Inn-congruous

Before you next base a half-day out on the information earnestly provided in one of those charming books romanticising a number of suggested pub-walks circuiting within the boundaries of whichever large area of preserved greenery facilitates the weekend exodus from the concretion in which you habitually toil and tire, check first when it was published. Because, unless it was recently, chances are it will – when it comes to the pub details – be obsolete.

I made this mistake yesterday, after being asked to select from among the various pub-studded routes detailed. Even though, over the last decade, I’ve ran, walked and drank variously of the attractions in the big green area in proximity to where I happen to toil and tire, and so could, with a mere modicum of cognitive effort, have summoned up worthwhile suggestion from among a number of play- safe options without the aid of some manual. But why not plump for a change once in a while? And so, after a quick scan, I alighted on a description of what read as a particularly worthwhile final destination, whereupon one could slake one’s worked-up thirst with a decent pint in a proper pub under the self-delusion that it had been earned.

How wrong was I? To assume that a pristinely thatched, black and white building presented as harking from a century when it was legitimate for the monarch to do away with numerous spouses and autocratically alter the course of history; situated in the vague vicinity of a road we’re led to believe once formed part of a muddy thoroughfare for horse-drawn carriages vulnerable to face-veiled, horse-mounted kleptomaniacal men perched at a height ideal for ogling the cleavages of bustiered ladies as they relieved them and their escorts of their fares; near the ‘village’ green field where cricketing men still play fair in a tourist-trapping, Major-esque vision of England?

So, due to the flooding of the next section of footpath, which would have entailed an otherwise lengthening detour, and the drop in temperature, we happily cut short our walk, yomping our return leg by road, looking forward to pint and probable pie in an idyllic inn. Instead, what we encountered as we crossed the threshold was an inncongruity.

First clue was the pseudo-politeness of the uniformed bar-person, in over-keen compensation for the deficiencies on offer. The only ‘available’ ales were the products of a brewery I’m not keen on. And of the three pumps, one was already out of use, followed rapidly by another as my request for a pint was met by an explosion of froth and the announcement that it too was “off.” Leaving the only ale by the brewery I’m not keen on being the one I like the least. And my safe fall-back, Guinness, wasn’t an option, because this place only offered the ‘Extra Cold’ version (so unnecessitating my usual need to specify “regular, not extra cold” when I want a Guinness, because, for some reason, the pouring default seems to be this marketed nonsense). I say ‘offered’ – except this too was “off” (“because we have to disconnect the barrel because it goes bad because nobody buys it.” ?? Go feckin’ figure!). Which left what? One of those small shiny cluster of taps, which includes: one of those cold, ‘smooth’ things which masquerades as a beer supposedly beloved of unpretentious northerners; a particular brand of antipodean lager whose popularity has always baffled me (as has the ‘humour’ in the adverts which promote it); and the token offering of personality-shifting, sparkling apple juice. Oh, and further along, dominating the scenery, a couple of those totemic, garish, chilled chrome monstrosities (brilliant marketing device this, in summer, when the humidity condenses on its surface) which tower above the aforementioned bar-person, and from which is drawn the currently trendy cold stuff. Oh, and not forgetting the chilled bottles in the chiller cabinets.

Having mutually computed that we would not be staying long we settled on a half each of the one I like the least by the brewery I’m not keen on, and had a wander round to decide where to sit, being careful, of course, to look up to make sure we didn’t bang our heads on the ‘Mind your head’ signs above the occasional low doorways in the cavernous interior, which, come to think of it… didn’t have any doors! All knocked through, but, presumably for authenticity’s sake, with the door-less doorways preserved. Historical details to maintain character, and all that. Eschewing the large plush sofas and the carpets, we walked back, taking care not to slide on the shiny polished faux flags, towards a small table and chairs near the entrance… and proceeded to peel cold fingers off glass – due to the beer I like the least by the brewery I’m not keen on being like everything else in this soul-less travesty of a pub – cold. We sipped gingerly of this sorry excuse for an ale the temperature of a lager. And before long the filters in the rear of my abdominal cavity were draining into my protesting bladder like squeezed sponges. I went to the loo, and we got out of there.

Am I now in the age-range that boringly takes such things too seriously? Or have I always done so? I still find myself disgusted the following day… to the point of needing a drink. So, right now, I’m off to a real pub a reachable distance away in a non-green direction. A place I’ve recently discovered, not in some useless book, but in the best of all ways – by chance. It’s tiny; a single room in a corner terrace; with a fine selection of ales – not including the one I like the least by the brewery I’m not keen on – pulled at flavour-optimising temperature. And at 70p per pint less to boot! And I’m gonna sit there for a couple of hours, with a book, and a draft of this rant and a red pen.

Yer pays yer money and takes yer choice. (I think they might even sell cold lager, if that’s your kind of thing.) It’s funny, though; today it seems that we have more options. But it’s a shallow illusion, wherein advertising-driven fads jostle for temporary dominance of homogenised markets which govern our lifestyle choices. But, as long as I’ve money enough to exercise mine, I’ll choose, when the thirst takes me, to spend it on decent beer in unpretentious surroundings, and try (because you can’t always) to avoid wasting it in swanky pubs staffed by uniforms who can’t pour a pint properly.

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