Friday, 20 February 2009


I grew up in pubs. My nan was a cleaner in the Barley Mow; my mum started work in a rum & coffee (really!) house in the halcyon days of the beast market in Oswestry, collecting the glasses before progressing to that most holy position of barkeep. When I was young, I would be taken with her to the Bear Hotel, The Butcher's Arms, The Woodlands, and ultimately The Queens, where I was at last - just before my 18th birthday - blooded with a stint serving the punters.

What days they were! Early memories are of playing with my cars while Match Of The Day was on (in the days when you used to get a smidgin of the lower divisions towards the end) the smell of yeast and fags, the taste of crisps and cheese and onion rolls in cling film, the sound of barrels rumbling below, collecting beer mats and bottle tops, playing tick and hide-and-seek in a deserted lounge bar with Kevin Hopkins - the lights of the bandit flashing and free credits on the juke box.

I progressed to holding the fort at The Huntsman on Wilmslow Road (just around the corner from Platt Lane and the mighty Kippax of course) while hordes of funeral-attended Irishmen and women clamoured for service and I was forced to take the Bells off the optic and pour it freehand until the landlady returned from her meal out to rescue me. Where last orders would mean 4 pints of Chinese (BTW, I'm finding it hard to trace this famous Manc mix on the net, though I know I could try harder...) each, and worked my way through Christmas Eves and Days, New Year's Eves and Days, and all manner of smashed bottle affairs. Sitting on an upturned crate at half past eleven with the sweetest half of bitter you ever tasted, sparking up a fag at the end of the bar. Aaahhh!

I became at the same time a more than willing participant in the punter side of pub-going, and remain to this day a loyal devotee of a dying art.

It's a genuine tragedy - IMHO - that (if true, and I have no doubt that it is, based on the evidence I see before me...) thirty-nine pubs a week are going bust in England. Those that remain open are in many instances, I have to say, not what a pub should be. Wetherspoons is perhaps the most egregious example of the modern evisceration of pub culture, with gastro wank at the opposite end of the spectrum. There's still the odd nugget to be found, but they are few and far between, and there aren't that many places left (in fact, probably none...) where you could happily spend a Saturday teatime laughing at the fixed odds choices you made at ten in the morning, surrounded by empty glasses and overspilling ashtrays, listening to the click of the pool balls and thinking about a bag of chips on the way home.

Brings a tear to the eye, it really does.


EP said...

Nice post and brought back lots of memories (though some memories I fear are beyond resurrection...).

I wonder what Peg's Pighole is like today?!

Myeral said...

Cheers. I definitely know what you mean, though there may be an element of memory suppression in my case.

Whatever happened to the Docks, I'm sure it can't be a positive development. One of the best pubs there ever was.

Do you recognise any faces in the pic?

Michael said...

There are still some good pubs around but they're definitely in the minority these days.
The good ones go first.

Myeral said...

Would be interested in hearing about the Riga drinking experience

EP said...

Of course! The couple on the right certainly and is that your nan in the middle? The other two I don't think so. Is that the Barley Mow?

Myeral said...

Good spot - the Barley Mow it is.

The others are my Nan's friend Eunice and Dot who used to run the Butchers when we were too young to drink in there.

Last Orders!

Michael said...

Will do.
I've heard there's a tiny bar near work decked out like a 1970s flat. Probably more interesting than the Old Town's sports bars and oversized Irish pub.

Myeral said...

Fantastic! What is it with giant Irish bars, FFS? Everywhere you bleedin go.

Michael said...

Do Irish people ever drink in them?
I've only been in there the once. There were about ten people in the upstairs part and still they wouldn't turn the telly over so I could watch Hull versus Arsenal.
Have you ever been to the Three Rivers brewery pub in Heaton Chapel?
Proper old style place, that.

Myeral said...

I have the same problem in the 'real' Irish pubs on the Cally Road - especially if there's racing on.

I've never been to the Three Rivers, but will make a point if I get up that way again. Last time in Manchester, I went to a couple of so-so places in Didsbury the night before the match.

Used to love The Whip in Leeds, which seems to still be going, although it was several millennia ago that I last drank in there.