Villages with pubs at their heart enjoy greater community spirit, a new study finds. We report on our obsession with finding the perfect local
Twenty years ago, John Major was ridiculed when he promised that, 50 years hence, Britain would “survive unamendable in all essentials”, with “old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning”. He was, of course, quoting George Orwell, having cut out the section of the essay England Your England in which Orwell talked about the clatter of clogs in a Lancashire mill town and the rattle of pin tables in Soho pubs.
Major was wrong – even 30 years before his self-imposed deadline. Most features listed by the great essayist are extinct or in severe decline. Lancashire manufacturing and attendance at Church of England services are de minimis to national life. And the pub, be it a Soho den or a country inn, is struggling.
But Orwell was spot on. There is something special about a pub. It is here that you will find the true England – a communal establishment in which an individual is at liberty to drink and say what he likes.
Indeed, in another essay he wrote about his “favourite public house, the Moon Under Water”, he listed all the attributes that make it so special, before finally admitting it didn’t actually exist.
The decline in pub numbers does not make for pretty reading. In 1980 there were 69,000. Now there are 48,000 – fewer than the number of supermarkets in the country. In 1979 UK pubs sold 29.2 million pints of beer a day. In 2013 this had fallen to 10.9 million. The mythical “perfect pub” possibly matters more now than it ever did in 1946, when Orwell wrote his article for the Evening Standard (see below).
New research from Newcastle Business School (part of Northumbria University), has tried to prove what many of us have long suspected: pubs are good for social cohesion. A study of 2,800 rural parishes across the country over a 10-year period found that those areas which had a pub enjoyed a greater sense of community. There was more likely to be local football or cricket teams, charity fundraising events and branches of the Scouts and Brownies.
Dr Ignazio Cabras, who led the research, said: “The presence of the pub was statistically far more relevant than a village hall or a sports centre.” A variety of causes have conspired to kill off pubs. They include: supermarkets selling cheap alcohol; the ban on smoking, which was the main reason why some regulars went; the increase in rents, rates and costs imposed by pub companies and local councils; and the rise in duty and VAT set by the Treasury.
Above all, however, a subtle but distinct change in consumer habits has taken place. Britain just does not drink as much as it did. Pete Brown, a leading beer writer and the author of Shakespeare’s Local, says: “Alcohol will always be part of British life, but drinking in big volumes is falling. People woke up and realised they wanted to be fitter and healthier.”
Ten years ago (which was the peak), the average Briton drank the equivalent of about 418 pints of beer – both at home and at a pub or restaurant. This has fallen to 343 pints, with young people, in particular, drinking far less than their parents did. But of those pubs that survive, many are flourishing, because they provide buckets of one of Orwell’s key stipulations: atmosphere.
Paul Moody, who co-wrote The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking For the Moon Under Water, says: “Some of Orwell’s stipulations are obviously a bit dated. Nobody wants to drink beer out of a china mug, and his idea of a great lunch – boiled jam roll – sounds a bit unappetising. But there is a sense that this is a place where the community comes together; even back then he was concerned that the different classes were not mixing, but in a pub they can come together.”
One pub that is very much thriving is the Rose & Crown in Snettisham, Norfolk, which was named as this year’s Good Pub Guide pub of the year. Jeanette Goodrich, who runs the pub with her husband, says: “We value our locals. While it is very nice that we have done up our rooms, the heart of the place is the drinking side of the pub. The great majority here are regular drinkers.
“The staff know the regulars, and the regulars know they can walk in and that there will be one of their mates there to talk to.”
Another successful pub landlord agrees with Goodrich that great pub staff know their customers (even if they shouldn’t call them “ducky”, as Orwell stipulates). Richard Binks, tenant of the White Horse pub in Tilbrook, Cambridgeshire, says: “We remember what they drink. Ideally, we’d see their car pull into the car park and we will have their drink ready and waiting for them on the bar.” To encourage regulars, the pub offers a loyalty card as many coffee shops now do.
Though pub numbers have declined, the number of small brewers has grown substantially over the last decade. And the quality of beer at most pubs has shot up, most experts agree. But knowing locals’ names and serving good beer is just one of the secrets to a “perfect pub”.
“So many British pubs are corporates, run by managers,” says Brown. “Orwell understood that a great British pub is where the personality of the institution is dictated by the personality of the landlord. 'My gaff, my rules,’ as Al Murray [the comedian who has made a career out of playing a pub landlord] says.”
