As English pubs open today, 4 July, I thought it as good a time as any to try to put into words why I love certain pubs and fear for their future.
Perhaps my proudest moment as a father was when one long boring Sunday my daughter who couldn’t have been more than four at the time, said, in her south London accent, “Dad, shall we go to the pub?” I once overheard her playing ‘going to the pub’ with one of her friends. She was teaching her friends the game, explaining how to order crisps, apple juice, and beer for daddy. I was half expecting to be reported to the social services.
It’s not that I drink that much, a couple of pints at most, but those moments sitting with my daughter by the fire talking about which My Little Pony is my favourite, I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. I think one of the best things to happen in Britain in the last 20 years is that children are now allowed in pubs (though only if they are well-behaved). As a child I remember the long hours, probably only about half an hour, sitting in the car eating crisps whilst my father went to the pub.
The first pub I took my daughter too was the Hare in Bethnal Green. The noise soothed her as a newborn and the locals would coo at her while my wife had a well-earned half of Aspall’s and me a pint of Landlord. Incidentally, the Hare is the only pub where I’ve ever had ‘a usual.’ Once my brother tried to order something apart from Landlord and Kylie, the barmaid, corrected him. Another proud moment.
If I have a spare hour, I like nothing more than to have a pint on my own and watch the world go by. I have that first sip and my worries fall away, time seems to stop, and the world seems more vivid but with a sort of fuzziness around the edges. I feel a general benevolence towards mankind. Suddenly those thuggish-looking men in Arsenal tops seem like salt of the earth types.
We moved to Lewisham in 2013. It wasn’t why we moved but south east London is peculiarly rich in the kind of pubs I love, unspoiled, defiantly un-gastro, a little rough round the edges and with excellent beer. Places like the Dacre Arms in Lewisham, the Blythe Hill Tavern in Forest Hill and our family’s favourite, the Dog and Bell in Deptford. The latter in a back street by a sprawling 1930s council estate near the Thames; it’s not the kind of place you stumble across. The landlord is Irish and the clientele is a mixture of old locals, newer locals like us and beer enthusiasts, it’s got a great range of real ales at mid 00s prices, £3.40. In fact the whole place feels like the last 20 years never happened. My daughter loves it especially when the landlord’s grandchildren are around.
The Dog and Bell is the place we miss the most now that we’re in Faversham in Kent. I admit a large part of the appeal was the numerous pubs, and the sprawling Shepherd Neame brewery at the heart of the town. Inevitably, it dominates the scene, owning most of the pubs including our favourite, the Anchor down by the creek, and I have to say that I do get a bit sick of the ubiquitous Masterbrew. Happily, there’s some good freehouses, the Elephant with an ever-changing selection of beers, the Shipwright’s Arms on the marshes which does Goachers, two micropubs, Furlongs (which I’ve been calling Furloughs recently) and the Corner Tap.
The town was missing its heart during lockdown though the smell of brewery brewing helped keep my spirits up. And it was good to see Furlongs and the Elephant doing takeaway beer. Today, the town is bustling once more as the pubs have opened up though sadly, I won’t be going. My wife having lung problems and being pregnant is considered high risk. In fact, part of the reason my daughter and I used to spent so much time in the pub together is a couple of years ago my wife’s lung problems were particularly severe.
Faversham is unusually rich in pubs but it used to be a lot richer, almost every road has a corner pub that’s now a house. I haven’t counted them, but there must be at least 20 former pubs in town. The famous Ship is now a beauty parlour. Oh the times! My worry is that the kind of pub I love, a place that relies on locals drinking rather than food, is doomed if things don’t go back to normal soon. Many were, I’m sure not terribly profitable before lockdown but partly run because the landlord or landlady loved the job, the chatter, the locals. If people have to keep apart, taking will be down dramatically. How many of my favourites will be houses in five years time?