I roll into the Ranmoor Inn at half ten or so on Friday night. Not literally roll in, you understand: the alliteration is just irresistible. I’m in a big, grinning group of about 20. My friends from work and their other halves. It’s one of the eternal Great Pub Situations: walking in to a very warm, cosy boozer out of freezing conditions outside. There may or may not be a real log fire here, but given the icy conditions we’ve just escaped and the twinkle of Christmas in the air, it feels like there is.
Perhaps a bit atypically for Sheffield, there’s just one big open-plan room. It’s the Bradfield Brewery’s pub, which is good because we can sup pints of Farmers Blonde and Brown Cow. What’s bad is they cost about 70p a pint more than you’d pay at the Blake. Such are the drawbacks of boozing in one of the city’s better-off suburbs. Still, at least you get to look at some very picturesque local residences on your way in and out.
We squash around a couple of tables. It’s impossible not to become part of the surroundings. One of the surroundings is a sort of self-appointed pub joker type. Some of our party find him a bit annoying. Where does a heart-warming random conversation end and an irritation begin? We cherish the pub for the way it distils the grand multiplicity of life. And that can’t be lovely all the time.
Twenty-four hours later (after a quick couple in Fagan’s) I’m perched in the Three Tuns with a little group of mates on a birthday night out. It’s my first time here in a couple of years, and I’m delighted to see that the place has retained all its great features. The large windows at the point of the wedge-shaped pub, affording a majestic panorama of the surrounding streets and the chance to pretend you’re the captain of a cruise liner. The well-kept selection of cask-conditioned beers. And, in the gents’ toilets, the most magnificent anti-drugs poster the world has ever seen.
Rather than follow a more conventional path, and depicting the ill effects of substance abuse, this poster simply depicts a a lovingly assembled and staggeringly extensive array of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Spliffs. Wraps. Needles. Those little scales. A plastic beaker with some foil on top. Some kind of calipers thing. A squashed Coke can. As a communications professional I have doubts as to whether the messaging quite hits the mark here. As a man in a pub, I’m just so utterly fascinated that I nearly wee on my shoes.
From here we go on to the Three Cranes, which was the subject of one of the most memorable things I have ever read about a pub. Ever since I read it, a couple of years ago, I’ve been eager to go and see. It was written by a work colleague of my friend Mark, who visited one lunchtime and found it to be “the sort of place you could probably buy a snake on a Saturday night”.
We exchange a theory that the Three Cranes makes its living from serving weekday lunches to solicitors. It’s certainly not making a living tonight. A pub tucked away in the obscure periphery of a city centre needs some serious selling points. And, while the Three Cranes does a nice pint, and the service is friendly, and the U-shaped layout is quite unusual for Sheffield, there’s hardly anyone here. And an empty pub feels all the emptier for the overwhelming loneliness of unwatched Sky screens.
It has the potential; it just doesn’t have the people. That marvellous description by Mark’s friend suggested that all human life would be here. But tonight, at any rate, very little human life is here. The snake will have to wait.