Thursday, 24 July 2014

It wasn't like that in my day...

I felt compelled to write this post after reading a very good and amusing short story by writer E.L. Lindley -  READ IT HERE, ON HER BLOG - about a divorcee going 'out on the town' for the first time in years.  We had a bit of a conversation about how pubs have changed since we frequented them every Friday and Saturday night, and E.L. said this:  "City centre pubs are just awful, every time I go into one I feel as though I've inadvertantly stumbled into a hen party from hell" - which I thought kinda summed it up!

I live in the north east, (happily) a fair few miles away from the notorious Bigg Market in Newcastle, host to stag and hen parties, and in which one would feel out of place if fully dressed and not completely rat-arsed.


Ladettes out on the razz in the Bigg Market, appropriately dressed for the weather

I have never visited this area, and never intend to.  Okay, that's a bit of an extreme example, but, generally, isn't it a shame that you can't just go out in a town centre for a normal drink with your pals, without the boom boom boom of horrible music, bouncers on the doors, advertisements for ghastly cocktails, etc?  

When I was in my teens in the 1970s, my friends and I used to go from pub to pub with ne'er a care, dressed in proper clothes, rather than hooker gear.  We would buy normal drinks and put money in juke boxes that played music you could hear, but also talk over.  I also used to walk home late at night without my parents worrying; that's slightly off topic, though related.  Yes, yes, I know times change, but isn't it a shame that the ordinary town centre pub scarcely exists these days?  They're all turned into horrible, garish bars now, music blaring.  Ah, how I remember going to the Saddlers Arms in Bridge Street, Northampton, wearing jeans etc, drinking half pints of Directors and putting The Doors on the juke box - and I never saw a fight in there.  I had a shop down that road in the 1980s. When we opened in 1983 it was still an ordinary, quiet street.  By 1985 several of the establishments, including the Saddlers, had been turned into horrible extreme drinking hell holes, and that was when our window started getting smashed on a regular basis. The street used to have antique shops, a second hand record shop, a lovely independent book store, but they're all long gone; my old shop is now one of many takeaway food pit stops for the roaring drunk and ravenous.  These places ruin town centres.  


I'm happy to say that my most frequented pub in Northampton, The King Billy, has remained a rock music type pub throughout - the brewery did make an attempt to change it into a lager lout pub in the 1990s, calling it The Fitchet and Firkin, or something equally daft, but resistance was strong, and it soon changed back.


I know there are a few pubs that haven't been changed too much (The Wig & Pen, The Mailcoach, though I preferred the Wig when it was the Black Lion!), but mostly the rest of the town centre is pretty much a no-go area if you just want to go out for a quiet drink.  I wonder if the only places 'real' pubs still exist within town centres are at the seaside; when I lived in Cromer, in Norfolk, during the last decade, the five or six pubs in the town all retained that 'local' feel, as did others in Norfolk towns such as Sheringham and Holt.

The Kings Head, Cromer - my favourite pub in the town.  The second living room of many.  Wonderful food, beer garden - oh, sorry, Gail, I went into advertisement writing mode for a moment, there!

The argument might be given that the old pubs are changed into these grisly bars because that's what people want, but I wonder if this is so. After I left Cromer, Buffers Bar near the station was changed into one of those boom-boom-boom music, open until late, puke-up-your-thirteen-cocktails-outside type of establishments.  It caused havoc in that area of the town, and only lasted a couple of years.

As I noted in a comment below, (I imagine most) big cities remain okay, because they are large enough to confine it to one area, like the Bigg Market in The Toon, and Prince of Wales Road in Norwich.  

I suppose I just wish there was less of this


and more of this!


Isn't this excellent?  Don't know when this pic of the Saddlers in Bridge Street, Northampton was taken.


Very old shot of The Malt Shovel - out of the town centre, spruced up in a nice way, and still excellent.  I went there last year, and it was great. Average age of about 50, too!


Or were these chaps just the lager louts of the 1950s?  


I don't think so, somehow; maybe it's more to do with the drinking culture than anything else.  But that, of course, is a whole other blog post.


14 comments:

  1. The Bigg Market has gone downhill since Pumphrey's coffeehouse closed down some time circa 1980!
    I agree it's a shame what happened to city centre pubs but as a boring non-smoker I do see the upside of some changes and there are still some quiet country pubs to be found away from the cities.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Anne!

      Ah, as someone who thinks a drink isn't complete without a fag, I dislike that, too! Oh yes, plenty of nice pubs in other areas - it's just the town centre ones that have been ruined. And I still get my coffee from Pumphreys - but it's in the Grainger Market now!

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    2. They're very good for loose tea also, really like the rose petal

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  2. Terry, I was quite shocked last year when I visited a friend in Rugby. The town centre was all huge pubs (Weatherspoons?), fast food outlets and penny wise type shops. I felt the town centre really lacked the soul that Uk towns had when I was still young and living there. My friend said it was like this in most of the country towns and I was really sad about that. I couldn't imagine wanting to spend my Saturday afternoons in such a place, but wondered if I was just being an old fogey, I'm so glad you agree. This drinking culture...

