Pub visits this week 4
Locations Sheffield, Cleethorpes
So what happens to your pubbing at Christmas? Do you dive for cover as the once-a-year drinkers colonise your most beloved boozer? Or is there a secret place you retreat to, a haven of civilisation, ale and somewhere to sit where the part-time pubgoers never reach? Do you get out on Christmas Day? All the assumptions and norms of getting to the pub can fly out of the window in this final week of the year. There may be chaos. This can often be hideous, but it can also be unexpected and occasionally kind of wonderful. Please post a comment if you have one.
I am about to pass Thursday morning with my last-minute Christmas shopping. Last-minute Christmas shopping tends to be stressful and demanding. So it will be necessary to go and unwind afterwards by meeting some friends for lunch at the University Arms. Except it doesn’t quite work out like that. Sheffield city centre is surprisingly quiet and the shopping is all finished by half past ten, so I go and sit in the library and read for a couple of hours. None of this is remotely stressful and demanding, but I decide to go and unwind in the pub anyway.
Knots of lingering academics and workers populate the tables, a little more sparsely than usual. A sign explains that the Uni Arms needs some unforeseen refurbishment, so after Christmas Eve it’ll be closed until some time in February. That’ll be a burst pipe, will it? Just having the one beer at lunchtime is nearly always difficult, as your imagination sallies forth into an epic drinking session lasting all afternoon and most of the night. It’s even harder today because they need to sell all the stocks of cask beer before the closure, so they’re flogging them off at two quid a pint.
On Friday, Christmas Eve, my little family travels over to Cleethorpes to spend the weekend with my mum and her partner. At night the tide comes in and the looming moon reflects in the inky depths of the Humber estuary. The Kings Royal is busy, warm and festive. It’s just a shame I’m too tired and ill to enjoy it.
I’m not the only one suffering a little weariness: on Christmas Day my girlfriend, son and two brothers are all taking a snooze and there’s ages until dinner. So I take myself off to Willy’s, my favourite pub along the seafront, and put away two swift pints of Old Groyne, a strong, heavy ale made in the microbrewery at the back of the pub. There are the usual ageing couples doing lunch, and for the most part it feels like any other Saturday afternoon here. But of a group of good-looking lads aged about 21, all are decked in itchy Christmas jumpers, and about half have brought their mums along for a yuletide sup. Their mums have made a special effort and got all nicely dressed and hairbrushed. It’s a cute old scene alright.
By Boxing Day, inevitably, we all need a stroll to shake off some of that festive fug. The Trawlerman on North Sea Lane is perfectly placed, a mile and a half from my mum’s house, south along the seafront. On paper, it ought to be OK. The service is good, there are two cask beers on, and the Christmas decorations are really pretty. But it’s exactly the sort of pub that I’d be more than happy never to set foot in again.
Why? It’s one of those pubs that are designed for families to eat Sunday roasts in. You know what it will look and feel like inside even before you enter. It will have one large room with lots of empty space. It will be bright and busy, and so lacking in character that it will feel less like the pub than a visit to MFI. It will have that particular kind of unpleasant meat smell that only arises where the word ‘carvery’ is on display. Then you go in, and you’ll find out you were absolutely right in every way, and a little piece of you will die. And the two cask beers are Pedigree and Hobgoblin. Whoopee.
The one redeeming feature here today, remarkably, is a model of a trawler made entirely from Carling cans. But if ‘family pubs’ like the Trawlerman were the only pubs families were allowed into, I’d have had a vasectomy years ago.