Over the years I’ve done a bit of research into the tradition of the great British pub, from being in the living room of my Aunt Delina and Uncle Tom’s Meadow Street Hotel in the company of an affable black Labrador called Bruce and with a bottle of Ward’s lemonade and a packet of Smith’s crisps.
Then onto the former classiest pub in Sheffield, the Nursery Tavern, the plastic glasses and subdued lighting of the Buccaneer and the intimacy of the Nelson Dive Bar, the jukebox and outside whitewashed urinals of the Albert, in the company of the Gower Shower, The Red House and the Albion in the days when the Civil Service was just that.
Part of that dying culture – the rock bar – the character of old-fashioned landlords and landladies like Bill and Rita at the Shoulder of Mutton with its Wards Fine Malt Ales and its characters.
I’ve seen the brief shelf life of the wine bar and the so-called Irish pubs and the rise of that overall class business act of Wetherspoon and the great days of the nightclub and discos.
The contrasts between the Head of Steam and the unchanging Brown Bear (where do Sheffield Councillors meet these days?
Probably in the heady atmosphere of a national chain coffee shop).
The contrasts between the gastro pub and the two meals for a tenner and the success story that is Kelham Island and the continuity of the Grapes and Mrs Flynn.
As for CAMRA and CAMRA affairs I’m broadly supportive, even though I sometimes recall a certain column in Viz that does them a disservice judging by the people I took round on a pub walk once.
But this is not meant to be an angst-ridden sentimental rant about lost youth and opportunities, or political correctness or planning policy or so-called reform of the licensed trade, but rather testimony to the place of the pub in human affairs and society.
The real reasons for the decline of the pub lies in the availability of any alcoholic beverage at a cheaper price in supermarkets, the price of renting or buying one of the sometimes soulless apartments springing up across the city and the often dearth of a practising community in its fullest sense.
This is evidenced by the ever decreasing independent shops, churches, chapels, post offices and pubs.
And the result? A decline in social intercourse.
Phillip Larkin wrote about when sexual intercourse began (1963 – too early for me). Can you put a date on when social intercourse started to fail?
The rise of the mobile phone, the internet, iPads perhaps – essentials now.
Should we care about the decline in the drinking classes?
After all there’s no thing as society, apparently, but there are individuals who need to bond, laugh, joke, chill out, have banter, have conversation, celebrate, mourn, do in short what human beings have done since time immemorial.
Sheffield with its micro breweries and its good pubs (run by people who instinctively know what a good pub is) demonstrates how young and old, town and gown can blend – making them part of the city’s future is another string to its bow, like its often-scorned heritage .
Two aspects of Sheffield life and culture, which need to be promoted and supported in this year of Pride in and Makers of Sheffield.