Trails and trials of the writer who walks
Walking is a great way to come up with writing ideas. I was asked recently to provide a humorous article for the local CAMRA magazine (that’s Campaign for Real Ale) and I was scratching my head for some time as to the topic. Then I thought perhaps I could take some modern pub issue and transport it back to the time of Samuel Pepys, a Horrible Histories sort of style but paying no attention to historical fact. Here’s what I came up with:
ACCORDING TO many innkeepers, the legislation that was introduced on 1st January 1675 to ban spitting in pubs has had a catastrophic effect on the trade. With this in mind, I travelled to the busy market town of Preston to find out what some of its 3,000 inhabitants thought of their spittle-free pubs.
Susie Slops, barmaid at the Clog and Cemetery, was the first to speak out in favour of the ban.
“It’s miles better for the staff,” she told me. “You don’t get none of that secondary plague. I mean, if people wants to kill themselves by drinking water instead of beer, that’s their business, but I don’t see why the staff should have to share it.”
The landlady, Mrs Backtittle (49), was less enthusiastic.
“How can men come out, have a drink, and enjoy a good conversation without clearing their throats? ” she complained, rolling her one good eye heavenward to indicate a no-brainer.
Susie was having none of it. “Yeah, well it isn’t you that empties the spittoons after a busy Friday night is it? And the worse the smog outside, the more that’s in them.”
“Perhaps it would encourage some to give up spitting altogether?” I ventured.
“Not a chance!” Mrs Backtittle pointed towards the doorway with her pipe. “Just look at them all standing out there.” My first thought was that it had begun to rain.
“And we have to bring the food in that way! You don’t need any sauce on our sticky toffee pudding once it’s come through there, I can tell you.” Suddenly, the sharp end of the pipe was jabbing into my doublet and she narrowed her eye (the other swivelled sideways rather alarmingly). “You won’t print that, will you?”
“Of course not,” I said, already relishing the reactions of our Picknose readers.
“Only it’s the food what makes the money. Don’t earn bo-diddly on the ale, with what the brewery charges, and customers dropping.”
“You mean wet sales are going down?”
“No, I mean they’re dropping. Dead. Like flies. Even before the ban.”
“I see. But do you think people are drinking at home more these days, rather than choosing the pub for company and conversation?”
“Conversation? You see couples coming in now, fiddling with their broadsheets, not even looking at each other. It’s killing conversation. Of course, today’s kids can read before they can walk can’t they? In my day, you got your tweets from the town crier and that was all you needed to know.”
“So you don’t have any wi-fi here then?”
“Oh yeah. Got to move with the times. And it’s free. Just pass a message to the barber’s wife next door and within half an hour, every wife inside the town gates will know about it. Fastest wi-fi in Lancashire.”
“So, Mrs Backtittle—“
“Fanny. Call me Fanny.”
“Fanny. How do you see your future in the pub trade?”
“With a bleedin’ crystal ball of course!” She roared with laughter, awakening two bouncing bombs that set up such a vibration I could feel it through the floorboards. When the oscillations finally subsided, she wiped her eye and steadied the other one.
“I’ve got plans, dearie,” she said, pulling me closer. “I’m going to open a microbrewery in the stables.”
“Micro? You mean brewing on a small scale?”
“No, not micro, silly. MICROBE. It’s perfect. There’s all the microbes you need in that stable, especially when the old mare’s been at the slops the night before.”
She underlined her enthusiasm by tapping the pipe repeatedly on my arm until a gob of tobacco fell out and stuck to my sleeve.
“Sorry, dear,” she said, plucking it off and popping it into her mouth. “People want more from a pub, see? They’re fed up with bland beer. We’re going to fill it full of microbes so it tastes more like the old days. It’s going to be called real ale.”
I could see the environmental angle of this. Think how many consumer miles it would save – at least three – and no need for those over-sized drays to clog up our streets, pouring all that methane into the atmosphere from the horse exhaust system.
Fanny Backtittle could tell she had fired my imagination with this new idea.
“It will all be brewed right here on our doorstep,” she said, with a wink (or she might have briefly closed her eyes, it was hard to tell).
“All within spitting distance.”