Crisp crumbs, sticky stains.
Old beer mats and claggy pipes.
My village’s pub.
Or: George Orwell may have been right about Stalinism but he’s wrong about pubs.
Like every fourteen-year-old emerging from 1984, I was sure I’d found a genius in George Orwell. His description of a surveillance state in which thinking was prohibited and truth concocted seemed painfully realistic. Throwing aside my bent library copy of, surely, the most famous Western dystopia, I pledged to read everything this great man had ever written.
And, to be fair to me, I made a good go of it, at the expense of my schoolwork. I read Animal Farm, then Homage to Catalonia. Now an expert on Stalinism and Franco, I turned to Coming up for Air, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and Burmese Days. I read so much Orwell that I deleted any words with Latin roots from my brain. I read so much Orwell that I decided not to go to uni and instead become a potwasher in some labyrinthine Parisian hotel.
After I’d read as many of Orwell’s novels as my local library could offer, I turned to pdfs of his articles and essays. I vaguely remember reading The Moon Under Water but, as a teenager too square to drink underage, it didn’t mean a great deal to me.
The essay is a description of what, in Orwell’s opinion, makes an ideal London pub, and, rereading it now, I have to say it’s bullshit. This supposedly perfect pub sounds like the place you’d begrudgingly go when your local Spoons was being renovated.
Here’s what he stipulated for a faultless pub experience:
- The architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian.
Nothing is better when fitted with “uncompromisingly Victorian” furniture, not even a restored Victorian town house.
- Games, such as darts, are only played in the public bar, so that in the other bars you can walk about freely.
I’m not crazy – I like the idea of darts being confined to a place where they don’t constitute a health and safety risk. But what’s this business about “other bars”? The best pubs I’ve been in have one bar – a polished wood monster – that’s got every kind of alcohol you can imagine behind it. Having a bunch of different ones seems like it’d just end up being confusing.
- The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano.
Admittedly, I’m the most cloth-eared person I’ve ever met. I’ve been known not to notice that music is playing until someone points it out – but even I know that the best pubs play banger after banger. In fact, the very best pubs, particularly the ones that are made up of a few different rooms, offer AUX cables.
- The barmaids no the customers by name and take an interest in everyone.
Maybe this is just me, but as soon as I’m known by name in a place, I instantly go bashful and never want to return. The best barmaids/barmen (barpeople?) are just short of being friendly, in my opinion.
- It sells tobacco and cigarettes, aspirins and stamps, and is obliging about letting use the telephone.
What’s a stamp? #millennialproblems
- There is a snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels, cheese, pickles and large biscuits.
K but that food pretty much sounds rank.
- Upstairs, six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch.
Orwell specifies that this lunch should be a joint of meat and two veg – but for me it’s pie or nothing.
- They serve a creamy sort of draught stout, and it goes better in a pewter pot.
Can’t really argue with this one, to be fair.
- They are very particular about their drinking vessels and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass.
Mate, if the beer’s good, I’ll drink it out of a shoe.
- You go through a narrow passage and find yourself in a fairly large garden.
Again, it’s hard to argue with this in principle – a good beer garden, for the two days a year it’s sunny enough to use it, is a real joy. That said, Orwell goes on to explain that a beer garden means Mum can come to the pub with Dad, since she can bring the kids. Hey, Dad! Mum has just as much right to go to the pub as you do, beer garden or no.