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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Sunday, 3 June 2007

Portland - nice beach, wouldn't wanna live there

"Portland has a pub on every corner, but many are 'locals only'".

"There are several pubs in Fortuneswell, but none that you'd really want to take anybody in to impress them. Many of them are notoriously rough places, with histories of violence."
When we go away somewhere, I often get frustrated with the amount of research Liz does beforehand. Surely there can't be that much that needs looking at? And then, I found the above comments about pubs in Fortuneswell on the island of Portland, at the end of Chesil Beach - after spending a week there. Ah well, at least there weren't too many distractions from the writing, which is why I was down there. Days were profitably spent pulling historical notes together, while Captain stared intently at me from the sofa.

Captain pretending to be Princess Diana in the classic shoot by Mario Testino.

I did go to one pub late one afternoon, and I wanted to share the story because I think, while it's a story about one pub, it's also a story about pubs in general.

This pub isn't violent or threatening, but it's definitely a local's pub. The barmaid panics when I order a pint of Bombardier, pointing to the two hand pumps on the bar and saying, “What, one of these ones?” before opening the door to the back room to see if there’s anyone else to help her. The half-hearted way she does this reveals that she knows there’s no-one there, but she doesn’t know what else to do. It’s her first day, and with general encouragement from her friends at the bar, and a bit from me, she chooses a glass.

“Does it matter which one?” she pleads.

“So long as it’s a pint, I don’t mind,” I smile, trying to be encouraging, not scary.

Eventually, I have to say, she produces a perfectly poured, perfectly conditioned pint of Bombardier. I spot the concrete and picnic tables outside the back door, sheltered from the constant wind but catching the sun as it's just starting to change down gears, and I go out to sit down with one of the books I'm using for research.
Everyone else seems to prefer to stay inside. I wonder if this is because of the rather large dog currently standing on one of the tables, owning the entire space, barking at an unseen enemy over the fence. As I sit down the dog appraises me critically, rearing up on its hind legs to give me a good sniff. Looking a little closer, the only loose objects in the beer garden are distinctly doggy. In fact this is not a beer garden but a boneyard, a monster’s lair from a fantasy film.

Soon I’m joined by two small children who decide it would be fun to goad the dog. Then there are five of them, all trying to provoke the dog in different ways. Parents come out every now and then, clock the situation, the size of the dog, the increasing hysteria of the children and shout at them. What they shout is “Here are your crisps!” dropping packets onto the nearest table before ducking back inside.

“What are you doing?”

An eight year old boy is standing next to me, squinting into my face.

“I’m reading a book,” I reply, realising as I say it how stupid I am in my tiny hope that this will carry the hint that I want to be left alone. Of course it won’t . He’s eight. It’ll only mean more questions.

“Are you writing about it?”

“Yes,” I lie, making sure he can’t see what I’m scribbling into my notebook.

“How long have you been doing it?”

“A long time.”

“Are you writing a book?”

“Yes”

“What about?”

“This book.”

“Man, I don’t get that,” he says, shaking his head, switching his attention from me back to the dog.

I re-read about a third of a page of William Hickey's memoirs before “DON’T DISTURB THE MAN!”

A seven year-old girl is standing by the table staring at me, shouting at her four year-old sister, who whimpers “I’m not”. Of course she’s not.

“Do you like writing?” asks the older girl, chronic short-term memory loss having eradicated her stern warning of a moment ago.

“Yes.”

“Do you like typing?”

“Well, yes.”

“That’s my favourite, typing.”

“Is it? That’s good.”

“You have very neat handwriting.”

“Thank you.”

“I like your phone.”

“Thank you.”

“What are you writing about?”

“Beer and pubs.”

“I like pubs.”

The boy rejoins us and they ask me where I come from. When I tell them London we have a debate about whether London is busier than the Isle of Portland (“I like to read books but I just don’t have the time these days” sighs the seven year-old girl who lives in this sleepy seaside fishing village.) Then we have an argument about whether there are any real-live Power Rangers in London. The boy is an authority on this subject and dismisses me out of hand when I suggest there aren’t.
A picture of some pub regulars

At this point the dog gets over-excited with the young, four year-old girl and starts playing a bit rough. I grab the dog’s collar and hold it off the girl while she curls up into a ball, sobbing. The screams of the kids attract the adults, and a bloke comes out, socks the dog on the jaw and takes it inside.

