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Entertainment outside the home: Pubs and clubs

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If you want to form a correct opinion of the English character, you must not confine your observations to the metropolis. You must go forth into the country, you must sojourn in villages and hamlets; you must visit castles, farm-houses, cottages; you must wander through parks and gardens, along hedges and green lanes and see the people in all their conditions, and all their habits and humors.

Washington Irving


In England the national drink is beer, and the 'pub', where Englishmen go to drink it, is a peculiarly English institution. The word 'pub' itself is an abbreviation of 'public house', which sounds dull and uninspiring; but there is nothing dull and uninspiring about the associations that the shorter form — pub — arouses in the English mind.

A bright introduction to any self-respecting pub is the sign outside it, mounted on a post or fixed to the wall above the door. On it will be the pub's паше — 'The Pig and Whistle' or 'The Elephant and Castle' — with a gay painting depicting the name. There is a good deal of folklore behind the names which pubs bear. A pub near Ambleside is called 'The Drunken Duck' for a very strange reason. One day the ducks of this hostelry (which was also a farm) drank some spirit which had leaked from a barrel. Where upon they fell into a stupor. The good wife, thinking them dead, plucked them, and was about to cook them when she observed signs of life — one of the plucked birds was wandering drunkenly round the yard.

Most pubs, besides beer, sell all kinds of alcohol, from whisky to wine. Many of them also offer light meals. Normally pubs are divided into at least two separate bars — the public and the saloon bar, which is more comfortable and slightly more expensive. 'Bar' also means the counter at which the drinks are served Beer and cider, a drink made from apples, is always sold in pint or half-pint glasses. A pint is equivalent to 0.57 litre. Pubs have not 'gone metric' yet.

No alcoholic drinks may be served to young people under eighteen, and no children under sixteen are allowed inside the bar.

Most pubs favour the 'traditional' image — a roaring log fire, old oak beams supporting a low ceiling, and brass ornaments on the walls. At Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, one of the authors of this book had an opportunity to see a brass plaque on the wall inside 'Grace Neill's Bar’. The plaque contained the names of dignitaries (for instance, Jonathan Swift), who stayed in this seaside resort's famous bar. Among them was the name of Peter the Great, who supposedly had visited the place in 1698 when he was in Britain studying shipbuilding. Another legend of Peter I is associated with another Irish town, Portpatrick. It is said he stayed there in 'The Blair Arms' and the room he occupied is still called the Emperor's Room. These touching legends are cherished wholeheartedly both by the pub owners and the inhabitants of the two corresponding towns. Despite the fact, that Peter the Great might have never crossed the Irish Sea for a mere pint of bitter. For there was no large-scale shipbuilding in Ireland that time.

Comfort is essential, for here people do not drop in for a quick drink and then go. They tend generally to 'make an evening of it' and stand or sit, glass in hand, talking to friends or strangers, until closing time, when, with a cry of 'Time, gentlemen, please!' the landlord ceases to serve further drinks, and the assembled company gradually disperses into the inhospitable night. This is usually at half past ten in the evening.

In the bar of every English pub there is a dart-board, and on most evenings one may find the game of darts being played. It is a game in which feathered arrows, called darts, are thrown at a board with numbered divisions on it. Many pubs have a darts team which plays matches against teams from other pubs. Darts matches are now so popular that they are shown on TV.

Clubs are another unchallenged English invention. The point of a club is not who it lets in, but who it keeps out; and few things can provoke more anger, than the non-membership of an English club. The club is based on two ancient British ideas — the segregation of classes, and the segregation of sexes: and they remain insistent on keeping people out, long after they have stopped wanting to come in. Viewed from the outside, the clubs have an air of infinite mystery.