A whiff of nostalgia

Posted: January 17, 2011 in humour, miscellany
Tags: , ,

As an expat, one of the things I miss about England is the pubs. Even as a recovering alcoholic of some years’ standing (as opposed to being horizontally comatose somewhere) I love the craic and the bonhomie of a good local which you rarely find outside Blighty. But then I could just be being nostalgic about that peculiarly English trait of nostalgia, as the food critic AA Gill (also a born-again non-drinker) evokes so perfectly in a piece about an Oxfordshire pub in this week’s Sunday Times:

Pubs are my personal past imperfect, but they’re also redolent of the national nostalgia. Pubs are the votive archive of Englishness, with their feudal names of landed aristocracy and plodding occupations, their bosky and mawkish decoration — the fading pictures; the horse brasses; the engraved glass; the tack of defunct crafts suicidally hung from rafters; those greening photos of cricket teams and charabancs; darts trophies; the autistically blinking jukebox, with We Are the Champions and My Way; the witty mottoes; the damp beer mats and the smell of sour lees and urinal disinfectant. Pub is such a strong brand: so plainly and coarsely us. The boxed, yeasty essence of Blighty. They are the living rooms of the poor, the snugs for the lonely, the dispossessed, the nagged and cheated, and confessionals for the great, whingeing, halitosised British boor.

I spent a great deal of the first half of my life in the mud of pubs, watching the motes fall through mullioned sunlight at 11 o’clock in the morning. The silent scream of boredom and despair, the fantasies fending off the fanfare of failure. The first sour mouth of beer, redolent of armpit and vomit, the warm tabloids neatly folded to crosswords and racing at Lingfield. The shuddering regulars, laying out their spots at the bar, like an office desk, two packets of Senior Service, lighter, ashtray, cloudy spectacles, Telegraph, pen, and the haltering, dumb non sequitur conversation delivered at the optics; a web of mutual delusion and self-pity, pathetic expectations and excuses. Now, when I walk into a pub, I can still hear the phlegmy snigger, the creaking whisper: “So you’re back, are you? We’ve kept a seat for you.”

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