. Ha ha; how the Universe likes to mock our carefully laid machinations. Not that I’m complaining because last night the Cornucopia spilled its goodies all over me. And we all like goodies don’t we?

The beer board looked promising. Elland porter (6.5% ABV) and Everards Sunchaser were both onboard to tempt me. And Burton Bridge Mystery Mild… Too many to list in fact. So I started in on the Sunchaser mindful of the next morning, and not wishing to wake up in the night with a mouth like the bottom of a parrot’s cage.

Two pints in something strange happened. People started to leave. This is very unusual but it’s a seasonal effect. Easter is approaching and people are trying to save their wonga for the bank holiday. Those long weekends in Rhyl don’t pay for themselves you know.

I was about to leave when kind hearted Sandra the generously boobed barmaid said, ‘Here you go John,’ and plonked another pint in front of me. Free beer! I really wanted to go, but I mean… FREE BEER!

Someone had decided to vamoose and it would have gone down the drain otherwise to feed the rodents. I supped it gratefully and got talking to this bloke about Vikings. I tend to attract such beings because I look a bit Scandy. Hardly surprising as all my ancestors (bar a couple of Midlanders) are from Cumbria or thereabouts.

It was a crazy conversation. The man kept repeating himself over and over… I think it was the Ellands porter which he quaffed like it was cherryade. You don’t do that! It’s best drunk by the half-pint. Or – delicious as it is – not at all if you want to walk out of the building.

I was about to leave for the second time when history repeated itself and Sandra (bless her socks) handed me another beer. What! MORE FREE BEER!? Yes, it’s true. Was this kindness or an assassination attempt? It’s hard to tell. I’m your basic man when it comes to beer: I like it but I know my limits, and I already felt tired. My limits were approaching faster than butter off a hot iron.

Halfway through a glorious pint of Abbeydale bitter (3.9% ABV) a young chap wandered over to me and the Viking Fanclub fanatic clutching a massive pizza. ‘Fancy this lads? It’ll just go to waste otherwise.’ It was as though people couldn’t face food or beer. Why was this? Martian spores? I bought a couple of beers after that having reached the tipping point, beyond which you think, ‘Sod it, I might as well.’

I don’t know, but I remember leaving the pub full of free beer and gratis pizza, slightly the worse for wear. I think I caught a taxi home, and I think the driver didn’t bother to ask where I live. We’ve met before, him and I.

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We’re all going down the pub!

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.

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The Wellington

Nooo, not the type you wear; it’s a pub. Beery delights were experienced last night, and I spoke to a lot of people… They have cheese nights and you can take your own food along. Amazing. A pub which is branded according to what it doesn’t have. No TV, no music, no food. Just good beer and good company (mostly). Wetherspoons beware.

Actually I was turned away from a Wetherfools pub last night. I ‘gave the impression I’d been drinking’. I also, ‘appeared to wobble slightly’ and (I love this one) ‘your manner is rather unpleasant’. What utter utter bollocks. Guess where I won’t be spending my money or taking my friends?