“And leave the man alone!” shouts the bloke as he disappears.

“I’m HELPING him!” shouts the older girl.

By now I’m feeling really out of place. I wonder if I should be here, in the middle of all these kids, like an interloper in a kindergarten – a feeling that, as a middle-aged bloke on his own, makes me feel quite self-conscious. Then I remember that I’m in a pub, a place I’ve always thought of as an adult’s playground. I come to places like this to get away from children. And here’s this eight year old girl, helping me, by telling me how much she likes pubs.

Time to go.

6 comments:

Stan Hieronymus said...

A wonderfully told story, Pete.

Having spent more time - but not really much time at all - in pubs outside of London than in we were under the impression before last year that pubs were places you went with your family.

(Although in your story "parking the kids" seems more accurate.)

Keeping mostly to London on our last trip we were constantly frustrated by how kid unfriendly many pubs - particularly Fuller-run, it seemed - were.

How could this be good for the future of pubs (and cask beer)?

Pete said...

I almost entirely agree with you Stan - the more a pub is seen as a place that is welcoming to the whole family, somewhere that's not 'off-limits' to people who aren't hardened drinkers, the more pubs can only be seen as normal, healthy parts of society - if families go there it broadens the mix of drinkers and generally improves the standard of behaviour.

But one thing we see quite a lot of now is parents taking kids to the pub when either the kids really don't want to be there, and so kick up a fuss, or the kids are ignored and left to their own devices, and so they kick up a racket.

I'd support the right of anyone to take children to pubs up to the point where, as an adult, you start to feel outnumbered and outgunned!

BLTP said...

I reckon it's because you mentioned Rabbits

Stan Hieronymus said...

Before we went in the Jerusalem Tavern, in London I asked the publican if it was OK to bring our daughter.

His answer: "If she is well behaved."

Seems like a good rule.

On the other hand, we were in the children's section of the Denver Public Library last week and came across three different screaming (and I do mean screaming) babies in strollers.

I don't think I'd like to see any of those parents bring their children to the pub.

Donavan said...

Well behaved is in the eye of the beholder. I often travel with my wife and son (who has been going to brewpubs with me since he was born; he's now four). Brewpubs in the US are easy since they are (usually) also restaurants and thus kid friendly.

In London I had gone to Market Porter (on Stan's recommendation, and a good one too) before my wife and son joined me. I liked the place so much that I wanted to go back with my family, but upon arrival was told that kids weren't allowed (well behave or otherwise). The Wheatsheaf next door, a Young's pub, was more than happy to have us. The beer wasn't as interesting, but at least we could sit have have a pint while my son had a lemonade.

I always try to be sensitive to the other pub guests when visiting with my son and a few times I've decided not to go into a place because wasn't prepared to sit and play quietly.

Recently, on a trip to Houston we found a roadside grill with a patio bar in the back. Next to the patio bar was a fenced in sandpit filled with children's toys. We sat in the shade while my son played and drank ice cold Dos XX, Negra Modelo, and Shiner Bock from the bottle.

thebeergod said...

Children in pubs is a good thing, a good pub is for the whole community in the way churches were in the Middle Ages (I’m told) when people used to wander in and out along with their cattle, chat and have church ales. The real problem is with some of the people in some pubs who should be rounded up and put onto a small guano-drenched concrete island in the middle of a large municipal pond where nobody sails their boats and made to drink out-of-date cans of Kestrel Superstrength. If my lad wants bad behaviour he can get that at school from the special needs kids. My lad has been going down the pub since he was three weeks old and knows how to behave, to him it’s a sort of cafĂ© where he gets a J20 and a bag of crisps or something to eat, while his dad gets the ale in. London is dreadful for child-friendly pubs, not all of us want Barnaby Bear, Power Ranger outlets or whatever they are called for our kids, believe it or not. Dogs are good in pubs, are more entertaining than some of the locals, unless you want the terrier I once saw do a dump in the bar of a south London pub. Now that did put me off my Winter Warmer.