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.