Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Dancing Up a Sandstorm at the Moons Over My Hammy: Pubs and Pub Culture

September 12, 2009 · 4 Comments

Shame on you, Mr. Orwell, for stealing my pub blog post opening gambit: talk about all of the little aspects of my idea of a perfect London pub only to reveal that regrettably (spoiler alert) no such pub exists. That was totally my plan halfway through your essay! Sure, you wrote yours 63 years earlier but, come on, mine is actually for a grade.

With only three and a half weeks of London under my belt I wouldn’t profess to know as much as George Orwell about London pubs, but I had intuitively been coming to the same conclusion before I read The Moon Under Water. No pub (speaking for myself) comes even close to appealing all the time. If I want to have a quick pint or two and a plate of chips with a few friends on a weeknight, I’ll go to the Marlborough Arms. If it’s a weekend night and there’s nine of us and I want to be packed like a sardine and converse in my loudest American voice to cacophonous strains of either Aha’s Take On Me or Franz Ferdinand’s This Fire, I’ll head up to The Court. If I’m feeling adventurous and looking for something new, I’ll head farther afield. I’m surprised Orwell found a single pub that even satisfied eight of his ten criteria, actually, although it was a different era and he’d been to a lot more pubs than I have.

I don’t think I’m really getting that much of a sense of British culture through going to pubs yet, but it certainly does seem to be one of the only public spaces we’ve seen that does seem to have any degree of sociability. The English don’t seem to usually be gregarious with people they don’t know ever ( be it on the tube, in the park or at a pub), but it is the only place we’ve seen the English really commune with friends and share stories, celebrations, anxieties etc. This obviously is the same with American bars, but the ubiquity of pubs (although they’re getting less ubiquitous) and the fact that it’s socially acceptable for everyone to go seems to make them more of a fixture in British life. I’ve sensed some disappointment that so many pubs actually seem to have a mostly age 30-50 clientele, but I think that’s proof that pubs are a centre of everyone’s social life , much in the way that bars were in the US until about the 1970s.

I have a feeling going to pubs in Norwich will give me a lot more insight into pub culture in England than being in London has. I would imagine pubs will be even more central to social life in a city without the myriad other diversions London has, and the lack of tourists and recent city transplants will perhaps make for a more typical English pub scene with more regulars and lower prices. I know I’ll be comparing and contrasting the experience of going to pubs with other students and the experience of venturing into pubs in the city (and comparing and contrasting the places we go as well) once we’re there.

Oh, and Mr. Orwell, let me tell you about my favorite London pub. It’s a little off the beaten path but still close by. It’s called the Moons Over My Hammy, after the borderline inedible Denny’s breakfast entrée and thus is full of ironic Americana décor. However, everyone there (but me) is English, and unusually gregarious. There is plenty of seating indoors but a good atmosphere out on the pavement, too. There’s a different football match on every TV screen, and you don’t need to buy a drink to watch. The music is always great and (this is most important) every hour starting at 10 (on the hour) Darude’s techno-pop hit “Sandstorm” is played, and everyone dances intensely for its duration. Oh yeah, “Sandstorm.” I understand this is fanciful and unrealistic, but so is the idea that there ought to be a pub somewhere just for you.

Categories: Aidan
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4 responses so far ↓

  •   mliberty // Sep 12th 2009 at 19:07

    I wish this was Facebook and I could just hit “like,” but alas no such luck. SO consider this my LIKE of this blog post, very much!
    On an English major level, I adore the sort of op-ed writing style you take on in this post. I can really hear your voice and almost imagine you 60mins Andy Rooney style, as you discuss your pub experience. Also, love the Orwell references (major it’s the English major in me AGAIN!) and your use of music to describe the various scenes.
    On a fellow traveler note, I would also agree with your assessment of the pubs, in that I too have yet to find them to be the window into English culture” that I was hoping. Here’s looking towards Norwich then!

    (Megan N. Liberty likes Aidan O’Shea’s post)

  •   hankreas12 // Sep 12th 2009 at 19:29

    Interesting point about the British only showing any degree of sociability when at a pub or consuming alcohol. I wonder why this is? It always confuses me when there are groups of people on the tube that clearly know each other yet don’t say a word to each other during transit.

    I also agree with your prediction that Norwich Pubs will give us more of an accurate view of the surrounding area than a London Pub will. I’m intrigued to see how common it is in Norwich for pubs to have “regulars”.

  •   aidanoshea // Sep 13th 2009 at 12:43

    Megan, I’m glad I so remind you of Andy Rooney. I think he likes Sandstorm, too.

    Henry, in hindsight I wish I hadn’t implied that pubs are the only place for real sociability since I just don’t think we’ve had access to any other social spaces yet. For example, I wonder if there’s a space like our HUB at UEA that kind of serves the same purpose on campus, and I wonder what the equivalent social space would be for older Brits.

  •   Karl // Sep 21st 2009 at 06:34

    Note that places of sociability may well vary greatly by class, gender, ethnicity, etc.

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