I write for a living, sometimes edit, have produced magazines, but these days it’s mainly writing and researching for articles that fill my days (though I still enjoy sub-editing, there’s nothing like roasting an inept writer’s words Flashman-like in front of a roaring coal fire as I rediscovered during the editing of 1001 Beers To Rule The World With Before You Die — no names I’m afraid). Writing books is part of the job.
The latest one is out at the end of the month — it’s called Great British Pubs and is published by CAMRA Books. Coffee table book for the recession perhaps, nice paper, not glossy though, colour pics, a chance to write, my take on pubs, mine alone, no other writers, an echo of George VI in the summer of 1940, something along the lines of thank heavens for no allies to pamper (I wonder if Garrett Oliver felt the same after a while?). Over 200 pubs get a page each and I’ve written 500 word profiles of each one, trying to see the pubs from a totally different angle than a guide book (yes the opening hours are there and the phone numbers but it’s a bit like a lot of my DT columns — I’ve tried to paint the colours of the pub).
For instance, the Dolphin in Plymouth name checks both TS Eliot (the women come and go…) and Beryl Cook (and would usually end up in a painting by her) — and in a marvellous piece of serendipity a group of Cookesque women bustled into her old local whilst I was sitting there one blustery Saturday afternoon. Is the Rake a fop or a garden implement? Cask is a room, but a room filled with many earthly delights. In Laxfield you can set your watch by the sight of the Kings Head’s locals emerging from their homes when the church clock opposite strikes six. The Bunch of Grapes has good grub, whilst the jalapeno omelette at the Anchor in Walberswick is an ideal breakfast start up. The Red Lion in Cricklade (where I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Stroud Brewery’s Brewers Garden with a pea fritter and chips yesterday), the Pub in Leicester (Beckett-like in its minimalistic name), the Black Boy (see the stuffed baboon in his kilt), the Three Tuns (both in Bishops Castle and Bristol) all appear within these pages. You might not like every pub here but it’s an honest attempt to write about pubs in a way that tries to bring them to life and makes the reader want to wend their way there (and god knows they need the support, the pubs that is not the readers), whether it’s in search of a session at the Babbity Browser, an I-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside moment at the Lord Nelson or the Turf or just a canoodle with Sarah Hughes at the Beacon. It’s about beer and people, for as I have written in the introduction:
‘Beer is the currency with which we spend our time in these pubs, the rich seam of gold that makes British pubs such a valuable part of our national heritage. We are a beer nation, a beer country and we are part of the beer belt of northern Europe (the German speaking lands, the Czech lands, the Nordic countries, the Low Countries, even the northern part of France where beer always takes its rightful place on the table); we are the sons of John Barleycorn, who according to the old poem must die every harvest before being reborn in the following spring — the golden promise of resurrection.
‘People. Then there are the people as well, the people who tell stories (for what is the pub but a place where stories are told), the people that define the local neighbourhood, the people who make the jokes that lighten up the pub and lest we forget the people who serve behind the bar and keep the whole show on the road. The pub is a public house where people gather. Yes they gather to drink beer but they also gather to pass the time of day, to celebrate their good fortune, their marriages, their birthdays, a winning steak on the horses, to meet their friends, to remember their friends. I go to the pub to meet people and drink beer.’
It’s out on November 1 —so don’t forget: we are a beer nation.