29 July 2002
I've had it up to here with the lot of you. You can take those phony pieces of farm machinery, your amusingly-named home-brewed 'real' ales and your Worzel Gummidge, and shove them all up your fat, bearded arses...
It's typical. I've been away how long? About a couple of years, or something, I think. Naturally, first thing I want to do is go for a cheeky couple of halves at the old local; see a few old faces, put some of the classics on the jukebox, generally relive my wasted youth (in more ways than one). Now look what's happened: Mr J D Wetherspoon has planted one of his sanitised beer 'n' burger joints in its place. No music (because you want to cater for as many tastes as possible at once, and the music might - God forbid - put off a paying customer or two). No landlord (we now have a bar manager, who knows what he's talking about because he's studied it at university rather than being a registered alcoholic). And a no-smoking area. A fucking no-smoking area. It's a fucking pub! There's supposed to be smoke in here! There'll be a non-alcohol area next, right by the kiddies' playpen.
And look at the bland clientele we've been saddled with. Mostly suits out drinking after work, people who've been in the area for about five minutes and are going to move on to the next place in five minutes more. Really arsey sixteen year olds, not the old type who counted themselves lucky not to be ID'd, but right arrogant bastards, looking at anyone out of their teens like a fossil, sat drinking their bottled piss and pretending to like it, using the leverage of Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer to work their way into the pants of their screeching female equivalents (not realising they've left them on the bedroom floor). The occasional refugee from the old times, looking completely out of place but unable to break the habit of a lifetime, drinking his habitual three pints before going home for a meal that isn't cooked for him any more...
George Orwell should be spinning like a turbine in his grave. Fit the right dynamo and we could power the pneumatic drills to bring these bastard monstrosities to the ground... You may recall an article he wrote back in '46, two years before 1984 was released, entitled 'My Ideal Pub'. A pub called 'The Moon Under the Water', with an attentive, busty barmaid, loyal clientele, cracking beer and the greatest atmosphere in the world. Of course (as you might have guessed), the pub doesn't exist; even fifty-something years ago the future of pubs looked bleak. Now, there are about as many 'Moon Under the Water' pubs as there are Red Lions. And they're universally shite. Are these guys even slightly self-aware?
What's gone wrong? Probably the whole concept of the pub as it should be, the 'public house'; just an extension of your front room, with a couple more armchairs and a few pumps. A place for people to drop in, have a couple of beers and a chat, and maybe eat some peanuts. Nothing too strenuous; certainly not standing room only. Kids might be allowed at the picnic tables outside, as long as they didn't feed salt 'n' vinegar Smiths crisps (no Walkers back then) to the ducks, but no running around the inside of the place. No young ladies to speak of, of course, but then you can't have everything, can you?
But I guess that sort of thing just doesn't make money any more. Perhaps we should just ring last orders for city centre pubs in general, make a concerted move towards dedicated bars that do exactly what they say on the tin, rather than a token effort at a real pub. Keep the kids happy with their bottled beverages and loud music, so you can stand and semi-dance rather than awkwardly trying to light a cigarette while holding a packet of crisps, your coat and your pint. Those of us who want to have comfortable drinks can do it at home, or at our mates'. At least JDW won't be getting any of the proceeds...