Harry Ritchie

Grandma’s perfect pub

As an emigrant from Scotland, I was taken aback by the weird foreignness of the south of England. Some of the south’s strangeness took a while to register — for example, just how crowded it was down here, and how very much warmer: it was my third summer in the south before it dawned on me that this wasn’t another freak heatwave. Then there were all the very obvious, immediate differences — the banknotes all being issued by the same bank, the way everyone talked and nobody could understand a word I said and, above all, the pubs.

Back home, my local had been one of those scary-looking Scottish places — a flat-roofed concrete bunker with frosted-glass windows, a public house that was distinguishable from a public convenience only by the large, neon T for Tennent’s sign, whose bar staff would rarely indulge in any backchat or bantz that would come between their customers’ half-and-halfs or pints of eighty shilling.

But down in the south, pubs were different. They had sloping roofs. Some of them, especially in what passed for the countryside, were actively pretty. Then again, where was the silent respect for the serious business of getting the paying customer’s blood-alcohol level back up to normal toxicity? Down here, the bar staff were chattily friendly. Often led by that terrible English creation, the character landlord — smug, bluff and given to propping himself up on the wrong side of the counter to joke and jeer and tell you all about himself. Unbay. Fucking. Lievable.

The pub which Laura Thompson eulogises in her new book is one of those gorgeous rural ones found only in England — an unnamed establishment in an unspecified village somewhere in the Home Counties ‘countryside’. It came with all the idyllic trimmings — ‘thatched roof, shuttered windows, white walls with a wobbly grid of black beams… a near-perfect specimen of the country pub’.

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