Pub visits this week 3
This ‘big society’ thing, then. It looks to me for all the world like a painfully transparent, back-of-a-fag-packet effort to paste some philosophical and moral validity on to a snarling Thatcherite agenda of slash and burn, fuck the poor, and every man for himself. The idea of schools and libraries run by ‘communities’ and ‘volunteers’ – for which, read ‘clueless amateurs’ – is quite clearly horrific.
So much for public services. What about public houses? Could you and I make a better job of running a local than the pig’s ear often made of it by the big pubcos? A North Yorkshire MP (and therefore a Tory) called Nigel Adams is introducing a private member’s bill which would make it harder for property developers to turn pubs into car parks or flats. The bill would mean local authorities could insist on developers needing planning permission before they could destroy pubs. Private members’ bills are hardly ever passed, but this one might get taken up by the government as part of its ‘big society’ legislation.
Assuming that the local council is friendly to the cause, the bill could be just the thing to save pubs in the situation of the Wenlock Arms – a viable business, going up for sale, which could be even more ‘viable’ if it’s knocked down and replaced with offices. But then there are cases like the Coachmakers Arms – probably the greatest boozer in the Potteries, which Stoke-on-Trent City Council wants to smash into rubble. What protection can pubs and pubgoers look to when local authorities are their worst enemy?
Just like a power cut, there’s something about an epic weather event that lends a special sensation to sitting in a pub. Indeed, I’ve particularly fond memories of an evening spent in the Washington in 2007 with a group of people comparing their Sheffield flood stories. So it’s Tuesday night, it’s Dan’s payday, the Grimsby Town match has been postponed, and naturally I’m walking to the Blake Hotel through snow that’s piling up past my knees.
These adverse conditions mean it’s the least busy night here, apparently, since the Blake opened about three weeks ago. No problem – this just means more Blue Moon for me, Dan and Tonieee. What a great pale ale it is. Take a mouthful, and a vast tract of flavours unfurl invitingly before you like tracks on a map. Gulp it down and its lunar glow comes out to light your way. Ha! Sometimes I love writing about beer nearly as much as I like drinking it.
In between gasping through the window at the sheer volume of snow accumulating outside, Tonieee and I get talking to a friendly bloke at the bar about the state of the world. We seem to reach arcane territory with giddying speed, and before we know it he’s telling us to go home and Google for something called dark pools (the Wikipedia entry would probably frighten me if I could understand a word of it). He seems a nice, caring type – and I’d much sooner talk to conspiracy theorists than racists, say, or baby eaters, or Nick Clegg – but I must admit some relief at getting away before he can ask whether we’ve heard of the Bilderberg group.
Foundation X, that’s where conspiracy theory is at these days. That and FIFA, obviously.
On Friday it’s going to take ages to get back from work. The snow’s still deep, and it’s no longer crisp and not particularly even. So two minutes after preparing for the long walk home, I find myself in the Stag instead. Located between affluent Nether Edge and well-heeled Ecclesall Road, the Stag is essentially a pub for people with more money than me. So normally I’d feel a bit unwelcome here. The best draught beer is only Sharp’s Doom Bar – a sort of Tetley bitter for the 2010s. And I’ve got sore, blistered heels from my walking boots, though I can’t really blame that on the pub.
It doesn’t bode well, then. But there’s the camaraderie of huddling from the snow. There’s the agreeable company of the nice folks from the company I’m doing some copy writing for. And there are some very pretty Christmas decorations up. They’ve put a good deal of effort into those. Somehow the Doom Bar doesn’t seem too bad. Somehow I decide to stay a bit longer than I planned, and end up taking a little nip of rum – just to keep the cold out, you understand.
Then there’s a walk through a snow-bound cemetery, then there’s a shared taxi with a random law student, and then I fall into a Pete-shaped space around a table in the Rutland Arms with some of my favourite people in the world. The cosy cheer is irresistible, much like the beer, and the snow is threatening to pile down again at any moment, just as it did back in January, when I was starting properly to rediscover this most charming and characterful of pubs. In the nicest possible way, in the arms of the Rutland, it feels like this year is turning full circle.