Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: My Dark Places

Summer heat and the British drop the stoicism the better to display their collective inability to cope with this unexpected weather, a failure typified in attitudes to pub going.

The ideal summer pub, you see, is a darkened place where sheltered from the heat and the light and the frenzy you can transcend the physical here and now of summer. It should be calm and quiet too - at least all the silly sods will be out in the open air.

The problem is that soon as it gets warmish, the newspapers love to produce guides on the best places to drink in the summer; here is one from the Guardian, for example. I don't mean to pick on the Graun, much, because the publication doesn't really matter; you can pretty much guarantee that anywhere named in a newspaper as the ideal summer drinking spot will soon come to resemble no such thing.

Leaving aside the question as to whether you really want dozens of Guardian readers over-running an agreeable riverside boozer (of course not), these things are written under a flawed premise: that what you really want to do is spend hours out in the sun drinking.

A bit of sun's okay - fine if you're out for a swim or a stroll, and it's good that it draws out the young ladies flushed radiantly in their flimsy summer dresses; but for every one of those there will be a good half dozen lobster-red men who should know better in flip flops and shorts or women displaying acres of flesh that should be discreetly covered. People become fractious and loud. And as for dogs and children in the heat, words fail me.

For reasons that should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of self-awareness Britons, booze and hours of sunshine are a bad combination. Partly because it's so many people overdo the wrong stuff - strong, chemically enhanced lagers, white wine with the taste chilled out of it, or cheap cider. Mostly though it's a failure to understand that the pub is a shelter.

So just as in winter the sensible thing to do is hunt down somewhere with a fire, in summer the drinker's natural instinct is to find somewhere cavernous, dark and calm. Ideally you want a place of marbled stillness, or else a pub with dark wooden walls and high windows that only allow the odd sunbeam to pierce the still air. An old Victorian gin palace would be ideal (perhaps something like the Crown Liquor Salon in Belfast). The walls should have the patina and nicotine stains acquired through decades of serious drinking. (Alas that the smoking ban prevents one shrouding oneself in smoke the better to provide a barrier between the pub and the summer heat).

In other words, you want a place in which time is temporarily suspended, in which you can contemplate the graver mysteries of life, love and drinking. Naturally, you want the company to be small and select (not least because you do not want the busy, foolish clamour of the silly sods who will be spending hours out in the sunny swilling booze). If you cannot find anyone like minded, look for a place where the clientele understand the value of silence or who, through their dedication to the drinker's craft, have been temporarily rendered speechless. (These will at least be roused into life should any affected Guardian-reading tossers enter).

As for what to drink. First a practical note, any fool can serve beer in the winter, the summer heat will winnow out the pubs that can't keep a pint of beer in good cask condition. You could do worse than go for a summer special ale (Adnam's Regatta for instance), but why not follow the example of those who live in places like Africa and the Caribbean and drink stout? Guinness is great in the summer, just don't bother with that extra cool shite. You can't glug it, true, but that's probably a good thing, and its sweet, refreshing taste will restore your energy and enthusiasm when you feel sapped an enervated in the heat. It's dark and cool qualities encapsulate the attributes of the ideal summer pub.

I could tell you a few places that meet the criteria; but I'm not going to list them here. Don't want them over-run after all.

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Anonymous Your Only Man said...

'We had gone out there to pass the beautiful day of high summer like true Irishmen - locked in the dark snug of a public house.'

Brendan Behan

12:59 pm  
Blogger bill said...


1:22 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

I despise the Guardianization of otherwise pleasant aspects of British culture. The problem is, where Guardian readers go, their opinions go also.

6:58 pm  

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