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    1. Oh Val, yes, I SO agree! Northampton used to have a fairly nice town centre where you could go shopping. Now, it's all discount shops. My father said the only reason to go there is to go to M&S. You want to go to Next, Halfords, River Island (can't think of many more as I so rarely go shopping!!!), you go out of town retail parks. At night, it's all about catering to the drinker. Of course there are SOME good shops left, and the library, even the odd okay restaurant, but it's not what it was even when I left 14 years ago, and it had already become a bit of a no-go area at night. I was just about to go 'into one' about the shops leading out of the town, too, but it would have got too long! Cities aren't like it so much - Norwich and Newcastle, for instance, are still pretty fab. And if my sadness about all this makes me sound like Victor Meldrew (as Julia says!), so be it!

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    2. .... maybe it's because the cities are big enough to confine it to one area, like the Bigg Market in Newcastle, and the Prince of Wales Road in Norwich.

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  3. Exactly the same thing happened in Oxford. I went to a hen party in what used to be a quiet lunch time pub to find bouncers on the door, nowhere to sit and music so loud it made my fillings ache. I hated it.

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    1. Bloody hell, even in Oxford? Tssssk!!!

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  4. I suppose Preston's biggest problem is that it is home to a University now and most of the town centre pubs cater for the student body. There are a couple of 'biker' pubs that haven't changed, which is nice...good company,juke box, dart board, pool table...but even though I don't smoke, I find that a good night out is spoiled by having to go outside to talk to people who do smoke several times through the night.

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    1. Oh yeah, that's another annoyance! I've heard lots of non-smokers moan about it, too, for this very reason. As one said, you can't sit there having a jolly evening with a group of people because half of them keep disappearing throughout the night. Thanks for reading and commenting, A! x

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  5. Just to add something for comparison's sake, Terry. In the Netherlands, government policy is to discourage large out of town shopping centres. That's not to say there aren't any, but the general rule is to keep things small and to keep the town centres alive with real shops and real business. I think it's a healthy practice although I found it frustrating at first - used as I was to the big mall culture in South Africa. Now I like the fact I have to go to a number of different shops in real high streets to buy what I need instead of getting everything under one roof!

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    1. Oh, Val, yes, I LOVE that! When I moved to Cromer (which is like living in toy town) I used to go out shopping every Saturday morning with a big smile on my face, going to the butcher, the fishmonger, the greengrocer, etc - was lovely! Northampton is a very big town but there is no longer a fishmonger there - isn't that awful? Just supermarkets... There used to be a really good fishmarket (which I used to visit frequently, I am not one of those who don't use the independent shops then moan when all the 'quaintness' has gone!) - it's now a horrible discount place. Yes, I AM Victor Meldrew!!!

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  6. There are a few pubs that don't have the boom boom alcopoppy vibe in Nch centre, Bedfords, Franks Bar, Murderers/Gardeners arms, Nch Tap House, Bicycle Shop, Plough tho these are slightly off centre down St Benedicts, Belgian Monkey, Pottergate Tav, then t'other side of centre there's the Wig and Pen, Adam and Eve, Ribs O'Beef, just need a bit of a wander about to find them. Size of Cromer prob put paid to Buffers but in bigger cities there are plenty of people who like these bars, hence their popularity. Fraid its the passing of time and your personal tastes that change. I lived in Northampton in the early '90's, i was wary of the Billy, thought it was a bit rough, maybe i was a bit of a wuss back then (and still now!) think i only went in a few times, The Welli Rd was a good pub crawl back then, Abington Pk Brewery for the start, Old House at Home, The Telerex? had a very low ceiling, the Cock near the town centre, there were others but my memory fails! maybe one called The Wedgewood? don't remember these being really boom boom bars, just quite popular. I went through my time of going to the loud music bars and getting pissed, but do it far less now, but did enjoy it when i was younger.

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    1. Hi Nigel, thanks for your comment and interest! Yeah, I know there are plenty of nice pubs out of the town centre, as I mentioned. I lived in the town for 40 years, and what I was putting across was the way in which the town has changed, so that you can't go into the town centre just to have an ordinary drink any more, as the whole centre is now geared towards extreme drinking pubs and fast food outlets for the drinkers - thus, what I said about Bridge Street. I was only in my mid 20s and certainly no young fogey (!!) or I wouldn't have frequented the Billy, but I hated the way the town was changing then. When I was a teenager I think I would have hated it too. My point was, I suppose, that a very pleasant town centre has now been changed to cater mostly for the young heavy drinker. It's a pity they're not all confined to one area, so that people over the age of 25, and all the ones under it who don't like these awful places, can still go out in the town. I know there are a few that aren't like this, but the fact that there are so many makes the whole area not very nice to be in, and often quite dangerous. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it!

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