But good pubs can and should step beyond the threshold of the saloon bar and into the local community, as the Newcastle Business School study suggests. The Rose & Crown in Snettisham, for instance, sponsors the local football and cricket teams – and not just for altruistic reasons. It guarantees that a group of young men come in after training for a pint. “They are good drinkers,” says Goodrich.
And persuading an 18-year-old to buy a pint of Adnams, costing £3.30 in the pub, rather than a can, costing £1.40 from Tesco, is a battle landlords need to win.
Many good pubs conspicuously court families with children – not something that every beer drinker agrees with. Binks says: “We think that if we can get the kids to convince the adults to come to the pub, then it’s a job well done.” His pub even has an animal-petting area at the end of one of its large gardens, where the children can gawp and prod a few goats, sheep and chicken.
This, curiously, would have won Orwell’s stamp of approval. He did not agree with the (then) ban on children entering pubs. “It is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children — and therefore, to some extent, women — from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing shops instead of the family gathering places that they ought to be.”
Orwell, socialist but libertarian, understood that a great pub was a symbol of English liberty. This, despite the smoking ban, still holds true. “This is why Nigel Farage likes to be pictured outside a pub with a pint in his hand; it is a crucial part of his appeal,” says Moody, who argues that nobody can be that objectionable with a pint in their hand.
As in Orwell’s day, it will be impossible to find the absolutely perfect pub. The one with a roaring log fire in winter, a welcoming landlord, smiling staff, with good food and better conversation. But the search is one worth making. As Moody says: “Sometimes the perfect pub is just one that’s open.”
George Orwell’s ideal pub
In 1946, George Orwell, the novelist and essayist, wrote an article for the Evening Standard about his ideal pub – the fictional Moon Under Water.
For him the pub would have the following 10 attributes:
1 On a side street, to keep out the drunks or “rowdies”.
2 Most of the customers are regulars and “go there for conversation as much as for the beer”.
3 Its look is uncompromisingly Victorian – “everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the 19th century” – and there is a log fire in winter.
4 A dining room upstairs, where you can get a good solid lunch. Only snacks are served in the evening.
5 Downstairs there is a public bar, a saloon bar and a ladies’ bar.
6 No radio, no piano. It is always quiet enough to talk.
7 The barmaids know the customers’ names and call them “dear”, but never “ducky”.
8 It sells tobacco, stamps and even aspirin.
9 The beer (including a “soft, creamy stout”) is always served in a glass with a handle. Ideally, a pewter or china pot.
10 There is a garden, with a slide and swings for children. It is “puritanical nonsense” to ban children.
He wrote, at the end of the piece, that he had only ever found a pub with eight of the 10 features.
I was going to post this on my logblog page (and I still may), but there is so much more to this photo than just an old log cabin.
I think poverty was the first word that came to mind.
From a log cabin point of view the cabin is just a dismal representation of a home.
I have visited and taken photos of better built barns and sheds than this mans poor home.
I am of course assuming a lot here.
I am assuming this is his home. I think I am right, but we will never know for sure.
It looks like he may have an injury on his left foot.
Logs are holding down the roofing shingles.
There is a door. And a window, although no glass.
Boards over the gaps between the logs.
But what is also incredible here is the home made violin(?). All of it made from a block of rough cut wood. His bow is a bent twig! A bent twig.
Like I said, I am assuming a lot here. Maybe it is a chicken coop or shed or small out building, but I don't get that feeling.
I hope who ever he his he one day found a place to really pursue his love of music.
Before he became a best-selling author and beloved country vet, Alf Wight was a frequently hungover student and riotously entertaining diarist
When you read the diaries that Alf Wight kept as a veterinary student in Glasgow in the Thirties, it soon becomes apparent that he was a PG Wodehouse fan. It’s there in the Wodehousian language: “In the morning, I endeavoured to assimilate some chemistry,” he writes. Or: “In the afternoon I toddled along to the baths.” Or: “I plied my books with commendable industry.” He even signs off with a “pip, pip” in one entry. And if further proof were needed, he writes: “Got out Love Among the Chickens, a PG. I laughed at it all afternoon.”
