Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Misspent youth

One of my earliest memories is of being taken into a pub. A country pub, where such niceties as 'no children admitted' were sensibly ignored. Of course, as well as expanding my horizons it instilled in me a lifelong fascination with the places and a taste for alcoholic refreshment in its manifold forms. Pubs were wonderful back then. Well, not all of them, some were real dumps and had reputations for being the sort of places you could go for a good fight or to find female (or male) company of the kind which necessitated money changing hands. I suppose those places still exist but they are no longer thick with the fug of cigarettes and pipes, the lamps no longer glow hazily and the back of bar displays no longer hold packets of the numerous brands of cigarettes and tobacco. Neither do they dispense Mars Bars, Biscuits or Smiths potato crisps...all of which, apart from the nicotine-based items seemed to be purchased as placatory take-home items in a vain attempt to restore domestic bliss after an evening's indulgence. Quite how that worked when wives were being presented with a pickled egg wrapped in greaseproof paper, and the old man whispering booze-fumed entreaties I'm not sure - the promise of cupid's intentions was rarely matched by any sort of action. But back to pubs. My favourite aunt was involved for many years with a gentleman whose business was photography and his main client was Watney's brewery, both pre and post Red Barrel. Consequently I was the grateful recipient of numerous Watneys trinkets which had been left over from photo shoots - those little red barrels which seemed to adorn every keyring of the string-backed motoring glove class, and the collar of every dog of breeding. My bedroom was corrupt with virgin beer bottle labels, uncut and fresh from the press - Watney's Pale, Watney's Brown, Cream Label Stout - all highly collectable today, but mere trivia to me then. My night time reading was illuminated by a Watney's beer barrel shaped lamp and suruptitious Players cigarettes were extinguished in a Watney's barrel shaped ashtray, I'm surprised that they didn't produce a branded potty for the loose bladdered drinker. Needless to say all this breweriana has vanished and I don't even have a red barrel for my keyring...today I suppose it would be a symbol of what havoc the great brewing giants wrought on the small regional brewers.

The country pubs I knew were a very different pint of mild. From the unbelievably rustic and sparse to the 'Your hosts Den and Gwen welcome you' variety boasting extreme middle class comforts in the form of electric log fires and all the above breweriana strewn around the place for want of any other decoration. But they were cosy - a warm glow exuded from the moustachioed landlord as he dispensed the beer to the merry accompaniment of a saucy jest with a "don't mind if I do squire - just a shilling's worth" as the whisky tumbler was aimed precisely at the optic of the White Horse brand. Saloon and Public...everyone knew their place. My aunt aspired to the saloon bar class although she spent most of her time working with cowmen and farm labourers...that's what the Land Army does for you. My rose tinted spectacles take me back to The Greyhound in Hever, Kent where, courtesy of the sainted aunt who'd leave a few quid behind the bar, my cousin and I learned the delicate art of getting intoxicated whilst being of little trouble - behaviour which has stood me in good stead ever since.

The technically appalling shot is of a bar tray promoting soft drinks and mixers by Messrs. Hooper Struve and which neatly sums up the late 50s pubby atmosphere as the retailers would have had it. No leggy lovelies like her in The Greyhound alas. But maybe in the Coach and Horses, Danehill, where the tray is in the back bar.