Thursday, 4 August 2011

As soon as this pub closes

This post is the result of inspiration given by a comrade on Twitter, who recommend what I consider is quite a wonderful song and preformed by Alex Glasgow - As soon as this pub closes', is indeed a really great rendition of a distinctly amusing folky song, of a socialist who will put the world to right after the pub has closed. The song triggered off a great many memories for me, being from a generation of socialists who always mixed political agitation with a few beers after a meeting, and yes, with every intention to do whatever  was needed to be done after the pub closes.

As you can see from the photo above, a London pub The Coach and Horses (New Cross) demolished some years ago now. Well, things just ain't what they used to be then? I never went into this particular pub, so can't make too much fuss about its demise then. But I do think it is important that there is a balance between places to live and places to socialise and it dose seem to me that more of the latter are disappearing. In fact CAMRA estimates that six pubs a week are closing in London, and I don't see too many new ones opening.

Research carried out has found that the north-west had the highest number of pubs closing and going up for auction. But the area that brought the biggest asking prise was London, with a former hostelry costing £2.17 million per site on average.

The Conservative MP for Northampton South, Brian Binley, would like people to be able to be allowed to smoke on the premises if they go into separate rooms with adequate extraction systems. And according to Binley, the total smoking ban brought in by the last government was "draconian and crass".

The pub is one of Britain's great institutions, once, and indeed for centuries at the very heart of our community in our cities, towns and villages. They are sadly being killed off today by factors ranging from the greedy pub chains and cut-price cheep alcohol to the smoking ban and punitive taxes.

Sinking a pint or two just ain't the same anymore, and for old beer drinkers and politicos like me, we see that things have changed a great deal, but I am left with a great many wonderful memories of what was for many working people a part of everyday life.

During the great miners strike of 84/85 I was assisting two Yorkshire miners, sent to London to raise founds and provisions in the East End, we would go around and visit many sympathisers and supporters in their place of work or address meetings, on one memorable occasion, I invited the two miners to have a drink with me in the world famous Blind Beggar Pub in Whitechapel, built in 1894 on the corner of Whitechaple and Cambridge Heath Road, an area I love, and was the original site of the Mile End Tollgate and part of Jack The Rippers' hunting grounds. William Booth founder of THE SALVATION ARMY preached his many sermons outside of this pub to the drinkers about the evils of drink, and the drinkers would by return throw rotten vegetation at Booth. And of course the most famous incident was when Ronny Kray walked into the bar and shot George Cornell in the head on 9th March 1966. Legend would have it that this happened because Cornell had called Ronnie a 'big fat poof', in public to which Ronny must have obviously took offence.

Well so much for the history lesson' and back to my drink with the two miners in the said pub; and I went up to the bar and ordered three pints of what happened to be called Yorkshire Bitter, being a warm day as I do recall we sank the beers and as you know Northern folk love their beer, so we agreed to have another, the first round cost I think about £4.50 and seeing that they were on strike I said I would pay, but they were not having any of it saying that they got strike pay and expenses for being in London. One of the miners then went over to the bar and ordered 3 refills of that lovely Yorkshire Bitter, he then gave the barmaid £3.00 and when she explicated that the round cost more, the miner asked her 'what did I ask for love' and she replied - three pints of Yorkshire bitter - 'I love, and now you've got the Yorkshire price!'

On another occasion in Scunthorpe, a steel town, my home town in fact, which indecently had some really wonderful pubs back in the day, and some of the pubs use to open at 6am for the night-shift coming off the works, so steelworkers would be able to enjoy a few beers with their mates before going home. At one time beer drinking was apart of the life of steelworkers, in addition to the many pubs there was the working man's club which was very macho' orientated and adjusted, in relation to men only membership or half-membership for women with no voting rights. I was a member of a number of these clubs, but not a really keen club man. However there was one club in the town which along with a mate we became the execration of most of the male members, because at every AGM we would move a motion that all women should be extended the right to full voting membership and able to serve on the club committee, this was the mid late 1990s and still this working class institution was way behind the times, living in a men's only world.

The Ashdown Club, did eventually give women the rights of full membership, and as I understand it, is sill going strong today when many other working men's clubs have folded and closed down, just like the pubs.

Anyhow, it was the Ashdown, where we decided to take comrade Arthur Scargill (King Arthur) when we invited him to Scunthorpe, to speak at a public meeting with the aim of setting-up the local Branch of the Socialist Labour Party. For weeks we were telling everyone in the Ashdown, that Scargill was coming to the town and that we would probably bring him into the club for a drink, the response was what we expected - 'I will tell him what I think of him' or that man's had big motors and houses whilst miners lost there's. So when the day arrived and we brought the man into the club, well they were lining up to praise, pat on the back and shake his hand - funny what a few beers can do!"

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