The more I think about this, the more it makes sense. What Alf went on to write, under the pen-name James Herriot, became a publishing phenomenon. His vet stories sold 60 million copies worldwide and stayed at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists for months on end. Part of their appeal was that they portrayed the lives of hard-bitten farmers in northern England as evocatively and whimsically as PG Wodehouse portrayed the lives of decadent aristocrats in southern England. There may have been considerable differences in style and tone – the Herriot stories include sad and poignant passages, which you never find in Wodehouse – but both authors were writing nostalgically about a halcyon world that had long since disappeared. The Herriot stories were, after all, set in the Forties and Fifties, yet they weren’t written until the late Sixties and Seventies.
I am shown the diaries – which have never been published – by Jim Wight, Alf’s son, who is himself a retired vet. We meet in Thirsk, the cobbled market town in North Yorkshire which was given the fictional name Darrowby in the vet books. Jim grew up “above the shop” and then went on to work in it, taking over his father’s practice. On a tour of the surgery – now a James Herriot museum – he tells me of how his father would sit down in front of the television after a hard day calving cows, or treating foot-rot in ewes, and write his books on an Olivetti typewriter. “He would do it in half-hour bursts while watchingNationwide,” he says.
He shows me the old car that belonged to “Siegfried Farnon” (real name Donald Sinclair), the vet who originally owned the practice. “He used to have a very eccentric way of driving,” Jim says. “Using his elbows to steer while cupping his chin in his hands. My father found it very unnerving. There was no heating in the car and on winter days he would be stupefied with cold on the journey over to the Dales.” Although the veterinary surgery was in Thirsk, much of the filming for the television series All Creatures Great and Small was done in the more scenic Wensleydale about 20 miles away, as well I recall because my father’s farm there was used as one of the locations. (And if the stars of the show, Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy, ever wondered who that strange boy was who kept hanging around the set staring at them, it was me.)
At the time, most farmers in the Dales were bemused by the fame of the local “vitnry”. One day Alf was operating on a cow and was going through the process of closing up the wound when the farmer suddenly said: “Ah’ve read one o’ yer books, Mr Wight.” This came as a shock to the vet because he hadn’t supposed that any of the farmers had read them. He hardly dare ask what his opinion was. The farmer replied slowly: “Aye, why, it’s all about nowt!” Alf took that as a compliment. It meant he had captured farming life so accurately the farmer couldn’t understand why the books were considered fictional, and couldn’t see why others might consider farming folk eccentric. To him the stories were mundane.
The novels and the television series covered Herriot’s experiences of working as a veterinary surgeon in the Yorkshire Dales in the Forties and Fifties. But one aspect of his life they didn’t cover was his student days in the Thirties, and these are about to be the subject of Young Herriot, a BBC drama series to be shown this Christmas. You can see the dramatic potential. The veterinary college he attended in Glasgow was a deeply eccentric place with “a glorious insouciance”.
According to the young Alf Wight: “I was transported into a world where nobody seemed to care whether we learnt anything or not.” In appearance, the college was “a low seedy building covered half heartedly in peeling, yellowish paint crouching apologetically among grime-blackened, decaying apartment houses… There was a common room with a few rickety chairs and a battered grand piano, which was mainly used as a card table, and a hatch in the corner which serviced tea, meat pies and the heaviest apple tarts in Scotland.” As he had been brought up in a Methodist household where there had been no swearing, gambling or drinking, college life came as something of a shock to him. In his diary, he recorded his first impressions of his fellow students. “They are a queer crowd here, all types and kinds, but decent enough.”
Queer is the word. Some of the students took up to 14 years to finish the five-year course, which delighted the college authorities, as long as their fees were paid on time. The “veterans of a thousand failed exams”, as Alf Wight called them, could have stepped straight out of Wodehouse’s Drones Club. They spent most of their time playing poker on top of the piano in the common room. They even did it in lectures and at times the professors could hardly be heard for the clatter of coins being placed as chips.
Even Alf got sucked into this gambling habit for a time. When he found he owed everyone in the college several shillings, with no means of paying them back, he saved his daily allowance by walking to college instead of getting the tram. He also filled up on cheap apple cake so that he could miss out meals. When he eventually saved enough to pay his debts, the old veterans were bemused. No one had ever paid them back before. “Paying gambling debts,” one chuckled. “You’ll come tae a bad end.” Alf recalled one student, McAloon, who had only managed to get as far as the second year in the curriculum after 14 years. He held the record at the time but many others were into double figures. McAloon was held in especially high esteem and when he finally left, he was much missed. One professor pointed at an empty seat and said: “Mr McAloon sat at that stool for 11 years. It is going to be strange without him.” Had he finally passed? No. He had left to join the police.
