Here is the piece I've done recently that I'm most proud of. They haven't put it on the web edition so I thought I'd share it here.
It’s one of the most complex and enduring relationships in modern life.
Statistics recently showed that we’re more likely to get divorced and remarried than change your bank. Well, if that’s the scale of comparison, we’re probably more likely to change our bank and love the new one so much that we divorce our partners and marry our bank managers than we are to voluntarily change our choice of local pub.
The ‘Local’ and the ‘Regular’ – each a British icon on their own right – together tell you approximately 84.3 per cent of everything you need to know about the rituals, rigmarole and rhythms of the Great British Pub.
“The usual, John?”
“Jeff been in yet?”
“You can’t sit there, mate. That’s Bill’s chair.”
I remember the important rite of passage to maturity of becoming a regular in my first local, as clear as if it were yesterday. I’d been at St.Andrews University for about six weeks. My new mates favoured one particular pub, the Niblick, because that’s where the second years said they went, and we wanted to fit in and appear urbane. It was run by Tony, a man as physically tiny as his presence was huge, one of those special bar managers who imprints his authority on a pub with effortless ease. A man whose approval you craved and anger you feared, whether you were an eighteen year-old student or a windcreased, hard-as-nails Old Course caddy. This one November night, I walked through the door and looked towards the bar’s golden glow. It was busy, one or two deep, with two people serving. One of them was Tony. He peered over the punters’ heads (not easy if you’re five foot three, but that’s what I mean – once behind that bar, he could do anything), nodded and smiled at me, “Alright Pete!” and had my beautiful pint of Tennent’s Lager – yeah, alright, Tennent’s Lager, I was eighteen – waiting for me on the bar by the time I made it through the crowd.
Tony knew my name!
We were spoilt for choice for pubs in St Andrews. But nine in every ten pints I drank during my university career from that day on were sunk in the Niblick.
The Regular is the person who has his own tankard on a hook behind the bar, and woe betide the newbie who serves him a beer in a different glass. He’s the guy who sends a postcard to the pub on the rare occasions he goes somewhere else on holiday. Who takes quiet pride when a photo of him from New Years Eve gets blu-tacked up beside the optics. The guy who a Leicester Local has to keep an Everard’s Beacon pump on the bar for, because even though he and his mate (they’ve never been to each other’s houses – only the pub) are the only punters who drink it, it’s the only beer they will drink, and they get through a nine between them every week.
This is a relationship with as much loyalty, love, bickering and fractious argument, frustration and fatalism as any great marriage. Each needs the other to survive.
All of which brings me to my shameful confession: I’m currently a bigamist.
When I first moved to Stoke Newington, my closest pub, the White Hart, spoke to me in a way no other pub had since the Niblick all those years ago. I could tell you about the food, the beer garden, the Sunday afternoon footie… It was all of that and none of that. It just felt like my local.
And then, last year, the Jolly Butchers opened just up the road. Eight handpulls standing proud along the centre of the bar. Staff keen to hear from me what beers they should be getting in. Cracking food, a beer and cheese pairing menu I helped put together.
Now, every time I’m in one, I miss the other. And the smiles of the respective guvnors are growing brittle. Whenever I walk in either, it’s “Oh, we haven’t seen you for a while. Been there, with them I suppose, have you?” Recently I’ve been so busy with work I’ve hardly been in either, and now each thinks I’ve abandoned them for the other.
Guys, if you’re reading this, I love you both, very much indeed. It’s just… complicated.