Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Canal pub, what canal pub?

On our recent cruise we tried where possible to visit a few of the old traditional and in some cases famous canal side public houses. I lived as a child in an area where the pubs catered for the Coal Mining or Steel Industry. I can even remember pubs that had sawdust on the floor and in reality were hard drinking, hard living and hard fighting establishments. There were non of these namby pamby bouncers on the door. Not unless you were referring to the latest skint drinker asking for credit to be bounced off the front step by the pub landlord. These types of establishment died with the changes in the community they clung on to. It has to be said it was often for the better.

However, I remember a time when almost every rural village had several pubs to choose from. A time when few provided anything other than at best a cheese sandwich with optional pickled egg or at worst a packet of crisps or roasted peanuts. But these pubs provided often for a small local community and each had their own regulars.

However if you wanted good home made food, you would go to a canal side pub where there was always much more choice. Canal pubs had that reputation for providing much more than the usual half a dozen different beers. The canal side pubs always had some sort of home brew entertainment with people singing or retelling ever taller tails. The pubs had an atmosphere all of their own. Each with their own "regular" clientele who had their "usual" drink and was supplemented by a regular supply of passing trade.

Many of the run of the mill pubs around town underwent modernisation in the 80's and 90' s and were then "themed" by filling shelves and walls with loads of old tosh and a few old photographs. Call me old and cynical, but I don't ever remember going into a "real" pub that had 30 different types of accordions or railway lamps festooning the walls. Well not until they were gutted, rebuilt and themed.
In its place came fizzy Lager from an aluminium cask, pressure squirted into a glass. offered as a worthy replacement for a nurtured beer from a wooden barrel drawn through a hand pump. Even beer in a bottle was changed to lager in a ring pull can. 

These updated pub have now gone through a second transformation and are now big, bland, open plan spaces with none of the old pub look and feel. Now they are built to a common layout and if you visit one, you are visiting them all. Pub group decor standardised down to the same curtains and coverings. The same alcoholic drinks and the same food menu. The old character and its community dragged out of every stone in the fabric. All that's left is the old pubs name.

Gone are the old landlords and individuality, in come the managers and the corporate theme. Now we see many of the pubs that had been "modernised" being closed.The social aspect of the pub has been cleared out - our local is now just the same as any other local. The individuality long dead as is live music, darts, dominoes, crib and god forbid even the tap room or snug conversation. Now the new pub is the supermarket, the snug is our living room and the entertainment a television set.

Walk through a town centre now and every pub has loud music. The just through puberty clientele stands in line marshalled by bouncers. The local police provide a taxi home for the binge drinker who loaded up on alco-pops before leaving home. From time to time one reveller falls into the canal on their way home. There is an outcry about canal fences and a gaggle of flowers long withered are left to mark the spot.

Traditional British Pub - RIP.


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