For a person that loves pubs as much as I do there can be few more pleasurable reads than a well written book about pubs, especially when the book is illustrated with some of the finest pub photography I have seen to date. The Pub,
by well known author Pete Brown, is a stunningly well written and erudite excursion
into the pub as a defining British icon, and with a
little history and context thrown in, it draws you into the simple fact that a pub is not just a place to
sell beer, wines and spirits, but in Pete's own words, "a cultural
. Pete describes the book as a "personal journey"
and while the book only mentions some
350 out of the 50,000 or so pubs in the country, you really do get the
feel for why the pub, to many, is regarded with warmth, affection and a probably a
touch of living nostalgia.
Now this isn't a small volume. It is coffee table sized, but the size is used to show in both words and photos, what Pete is driving at when he talks about the various pubs he has chosen for this book. The book has a short introduction from Pete himself, pointing out that your own favourite pub may well be absent and that he has sought to represent the broad diversity and character of pubs, so if yours isn't included, he is sorry, but he had to be firm in achieving something manageable. This makes sense. Instead what you will find is a wonderfully representative selection of pubs and a neat and sensible set of chapters, dividing the pub into types such as historic pubs; architecturally interesting pubs; coastal pubs; railway pubs and more. Here is the beauty of writing about pubs - you can use your own categories and chop it up in any way you want - and if written well - as this book is - you can be both personal and at the same time speak the familiar language of the pub buff, as well as reaching out to those who simply like to go to pubs on occasion.
Perhaps though the hardest thing of all is to describe in a way that
can be easily understood, what pub culture is. Pete takes a bit of time
over this and rightly so, for it is the culture of the British pub that
makes it what it is. The backdrop may be its history or its
architecture, but it is what goes on inside that makes it a pub. Here
Pete excels. He "gets"
pubs - and not everyone does - and this is
reflected in his writing. He identifies - correctly in my view - that it is that most
difficult to pin down aspect, atmosphere that makes the pub what it is
and his pubs are chosen to reflect that. No easy task that, but I think
it fair to say that Pete has a pretty good bash at it, repeatedly (in a good way and with a sense of astonishment and wonder), describing local characters and landlords in a way that inspires you want to go and experience them yourself. If you don't believe that, read the description of the scene in either the Snowdrop
in Lewes or the Hatchet Inn
in Andover. Or any of it really. You can just dip in and out and will find something to love, or a pub you make a mental note to visit sometime in the future.
Following his personal sub-division of pub types, Pete then does a run around the country by region. He astutely recognises that what the British pub is really like "often depends on which part of Britain you are in".
Each area is given a bit of a pen picture and is then exemplified by picking a number of great pubs to talk about in detail and giving other pubs shorter descriptions under the "Also Try
" banner. It works. London gets a large chunk of course, possibly reflecting the author's place of residence, though I did feel that the sections on Scotland and Wales could have been beefed up a little.
But these are minor points. Pete Brown's use of simple words, elegantly put and the clear enthusiasm for his subject, together with his sharp and witty observations, make this a book I recommend unreservedly. The superb photography is a wonderful bonus.
The Pub is published in hardback by Jacqui Small. Price £22.00
And for those interested in such things, Pete Brown is most assuredly a Pub Man.