February 14th, 2011Laughter and the Love of Friends: An Elegy on the English Pubby Joseph Pearce
I'm pleased to see an elegiac defence of the English Pub in a recent issue of The Economist. The fact that it is written by the journal's obituary editor might be seen as portentous. The truth is that the traditional English pub is endangered, like the nation that gave it birth. Indeed, and to indulge in an embedded pun, the health of the English pub can be seen as a cultural barometer. If the pub is ailing so is the nation. This was encapsulated by Hilaire Belloc (who else!) with priceless epigrammatic certitude: "When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England." I once enjoyed a few pints in an old pub in Thaxted, Essex, during a long Bellocian hike from London to Norfolk and was overjoyed to see these wonderful Bellocian lines etched above the bar as a timely reminder of the value of the place in which I was standing.
Every true Englishman has certain pubs enshrined in his heart and memory as oases of happiness in the tearful vale of life. In my own case, I remember endless games of bar billiards and many hearty singalongs in the Crooked Billet in Barking, back in the late-seventies and early-eighties; and I recall with nostalgic wistfulness the sheer camaraderie at the Horse and Groom in Bungay of the friends with whom I imbibed in the late-eighties and early-nineties. Such good times and such memories remind us of another of Belloc's maxims, this time plucked from one of his poems, that "nothing's worth the wear of winning as laughter and the love of friends". In light of the number of local pubs that have closed in the past few years, as highlighted in the Economist article, I googled these two pubs and was greatly heartened to see that they both survive, though the Horse and Groom has changed its name to the Green Dragon. Indeed, I note that the Green Dragon is now a brewhouse, which it wasn't in my day. Such a development would no doubt warm Belloc's distributist heart, as it warms mine. There is perhaps still hope for England ...
If your thirst for the traditional English local has been whetted by my own nostalgic reminsicences, I recommend that you read the following article: