Beer was regarded rightly as a food for the Gods and the working classes. In the Middle Ages, you could sell your own beer out the back door, if you had one, just as long as you displayed a pole with a broom on the end of it and allowed the local big-wigs to check its quality -- by drinking it of course.
The pub grew into a bastion of solid, safe, supremely British ugliness, with ceilings stained yellow by tobacco smoke, lists of last year's cricket fixtures pinned on the wall, a sullen landlord who would never dream of serving his beer in a glass without handles and a brisk barmaid who always called you "dear". You would never ever dream of eating the food, of course. Well, maybe a bag of potato chips, or a pickled egg, but certainly not the lasagne that always lingered too long at the bar.
But now the British Pub does looks like it's on its last legs. Forty two pubs a week are closing, and while higher taxes and higher costs have taken their toll, the real damage has been done by the changing view of what a pub should be.
The newly rich, doing away with faintly hostile pools of tranquility for the male population, seem to prefer family friendly pubs and gastro pubs where the food matters more than the beer. Pubs with glass topped tables that are cleaned a little too often for comfort; where you never ever see the Landlord because there's only a restaurant manager who changes every six months -- and with sham roof beams and plastic panels masquerading as oak.
But if you search carefully, there are still the occasional reminders of the real Pub in the most unlikely places.
Take one of my favourite locals, The Sair Inn, in the North of England. It has no TV, no pool table and no juke box. It brews its own wonderful beer, there are usually a couple of dogs lazing around the bar and an open fire glowing in the hearth.
If you want music, then ask the bar staff -- because they'll lend you a violin, a guitar or a harp to make your own. Otherwise, just sit or stand, mind your own business and pretty soon someone will offer you a brace of rabbits in exchange for a pint of the food of the Gods.
by Simon Bates