REMEMBERING THE GREAT BRITISH PUB DURING LOCKDOWN - WITH A LITTLE HELP
Updated: Apr 20
Does anyone recall when we went down the pub? When we met with friends to sup beer, talk about it a bit maybe along with sorting out the state of the nation – face to face? Sometimes we even engaged with total strangers. We randomly shook hands with them as we parted. Heavens forfend - how weird was all that then? Viewed from the prism of the coronavirus lockdown, very.
At Beer Tours UK we do sorely miss the pub. And we had some cracking tours lined up for early summer, all blown away by lockdown. Of course, this is as nothing compared with others. One tour was scheduled for the stag weekend of a newly qualified young doctor. Now his wedding is postponed and he is on the Covid-19 front line. Our thoughts go out to him, his fiancé and his much NHS beleaguered colleagues.
All of us have to reconcile ourselves to the sacrifices needed to beat this terrible pandemic. But,yes, we are still very much missing the pub. We even dream about pubs. So, to pass the long evenings I have recently settled down with some excellent beers from Swannay of Orkney and, at a big distance obviously, a chap who really does know about pubs; Yorkshire writer, broadcaster and raconteur Ian Clayton.
Ian has lived and breathed public houses for forty odd years since his first fledgling pints of Tetley's, Timothy Taylor's, Sam Smith's and others long gone sampled around his native Featherstone and the hard drink mining communities or West Yorkshire. He has received a gold gong from the British Guild of Beer Writers (www.beerguild.co.uk) for his book: It’s the Beer Talking: Adventures in Public Houses Ian Clayton (Route Publishing, £12.99)
Ian leads us on an enrapturing romp through his energetic boozing career. He takes us across Yorkshire and other parts of Britain, into Europe and as far as India and China in his search for good ales and cracking tales. Lots of these are raucous, some downright rude, some sad but still uplifting, many hilarious.
Ian's travels in Europe, often with his late German beer and music loving friend Volker, reveal an uncanny knack of finding himself in proper drinking dens, boozing with proper folk, wherever he goes. A very bizarre encounter is with an elderly Bavarian pub landlady who was still hell bent on actively claiming compensation from the French government for a beer debt incurred to her generations old family business by Napoleon’s troops - pure delight.
Illicit pints & cross dressing
What especially endears the book to me is that many of Ian’s drinking adventures closely mirror my own. His early induction to beer at just four years old, with a stolen sip from his miner grandad’s glass of Yorkshire bitter in a Featherstone workingmen's club, really touched a nostalgic chord.
Similar to Ian, I had my first taste of bitter - Thwaites - with my own grandad, a Lancashire pitman, in his Burnley WMC club. I must have been about 10, quite mature by Ian’s standards. And his underage drinking experiences seeking out illicit pints resonate. I started at 16, drinking in Burnley in pubs just as rough and ready as any in Featherstone methinks.
Ian and his great motor biking friend Burt enjoy sessions on Theakston's Bitter and Old Peculier in terrific walkers' pubs where I have had memorable (and some a bit unmemorable) nights - the glorious Old Dungeon Ghyll in the Lakes and the Strathmore Arms in Teesdale, a splendid stopover for the Pennine Way.
Ian gives us some poignant insights into the gritty life of the Yorkshire coalfield. A rugby union playing lad when at grammar school, Ian took up rugby league with Featherstone's tough Jubilee pub team - mainly because he liked to drink in the Victorian built hostelry. The introduction to the his team mates - mainly miners - includes 'Kisser, Stinker, Garrgoyle and Chopper'. Ian's given the moniker of Robinson Crusoe on account of his long hair and beard.
Most of the Jubilee team were in the thick of the Miner's Strike of the early 1980s, a long, hard struggle to save pits that failed and which still touches communities to this day. Ian shines a gentle light on the stoicism of the time, when Maggie Thatcher had closed many collieries.
One redundant character is Roy who does an impromptu ‘turn’ at the 'Top House' wearing a dress, when thrown out by his wife. Ian was there as witness: ‘Roy is like a struggling music hall act crossed with a performance artist, crossed with an escaped clown. He pulls a clothes peg out of his pocket in his frock and says: ‘Anyhow I thought I’d console myself with a couple of beers and our Peg here said she join me, didn't you Peg?’
A very much larger than life character - I met just once - is the late and legendary Tetley Dave. A good friend of Ian, Dave was a former drayman with Tetley and a somewhat dour looking landlord in the struggling yet much celebrated Shoulder of Mutton, Castleford, near Leeds. To help save his pub - on the back of the forties' ukulele playing favourite George Formby meeting his wife at the nearby Castleford Theatre - Dave invites the local George Formby Appreciation Society to regularly play there. Riotous nights ensue, not least with Dave doing a sand dance dressed in full Arabian mufti.
As a former daily newspaper journalist in the North East, who had to sink more than a few pints in the line of duty, I can only take my hat off to Ian’s amazing capacity for quaffing admirable quantities of ale while still recalling the minutia of his stories. His book is full of that almost indefinable pub ‘crack’. But what it is really about, to me, is the friendships you find by going down the pub - often fleeting but sometimes lifetime enduring.
As of last night (Thurs April 16) we now know for sure that we have a long wait in store until we can make a joyous return to the pub, so here’s a short health warning: Ian’s rollicking stories will make you yearn for the halcyon days of supping delicious cask ale while enjoying that magical ‘crack’ with friends and strangers alike. All who love pubs, should read this book. Crack open your favourite beer, settle in and enjoy - and keep very safe. Cheers, Steve