The Glasgow Herald captured the atmosphere of the college in a report about its prize-giving day. “The platform party was met by thunderous applause and banshee shrieks when they entered the hall. The opening remarks of the chairman were met with loud interruptions and the speaker was threatened with early hoarseness. Someone had inserted a goldfish in his water carafe. After his first few sentences he raised his head and was confronted by a dark brown skull revolving slowly on a cord from the ceiling in front of his face.” In his diary that day, Alf wrote: “The prize giving. What a rag! They hissed the unpopular profs, cheered the doctor and sang ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow’ and bawled remarks at the big wigs as they entered. I enjoyed it, I can tell you.”
Another eccentricity of the place was the dissections. Some of Alf’s diary entries are brutally descriptive: “This morning hacked the forelegs off a horse.” And on January 24, 1934 he wrote: “They were cutting greyhounds’ throats in another lab next door and did they yell! I felt I wanted to charge in and sock the blighters who were doing it, but that’s just not done of course.” As John Lewis-Stempel reveals in his bookYoung Herriot, animal bodies for necropsy were trundled along the streets of Glasgow on carts, and overflow dissection classes were done in the entrance yard of the college, in full view of passers-by. The college was also able to use dead bodies from the zoo so they would practise their post mortem examinations and dissections on zebras, lions and even an elephant.
But it wasn’t all jollity at the college. The young Alf Wight was prone to bouts of depression. In one diary entry he writes: “I have been getting intermittent fits of the blues of late, but I don’t know what’s up. I’m sure I’ve got nothing to complain of.” And of the library where he had to swot up on animal husbandry he wrote: “That place depresses me. You can almost hear the brains throbbing.” As well as occasional bouts of melancholy, he was also prone to injury and illness and on one occasion he had groin strain after a run and “put chillie [sic] paste on my bad leg and it gave me a real hot time”. Already it seemed he was showing his willingness to be broad-minded about remedies, as he would later be when treating animals (one of his cures for horse colic was a raw onion up the rectum).
That was a minor setback compared to the rectal pain he suffered as a student. The condition developed into a discharging anal fistula and would dog him for the rest of his life. This acutely painful affliction affected his ability to concentrate fully on his studies, especially as, without the antibiotics that would play such a big part in his life as a vet, he suffered from septicaemia. The only treatment was to go to bed with a raging temperature and bathe the area in hot water in an attempt to keep the infection under control. With good humour, though, he would describe himself as an expert in “arseology”:“I’ve had several operations on the old posterior, all of them agony, but I’ve had enough! No one else is going to have a go at remodelling my backside. This lot is going in the ‘box’ with me.”
As well as the diaries, Jim brings out his father’s college photographs. He shows me a picture of Alf doing a Nazi salute with his friends, one of whom has a Hitler moustache and side parting. Youthful high spirits indeed. But most of the photographs reflect his sporting prowess. Alf was a keen college boxer and footballer. He was also a fanatical Sunderland football fan (and would one day become president of the team). In his student diaries he always noted the scores, in one case adding in capital letters underlined “SUNDERLAND DEFEATED BY DERBY AT HOME”.
In some ways he could be a typical student, one who was always skiving off to go to the cinema with his mates. Though you suspect he can’t have been that lazy, given that he had read the complete works of Dickens by the age of 15, he was nevertheless quite hard on himself in his diaries. “GROSS LAZINESS” he records in capital letters across three days of his diary. Another entry reads “loafed about” while another reads: “I could kick myself for being so lazy.” Like most students, he liked a drink. “Got on last train home from boxing match in Edinburgh. Most of the lads were a trifle happy and some definitely tight. Ate a lot of bacon sandwiches, chips, chocolate and beer, stagger in at 10 o’clock great stuff!… I’m afraid we were rather boisterous.” The next day he records: “Gosh, it was awful getting up this morning.” There are even intimations of an early love life. On February 14 1934 he wrote: “Got a Valentine — GEH?” Another entry records that a girlfriend had written: “Thanks for a wonderful night in Dublin.”
