As an Englishman, there are a number of well-known institutions that I naturally hold dear. First and foremost, I should mention the country’s national sport. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as settling in to watch every blissful second of a five day long game of cricket (only ever worth interrupting to make yourself a fresh cup of Yorkshire tea.)
Then, we have the National Health Service — perfect for when all the scones, jams, clotted creams, Yorkshire puddings, and spotted dicks1 catch up with you. Conceived following the second World War, it provides free healthcare to anybody that needs it, offering the good people of Blighty2 the opportunity to get back into any one of our stunning national parks.
However, if I was told to choose just one English institution for the rest of my days, you could gladly bundle all these up, douse them in warm beer, and fling them onto a 5th of November bonfire (thanks for that one, Guy Fawkes).
The most gloriously English of things to which I am referring is…obviously…The Pub!
I’m not talking about a swanky establishment with six pound pints, and waiters, and exotic fish flown in from Japan, battered in their home brewed IPA and served on £50 notes to appease and fleece the tourists.
I’m talking about a real English pub. It may be gritty and rough, with the odd fight thrown in for good measure, but there is no greater place to encounter authentic life in the UK then in any of the thousands of good pubs that span the length and breadth of these here tiny isles. Here, you’ll find people from every walk of life mingling, sharing stories, singing songs, drinking things of questionable temperature, eating snacks of questionable origin, and basically being merry.
My love of pubs began at a very young age, not, I hope you understand, as a result of early years alcoholism, but by virtue of the fact that I grew up in a pub. Literally! From the age of about 8 to 16, my most formative years were spent living directly above my parent’s pub in my hometown of Wakefield.
The pub itself wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t known for its strong list of world craft beers or the gastronomic delights on its menu. There were no ironic board games in the corner and the idea of asking for WiFi would likely have you chased out of town for being from another planet.
But what the pub lacked in modern world frills, it emphatically made up for in old world charm: ridiculously heavy cast iron tables (topped with copper to make the surfaces easy to wipe after the inevitable spillage), worn red velvet on the seats, an ornate brass footrest along the bottom of the bar for those who would rather not have to move between drinks.
We had bitter or lager, and a range of four or five run-of-the-mill spirits. We had small snacks like scampi fries and pork scratchings and occasionally, on a Sunday, we’d put some mini pork pies, black pudding, and mucky fat sandwiches out on the bar for people to grab as much as they liked. By the way, for those of you who don’t know, mucky fat sandwiches are beef fat scraped from the bottom of a roasting pan and spread on bread. Yep, that’s a thing.
As basic as it was, when that food came out, people would make it their main meal for the day and spend their Sunday lunchtimes chatting, taking the piss3 out of each other, and laughing with their friends and neighbours.
A hub for the local community, when the pub’s amateur football team were doing well, the whole neighborhood would come out to the local pitches to watch their friends and family playing on a Sunday morning. Then it was all back to the pub to celebrate afterwards (obviously!) The darts team regularly made the newspapers for its success and people had the clippings up in their homes displaying their sense of pride.
When I think about being there, I remember the sound of laughter, the stories, the jokes. And I can still hear the shrill sound of the ladies in the lounge singing River Deep, Mountain High by Tina Turner for the fifth time that night when I was trying to get some sleep before school the next day.
A place of comfort, of belonging, of warmth and good nature, a pub was a great place to grow up and the reason I hold them in such high esteem to this day. If you’re ever in England, hit me up and I’ll show you where the good ones are.
Oh, and a word of advice…don’t ask for a bag of potato chips. They’re bloody crisps!
- Not a medical condition. It’s a sponge based dessert
- Just another term for England
- The very English trait of making jokes at your friend’s expense