Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Refurbished Zoo

Once upon a time we had a bar in our town nicknamed The Zoo. It was so called not only because of the plate glass window along the front of the bar where habitual drinkers sat and stared out moodily at passers-by, but also because of the behaviour of the clientele.
A constant row seemed always to be taking place in that vandalised and smoke-blackened bar-room. People hurled insults at each other across the room in the ripest of language, although the arguments, no matter how endless and fierce, never progressed beyond verbal combat.
It was good to go there and quietly enjoy the spectacle. Alternatively, if you felt like letting off steam, it was equally good to join in. Leaping to your feet you could roar across the crowded hubbub;
"YOU, you f**king bastard, shut your f**king hole!", or some such pleasantry.
Yes, it was a wonderfully refreshing experience and one left feeling light as the air, having gotten all the aggression and rage out of one's system. Far better, and cheaper, than a visit to the psychiatrist.
But now the owners have spoiled it all. Recently the premises was closed for a fortnight and was fully refurbished. Gone are all the old slashed sofas and greasy tables and the place gleams with new paintwork. No-one feels at home there any more. The creatures of The Zoo have been scattered to the four winds and the old place is as quiet as the grave.
I went in there yesterday and heard no swearing and not even a single cross word.
What a let-down! I left feeling all bottled-up and frustrated. There was no relief to be found.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Waggon at Eighton Banks

A generation or so ago, if you had mentioned The Waggon at Eighton Banks, near Gateshead, people would have thought you meant a railway truck. For this area was once one of the hubs of the thriving North-East coal industry, employing hundreds of men and working day and night.

Now, sadly, all is dereliction. Since Thatcher's feud with Arthur Scargill, all the pits have been closed and all the associated work in the area has come to an end. Some of the buildings still survive, like the incline hauling station shown opposite, but most are in the process of being ground up to make rubble for hardcore on the roads. It's a sad sight.

But the nearby Waggon Inn is thriving - and rightly so. Here you can get an excellent home-cooked meal for a very reasonable price, big portions too. There's none of your standard menu stuff as dished up in the chain pubs. The Waggon cooks on the premises and I can recommend the home-made steak and kidney pie and, most especially, mince and dumplings, if you can get there early enough before they run out!

They serve a good pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, but my favourite has to be Mordue's Workie Ticket, a bitter beer which retains its head right down the glass.
Yes, I would say that if you are interested enough in our industrial heritage to go and visit Eighton Banks, you could do a lot worse than to stop off for a pint at The Waggon.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Soft Furnishings

If I were a pub licensee, I would certainly keep soft furnishings down to a minimum.

On a recent visit to Haworth, I was driven out of two pubs by the pong. In the first, The Black Bull, the smell of dogs was very strong and I certainly wouldn't have liked to eat there. I like dogs and like to see them in pubs, but they cannot help but leave their scent on the carpets where they lie.

In the second pub I visited, there was a lingering smell of cigarette smoke. I'd better not mention the name of the place in case they are foolishly ignoring the ban (I don't want to get anyone into trouble) but actually, I think it was because the place needed refurbishing. It's very hard to get the stale smell out of carpets (and clothes!) so I suppose years of impregnation has taken it's toll (as the guy said to his wife after their fifteenth kid).

No, if I were a licensee, polished wooden floorboards (like in The Gunmakers, Clerkenwell, my son's gastropub) and simple wooden or metal furniture would be the order of the day.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Goodbye to The Alkali

The Alkali, the oldest pub in Jarrow, has finally called "last orders" and has been converted to offices.

The pub opened in 1857 to serve the nearby chemical works, where soda (alkali) was produced from a process involving the evaporation of seawater. The major problem associated with the job was that the process released hydrochloric acid which was very harmful to the workers' health, although some employers had the nerve to suggest that it was actually good for them! It cleared the lungs, they claimed.

No safety equipment being provided, workers who did not like having their lungs "cleared", were obliged to "muffle up" as a rudimentary protection.

Despite the hazards of the job (blokes like the pair shown in the photo rarely lived past 50), times were so desperate that there was no lack of takers for the jobs. Irishmen flocked to Jarrow and set up a bit of a colony around Church Square, near the ancient ruins of Bede's Monastery.

Working people will always make the best of things, however, and I have no doubt that many a raucous night occurred at The Alkali when the workers had a bob or two in their pockets.

But now their ghosts will be finally laid to rest.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

The Belching Olympics

Yesterday, arriving too early for visiting time at the hospital, I went into a nearby pub to sink a pint whilst waiting.
At first I thought that I had come across a swearing contest : everyone in the place was addressed as a c**t and no sentence, or even part of a sentence, was complete without the descriptive and imaginative use of the word f**king.
But I soon discovered that it was in fact a belching contest I had stumbled across. In fact, it was possibly the belching Olympics. A thickset middle-aged man who looked like he had suffered a hard paper-round started the proceedings with an explosive offering. Glancing round, I noticed that this performance impressed no-one. All the c**ts sat stoney-faced.
Next came a wet, crackling effort from a huge, bald, tattooed f*cker, but this drew no comment whatsoever. I soon knew why - they were all waiting for the champion, a little bandy-legged fellow wearing a cloth cap!
His contribution, which I cannot find superlatives enough to describe, almost lifted the roof and drew roars of protest from the assembled company:
"For f**k's sake, is there no peace in this f**king place, you c**nts?"
Apparently not.