Even more colourful than the students at the college were the professors. Most were retired vets. Some of them were deaf and short-sighted. The professor of botany and zoology did his job simply by reading from a textbook. Quite often he would turn two pages at once by mistake, but he never noticed until the class drew his attention to it by a series of yells. He would then look over his glasses at them, smile indulgently and turn the page back unabashed. “We were very fond of him,” Alf wrote, “and cheered him to the echo at the end of every lecture when he never failed to make the same little phrase. ‘Well gentlemen,’ he would always murmour [sic], forgetting that there was one girl in the class. ‘I see by my gold watch and chain that our time is up.’ He accepted the ensuing standing ovation graciously.” His professor of pathology, meanwhile, scared everyone. “Burley, black-browed, smouldering-eyed, he could cower every one of us with a single look.” Another professor was a man of mystery who no one ever saw arrive or leave. One student claimed to have seen him flash through the wall of the pathology lab leaving behind a strong smell of brimstone.
Alf was to look back on his treatment of these professors with a mixture of affection and guilt. “We really plagued these poor old men, shouting, laughing, and throwing things around, playing practical jokes. Our professor of histology was almost completely deaf but didn’t seem to mind as he mumbled contentedly through his lectures with the hubbub raging around him.” His favourite professor was Hugh Begg, who taught him parasitology. He offered a piece of advice which the young Alf would never forget. “Gentleman,” he said solemnly, “ye’ll never make veterinary surgeons until every last one o’ ye has filled a 40-acre field full o’ carcasses!”
On December 14 1939, Alf Wight qualified from Glasgow Veterinary College. He had taken six and a quarter years to complete a five-year course, but by comparison with some of his contemporaries, this was considered speedy. This is how he summed up his feelings about his alma mater: “Though the course was out of date and inefficient, there was a carefree, easy-going charm about that whole time, which has held in my mind in a golden glow.”
It all started on May 9th, 2008 with this; Welcome to my blog. This is a first for me, since I don't usually like these sort of things.
The first image I posted was two post later and a small illustration I did for a kayak publication;
I don't know what I really had planned for this.
I think I was hoping it would be a good platform to encourage me to do more art work.
In that sense it has work.
I started at the very beginning posting some of my cartoons for a Sherlock Holmes group I belonged. Then in May of 2009 I started an ambitious project of trying to do a tree a day for a year to improve my tree drawings.
The announcement came in this form.
It was a small tree I did in Microsoft Paint just to get going.
I guess the plan worked in many ways. Although It got spread over more than a year my trees got better and I ended up doing over 370 drawings that I ended up calling 'QS' for quick sketch.
I think, besides an avenue for my art I wanted to have the blog be somewhere I could post things I found interesting, whether it be a personal matter like family events or other artist or topics I found interesting.
My most prolific year had 207 posts, me least 105.
But the amount posted here also changed when I started two other blogs on subjects I found interesting that meant I did not post as often here.
My daughter probably got more post here than any other topic. It was a good space to catalog our 'expeditions'.
Although the blog would be in existence for almost a year before I would start posting her here.
One of the first would be her having her first high tea in London 2010
She's a little bigger now.
Social media like 'facebook' has really changed the world of blogging I would imagine.
But even though I was unsure how I would like it in the beginning I ended up loving the format.
Some times my other blogs take time away from this one, but I do try to make an appearence here at least a few times a month.
So I hope it has been as much fun for you, both my readers, as it has been for me.
Well, I guess we weren't. But after listening to NPR this morning I guess we are now.
Recently a 'new' old manuscript by Ms. Potter has been found and is being published. As most people know a big part of the charm of her books were her wonderful illustrations of her stories.
Unfortunately, with her recent marriage and WWI coming on she never got around to illustrating 'Kitty-in-boots'.
So to go along with this new publication they had to come up with an illustrator to do the stories justice.
They choose Quentin Blake who is possibly best known for illustrating the books of Roald Dahl.
Well, besides this all being great news for fans of Potter's works, it got me thinking how much I enjoy visiting an artists studio, past and present. Many museums have acquired artists studio and many have been preserved so we can see if not how at least where they worked.
I have visited a few and hope to see more. It is also a treat to visit present working artist studios and see how they use the space, as well as how they 'decorate' their working environment. Some are simple and sparse, while others cluttered and filled with inspiration.
Here are some pictures of Mr. Blake's and a few others.
Dad's old Cricket team St Louis very early 1960's. Dad is front row, second from the left.
The short man, back row, forth from the left name was George. He did not drive as I remember so he and his wife would travel to many cricket games with us.
His Royal Highness Prince Charles stands for lots of things I find interesting and believe in.
The preservation of the rural landscape and historical buildings.
Maintaining a sustainable agriculture program.
He is a very accomplished painter himself, and in this video he helps explore art through the Royal Family.
A lot of talent hidden in there.
It also looks at how art was once very important in education and how it was very important before the age of film.