An English pub deserves ranking with the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal, perhaps more so because of the way its architecture is embellished by the people within it.
It starts with a rich brew of pub names which, in my county of Dorset alone, includes the likes of the Piddle Inn, the Silent Woman, Worlds End, the Boot, True Lovers Knot, Oddfellows Arms, the Tickled Pig and the Grasshopper.
Many pubs have a simple tale behind that name, a good example of which is my old village’s pub in Doddiscombsleigh in Devon which was called the Nobody Inn.
That tale goes back centuries and involves a weary traveler walking along a country lane who comes across the pub. He decides to break his journey and have a tankard of ale and a meal, but despite repeated knocking on the front door he could get no answer as there was nobody in. And that’s how that pub got its name.
Then there’s the pub’s actual architecture.
This can range from chocolate box scenes when the pub has a thatched roof, black wood beams, white plasterwork and is perhaps set near a duck pond or open fields to more industrial pubs which may just have a red brick slightly wider frontage on an ordinary street, their presence only revealed by the sign swinging over the entrance.
What can happen inside is a tribute to this country’s quirky approach to drinking establishments because I’ve seen ancient coaching inns which look absolutely glorious from the outside but which are a disaster in plastic once you step inside.
By contrast, ordinary looking pubs can reveal some wonderful quirks if you pluck up courage to venture inside. One simple example of that is the Wellington Arms in Weymouth which contains a large history board inside plotting the record of landlords there back into the 19th century. It even has details of when it was “damaged by enemy action” during the Second World War.
There are pubs with spires, pubs with weird roofs, underground pubs, pubs up staircases and even, God bless ‘em, pubs in former religious buildings.
The décor inside will always include a few ornaments, various pictures and perhaps a horse brass or three, but beyond that it is what the landlord can think of or tolerate.
One pub used to have a macaw in a large ornate cage who had a long list of victims who spilled their beer when the bird screeched while the number of pubs containing a glass case with some impressive fish in it is legend.
A recent trend has seen some pubs go for the telling famous quote picked out in black paint copperplate on some prominent section of wall or ceiling such as W.C.Fields’ gem: “A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her!” My favourite of his is: “Always carry a small flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”
But, when it comes down to it, the people who use the place make an English pub what it is.
There will be Old Bill who comes in for two halves of best bitter every Friday night and who feels the whole world has gone to Hell in a handcart ever since Churchill died.
By contrast, there will be “Mad Mohican” Mike, a teenager proud of his ability to drink ten pints of Snakebite even if he doesn’t remember doing so.
And then there is the lovely Wanda, a warm-hearted slightly overweight 30-something who is sure Mr Right is waiting for her just around the corner…..and while she’s waiting she’ll have a double port and lemon please!
No pub would be complete without its “lads”, a loud, proud and unbowed bunch who talk loudly, use the “f” word a lot and provoke widespread sighs of relief when they leave.
There are many other characters including the family with a baby “you’d think they’d have a high chair in this day and age”, the loving couple who sit and gaze soulfully into each other’s eyes while their beer and wine get warm and, of course, the group of girls dotted with butterfly and seahorse tattoos and armed with piercing giggles and skirts which are either up to their waist or down to their ankles like a tent.
It takes all sorts but that is all part of the charm of the English pub. Cheers!