The cold and increasingly long winter nights are drawing in and Christmas is loitering on the not too distant horizon like a giant festive iceberg. This makes it the ideal time of year to take refuge in a warm pub with friends, family, loved ones, strangers, colleagues and people you actively dislike, to relax, drink, chew the proverbial fat* and take shelter form the outside world.
Indeed it seems that all the news at the minute is particularly depressing with new horrors being unveiled and unearthed each day; it is basically like watching an episode of 'Time Team' at a sewage works. What better way to get away from the relentless reality of the real world than spend a few hours in the Pub, because they need our help. I love pubs and have frequented a fair few in my short life on both sides of the bar. To whet your appetite here is a guide to all things pub: the good, the bad and the (sn)ugly.
Pubs, much like people, boats and pasta, come in all shapes and sizes and the quality of beer (I am using this as an umbrella term for ale, lager and stout, back off CAMRA) will probably differ remarkably from one to the next. This makes going to the pub edgy as there is always a chance you will end up drinking something that has been sitting in a barrel since last pancake Tuesday and thus wake up in the morning feeling like John Hurt in Alien, I.e. with Bad Guts.
Tête à Tête: North Vs South
When it comes to Beer, many would have you believe that England is a stereotypically divided nation. With 'Southerners' (or soft shandy drinking ponces) being accused of preferring their Beer with no 'head' in order to get as much liquid in the receptacle as possible and 'Northerners' (obstinate grumpy gristle headed grumblers) prefer it with a head or else they look upon it as flat and thus perhaps off. (See above, John Hurt etc etc) Neither side can get their head (!) around the other one's tastes. Like I say, this is all a bit of a cliché and is largely a myth. BUT, it is definitely true that people from the murky midlands only drink out of half pints or yard glasses. For instance, I once saw a man in Lichfield glug a metric yard of Sambuca and wash it down with a half of peach schnapps. That is definitely true. Definitely.
Bar snacks are things of beauty. Like a mass produced hanging gardens of Babylon and the Elgin marbles popped in a packet and covered in salt. Bog standard (Brand name alert) Walkers crisps, pork scratchings and KP nuts have been joined by classier items such as Pipers, Tyrells, bacon and Scampi Fries, snacks for all tastes. I love them all and have been known to over indulge, whether being the guy sat in the corner covered in cheesy Wotsit detritus (surely the most unsociable of the crisp family as they come with their own unique dandruff condition) or gobbling so many snacks on a night that as well as a hangover the next day you get the shakes from too much maize or MSG. Never mind a breathalyzer, I would turn Iodine solution deepest darkest blue if I breathed on it the next morning... (GCSE science experiment based humour there). So hit the pub now to consume your bodyweight in crisps without being frowned upon**.
Q: Who doesn't love a Pub Quiz?
A: Actually, about half the country. At least. But not I.
The country is divided by people who actively seek out pub quizzes like truffle hungry hogs and those who cower at the thought and baulk at the merest suggestion of going anywhere near the unholy trinity of alcohol, humans and trivia. If you are one of these people, don't turn up at pub quizzes and bring everyone else down with your desire to talk about 'stuff' while the rest of the team are listening intently to a half cut quizmaster and trying to work out whether that intro bit in the music round was Gabrielle? or Bob Dylan?
I am a fan of the quiz and all that comes with it: Half time sandwiches consisting of indeterminate meat and plastic cheese, the one team that everyone else hates (and who secretly detest each other) who win most weeks, the scramble for tables as people arrive hours in advance to sit at 'their' table and the pissed up woman who ambles between teams trying to 'flirt' answers out of people like a gin addled mutant cross between Amy Winehouse and John Humphreys. Actually, all those things were common to a Pub quiz I used to frequent but I am willing to bet at least a few apply to nearly every pub quiz in the land.
The Quest for a good Pub
Much like Indiana Jones when faced with a whole host of religious earthenware, it is important to pick your pub 'wisely'. There is a fine line between fancy restaurant-y pubs (who often have no time, or space for the humble quaffer) and the somewhat intimidating pubs that are seethingly hostile to 'outsiders'. The type of pub that when you step inside all the clientele turn around to look you up and down like drunken and angry employees of border control and all have a favourite glass, barmaid, racist joke and chair/barstool etc.
"The last person who sat in Ron's chair now drinks... and eats through a straw and not in a fun way".
These establishments tend to be possessed by a landlord/lady that has a face resembling an embolism or an angry bag of gravel. Avoid these places unless you are actively seeking out an anecdote that could be used at a later date in a nicer pub.
NB: I once worked behind a bar where a bloke 'paid' for four pints with a bin liner full of dead pigeons. As you do. I poured him his pints as was his wont.
As a rule, refrain from playing any sort of bar sport in a surrounding you deem to be a bit dicey, (see above) there is always a chance things could go a bit 'Danny Dyer' and before you know it you have a pool cue rammed through your neck like that chap on that absolutely classic episode of '999'. He ended up looking like a life size player from a table football table. Classic. If you are tempted to play then always adhere to the local/traditional rules. E.g. the '50p rule' whereby if a pool table has a stack of 50ps on it then that is a passively hostile way of telling any other people who might want to play in the next 4hours to think again.
The relationship between those that pour the pints and those that drink them is often a complicated one with a lot of time being spent in each others company in many cases. The barman can end up treading a ground somewhere between confidant and emotional punch bag. However, most indiscretions on either side are easily redeemable. For instance; if you bring your glasses back to the bar, especially from beer gardens especially if it is busy then you are a good person. BUT, If you are the type of person who rams their glass full of crisp packets, half chewed food, soiled napkins, cigarette butts and mauled beer mats then you are a despicable person, expecting someone at some point to thrust their hand into what is essentially a pint size version Dante's inferno*** .
*Along with the actual fat if you order some pork scratchings.
**You may be frowned upon.
*** Similar to 'Dante's Peak', a bit Longer, with less Brosnan.