Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

“Pubs,” or, failing that, “What the Hell Can I Say That 25 Other People Haven’t?”

September 21, 2010 · 2 Comments

Before I delve into in analysis of the pubs I’ve experienced in our short month here, I thought I’d start with my two favorite English pub moments. Then I’ll follow up with what I didn’t like, what I did, and a response to Orwell.

First, this evening while watching Tottenham-Arsenal at The Rising Sun, I was involved in the following exchange with an Arsenal fan we had been talking on and off for ~30 minutes:
“Hey, could you guys watch our bags while we go out for a smoke?”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.”
(in a patronizing voice) “Aw, see how nice these Americans are, looking out for us.”
“I mean, we’ve been doing it since World War 2.”
“That’s true, but if you don’t mind me saying so, you could have started earlier, we lost a lot of good coats and bags.”

Second, at the Punch & Judy in Covent Garden (where we ended up leaving sans drink due to logistical challenges) I was the only one in a group of five Americans to get carded. I was relentlessly mocked for this. I’ll remember this moment when we’re 40 and you all look 60, guys. Anyway, now for the actual analysis.

1) What I liked: the beer itself, the soccer, the aesthetics. It seems like an oversimplification of the question, but I honestly feel like it makes a difference in responding to pubs being “the center of British sociability.” In America, where the beer at bars (in my limited experience) sucks, it creates an atmosphere of just trying to get drunk. But if the beer is good, if you can genuinely just sit back and enjoy a pint, that becomes an end in of itself rather than just a means to get drunk and whatever that entails. Another thing that I was a major fan of was that physical beauty was valued at some pubs. While I agree with Mary that the Bank of England isn’t perfect, I was blown away by the architecture and thoroughly enjoyed the torches out front.

2) What I didn’t like: the naked corporate-ness. The menu, down to the font, was exactly the same at the Marlborough Arms/Rising Sun and Court/Rocket respectively. By itself, I don’t care about the menu thing. Pub food stinks no matter where you go. But somewhere deep inside, it bugged me that these pubs were just part of a syndicate and made no attempt to hide it. While on the topic of those four pubs, I simultaneously loved and hated the Rocket and Court. I enjoyed the vibe, the American music, and frankly feeling at home (each time we went to The Rocket, we bumped into a different group of American college students studying abroad). But I hated that I was essentially cheating on England in these places, that they were sucking the Britishness out of the pub for a few American dollars.

3) Orwell’s Ten Commandments of Pubs:
1. draught stout
2. open fires
3. cheap meals
4. a garden
5. motherly barmaids
6. no radio, no loud drunks, games secluded
7. children are allowed
8. china mugs
9. sells tobacco
10. Victorian architecture

It’s not my style to rip somebody, but George Orwell needs to be ripped for this article. Right off of the bat, Nos. 7 and 9 don’t fly with me. I hate tobacco, and because my summer job (which I do love) involves children, one could argue that at times the very purpose of going to the pub would be to get away from kids. Usually, using personal preferences to counter an argument means that your own argument is fairly weak. But in this case, it illustrates why I refuse to put “The Moon Under Water” on a pedestal: all Orwell describes is his personal preferences. There is a pub in London for everyone’s own particular peccadilloes, and in most cases, none is inherently superior to another; it’s just a question of personality.

Categories: 2010 Dennis · Pubs

2 responses so far ↓

  •   patrickmr // Sep 21st 2010 at 19:34

    I’m totally on the same page as you are with the “cheating on England” analysis, Dennis. It almost seems like we haven’t found that real English pub yet- maybe it’s time to actually take some of Orwell’s advice, and walk down the darkened side streets to find our own “Moon Under Water”s.

  •   Karl // Sep 23rd 2010 at 15:49

    Don’t knock pub food until you go to a real pub. The one’s you cite here are all poor excuses for English pubs with bland, and as you note, corporate menus. Pub and corporate should not be in the same sentence.

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