|Issue 5 - May 1972|
|One of the
most important centres of social activity is of course, for most people,
the public house. This has been generally accepted since the first
Benedictine monk started brewing mead in the cellar of the local monastery
(those were the days). However, since people began to lose the ability
to provide their own entertainment in the form of darts, dominoes,
shuv ha'penny etc and the night club scene became popular many pubs
found it more economical to become 'night clubby' or 'trendy'.
This is becoming more and more true even in Durham. Many of our nicest pubs have been taken over by the dreaded wall to wall carpet and plastic decor. Me being no more than a naive hippy myself, I didn't contemplate that these horrors of the consumer society would ever infringe upon the few human pubs which are left.
However, one night whilst enjoying a few pints of good draught ale in the good old General Gordon my fantasy was shattered. The landlady - the most delightful Mrs Margaret Saville (or Peggy as us regulars call her) - told us that the traditional hand drawn pumps were to be taken out and replaced by the less romantic (and I reckon nastier) electric pumps.
This is no fault of the landlady and apparently no fault of the brewery either, but the blame is believed to lie with the government, who in all their wisdom say that the old hand pumps are unhygienic.
Any old ways the electric pumps were installed late in April and draught exhibition was replaced by Keg Ex at 14p a pint. Peggy was not able to choose for herself, or on behalf of her customers, whether or not to stick to the traditional hand pumps. Not only has the pleasure of drinking 'real draught' been taken away from us but pubs are not allowed to keep their old pumps as ornaments either.
It is believed that this move against the freedom and discretion of a person to drink his favourite draught will be made on every pub in the country - if it is, in fact, the government move it will certainly apply throughout the country. Remember this country is a 'democracy' which according to my state school education means rule by the people from the people for the people, so if this is the case let's have a vote on whether or not hand pumps stay in your local. If our democratic right is denied we will be forced to set up, like free schools, 'free pubs'.
If these moves against our social lives aren't thwarted now what will be their next move? Their first was to replace the old wood barrels with wood simulated steel ones. This was necessary, however, because the coopers trade came to an end about two years ago and the old wood barrels were deteriorating rapidly. Then came the 'trendy orientated pubs' now this tanked and electric pumped beer.
Since the electric pumps were installed I have spent some time asking people whether or not they agree with the move. The vast majority reckon that the beer is as good now as it ever was and that they liked the electric beer. However I had a discussion with a canny bloke about this and he suggested that even though, in the old days, you could go into a pub and have a lousy pint of hand drawn beer, you could go into another pub and have a pint of hand pumped ecstasy.
This in fact is the crux of the matter, once upon a time we could go into a pub and discover, first of all, the social standing of the place, and close second the standard of their beer. After some time we could settle for a pub of both good character and good hand draught beer then spend the rest of our days enjoying both. These days things have changed, we go into a pub and can be sure that we get a moderate pint of beer and usually pretty mediocre company.
What's more, it has come to my notice that there are very few pubs left with yer traditional hand drawn beer and even these will shortly be taken over by electric pumps.
As if this wasn't enough, I have been told that a very popular, and apparently the oldest pub in London, has got a half-pint beer vending machine in the bar. The pub, the Prospect of Whitby, is so well frequented by tourists and trendies, that the bar is often too crowded to be served there. Thus yer vending machine came into being.
Can we let this continue? Many pubs have already got plastic pint pots and if you have ever drunk out of one of these nasty containers you will know why I'm complaining. You may think that this is irrelevant, but the chances are that in another five years every pint pot in the country will be plastic (see how quickly electric pumps came into national use).
I can almost see myself in a couple of years time as an old man ordering a table-spoonful of instant beer and stirring it up in a litre of water and calling it Exhibition.
The pubs have been good to us in the past; let's return the favour and fight to keep their individuality and identity.
For God's sake keep on grumbling.