Thursday, September 13, 2012

The One Pub Man

In the world of soccer, there's the one club man.  In the world of beer and pub culture, there's Arthur Reid.  Both are rarities in this ever-changing world, and both deserve their special respect.

In the case of the former, a one-club man is a player who spends his entire career with the same club, without ever being transferred or loaned out (although the conditions for inclusion into Wikipedia's list of these players are fairly unforgiving, I think it's fair to give some consideration for a player who puts in an immense swath of time with the same club, with only the odd years near the end of their career.  Bobby Charlton will forever be a Manchester United man, but did play a few years in Preston and Waterford right before his retirement, and the great Pele himself played exclusively for Brazil's Santos before a near-retirement turn with the fledgling NASL team the New York Cosmos).  In the years when football clubs were manned almost exclusively by local talent, this was still somewhat of a rarity; now, it is extremely uncommon.  In a world of multi-million dollar transfer fees, cutthroat promotion and relegation, and the international talent pool - which leads to teams whose makeup is more akin to a United Nations summit than a local football club -  having one player put in their entire career with the same career is a truly exceptional achievement.  This is the reason why I almost never wear a jersey with a player's name on the back as it so likely that this player...will...someday...break...your...heart.   It is truly something special where despite the chaos of the global soccer market, some players will always wear your colours. Some current one-club men of note include: Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes of Manchester United (since 1990 and 1994, respectively), Francesco Totti and Daniele de Rossi of A.S. Roma (1992, 2001), Jamie Carragher of Liverpool (1996), and my favorite former Gooner, Tony Adams (1983-2002).

But when it comes to steadfast loyalty and dedication to one's family, these guys have nothing on Arthur Reid.

Reid, a 90 year-old former labourer from just outside of Bristol, has sipped pints of bitter at his favorite local pub - and only this pub - nearly every day for the past 72 years.  Cliff and Norm - take notes.   Mr. Reid has lived in the little town of Warmley for his entire life; he has never married, never had children, and rarely goes on vacation.  As a labourer in the days of the full work week and minimal consideration for such novelties as "sick leave" and "vacation pay", Reid would put in between 80-100 hours a week, with Sunday being his only reprieve.  However, when the whistle blew for quitting time at 3pm, our dedicated ale man would invariably make his way to The Griffin for his afternoon pint.  This cycle continued for more than seven decades.  "I've always worked hard and enjoyed visiting the pub - I've never seen the need to go much farther," Reid explains.  Amazingly, his dedication goes even further; not only does Arthur frequent the same pub everyday, but he almost always has the same pint of draught each time: Courage Bitter from Wells and Youngs.  So regular is Arthur's appearance at the pub that the staff often worry that something has gone terribly wrong if he hasn't passed through the doors by 3:30.   His astounding patronage of the pub has not gone unnoticed by the staff and community of The Griffin; in honour of his 90th birthday, Arthur's favorite seat in the house has been given the royal treatment: a plaque celebrating his 72 years now adorns his chair.

When Mr. Reid eventually stops going to his favorite pub, will this signal the end of the "pub era"?  Perhaps so.  This sort of dedication to the local pub is something that probably is going to be a relic of a bygone era soon enough, at least that is what the statistics are telling us.  British ale enthusiasts have long lamented the demise of "the local" over the past few decades, with hundreds of pubs closing each year (as of 2011, this averages out to be about 25 closures a week), to be replaced by more modern establishments with macro lagers, dozens of TV screens, loud music, and a lack of a welcoming environment. No gemuetlichkeit, as the Bavarians would say.  It's such an alarming trend that it has become a common news/editorial topic in the newspapers across the political spectrum.  Simply put, the culture is changing: the pub is no longer necessarily the centre of people's lives, now that there are so many other options for entertainment and means to acquire alcohol on one's own terms.  Legislation has played its part as well, with the ban on smoking inside establishments (I still think this is a good thing) and stronger driving laws (ditto) leading many people to do their consumption at home, if at all.  With the growth of the suburb, people are less likely to live within walking distance of a pub such as this, and driving down to one isn't really an option, nor should it be, of course.  

Who wouldn't fancy a pint at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks?
I have never been to England before, but I have an image of what the "perfect pub" might be, with its low lighting, wooden exterior, a gleaming tapline and a sense of community and mirth.  You don't mind going to the pub alone, because you are sure to see someone you know there.  The barman knows your order, and wonders if you will have "the usual."  The pub has its own jokes and routines, cherished memories and wonderful stories.  In the world of Tolkien, I'm thinking of a Green Dragon for the big people.  I don't know how much this vision resembles reality, but I certainly know that whatever the reality might be, it is going into decline.  But some people out there - Reid included - still think that this idea is not dead, and is worth fighting for.  Robin Turner of the Daily Mail cites the example of Cardiff locals fiercely defending the impending closure of their beloved Vulcan Pub (to be replaced by a mall parking overflow lot), which they successfully did, as evidence that those who love the pub aren't ready to see it go quite yet.  With more people attuned to the emerging world of craft beer, some pubs are meeting that demand by producing their own house ales.  One pub is attempting to fully turn back the clock by banning TVs, "fruit machines" (slot machines), lagers and food.   No idea whether it will work, but I can see the appeal.

Turner explains that one of the biggest proponents of the English pub (and one who could forecast its eventual decline) was George Orwell, who spent some time musing over what the "perfect pub" would look like.  "Orwellian" in this sense is actually a good thing.  His recipe for a great pub included only four ingredients (much like the ale this pub would serve): authenticity, integrity, character and independence.  I too have my local establishments, and I can see these four ingredients resonating through the walls and shining from the taps.  I go to these pubs because they are familiar, friendly, and the source of so many fond memories.  I go because they know me there.  To return after a long absence is like a communion, where I reconnect with what was once lost.   I don't think these pubs will ever be the same for me like the Griffon is for Arthur Reid, but I can see the connection and understand a little bit his remarkable dedication.   If there's a pub out there that fits Orwell's criteria and is something you cherish, the best way you can vote for a better pub experience is with your beer-drinking dollar.  It's your pub - use it!

Cheers to Arthur Reid, and long live the "perfect pub"!

No comments:

Post a Comment