The Christmas edition of The Economist had a fantastic elegy on the British pub written by their obituaries editor. This is well timed.
When I first moved to Hove I of course researched the pubs. I found several good boozers quite close. Pubs, not bars. Places for a pint and some conversation. That was years ago and I have watched as one by one they have been “renovated”. The comfortable furniture has been removed and floor space maximised for vertical drinking. The landlords have been replaced with managers. Huge TVs have been hung on the walls, the music has been turned up to quash conversation and the interesting people have gone home. In line with the hyper-commercialisation of the rest of British society the hearts of the pubs have been torn out and the cadavers assimilated into the coproate Borg culture. A modern pub’s function is to generate profit for big business.
I could go on but The Economist article is far more eloquent. It quotes the Frenchman Hilaire Belloc who said: “When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.”
The article claims that, since 2005, more than 6,000 pubs have closed and “Communal imbibing with neighbours and passers-by is fading, in favour of the glass of wine by the television alone………pubs go bust, realising more value as awkward private houses…..”. The article is beautifully written and epitomises the spirit of the pub.
“The church can go, long since the preserve of a flower-arranging few.……but the vanishing of a pub means, by common consent, the loss of the beating heart of a community, in town or countryside. A pub can become a sort of encapsulation of place, containing some small turning’s grainy photographs, its dog-eared posters for last year’s fete, its snoozing cats, its prettiest girls behind the bar and its strangest characters in front of it.”
“They hold ghosts, myths, the memory of kings; Green Men live on in them, White Horses carry Saxon echoes, Royal Oaks keep the drama of civil war and restoration……the old names won’t go. They cling on in the soil and the air, as tenacious as the past itself.”
“In the pub he met his fellow men and, with them, formed a society of musers and drinkers. He mingled with people he might not otherwise meet, had words with them, was obliged to take stock of their opinions.”
The Economist is right. There are many reasons for England to lose it’s pubs but the main reason will be that we do not care. A brief look around the web reveals that people are starting to care and the theme of saving the pubs is becoming popular.