I had occasion yesterday* to observe a peculiar bit of going-on at a pub where I was visiting, and thought I might share a few notes about it. As I write it up now I do so having just finished reading George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, and so am choosing to adopt a style quite like it in the telling of my observations. As I mentioned, the spectacle was a peculiar one, and whilst not a novel one to my eyes, was exercised with such intensity and singularity that it served to be the very essence of its sort. The spectacle referred to is that of patrons of the pub – meaning in the sense of people, members of the public patronising the place – customers in very fact – as different from the French meaning of patron or boss. Queer it is that the translation could put the individual either side of the bar top, depending on which side of the Channel one found oneself in possession of the original thought. Customers, then, taking up the business of queueing at the pub by means of forming a single line.
This is a practice characteristic of the wholly unpractised in the way of public bar frequenting. No surprise this being a bank holiday. How the novice, gog-eyed and upright, seeks to impose his view of the world over the natural way of loping up to the bar in search of one’s rightful lean, quite able to know one’s place in the order of ordering without stacking together like dominoes set for the child’s amusement.
‘Muscling in’ with breezy excuse-me’s is quite the accepted norm at British bars, so long as remaining respectful of the general order of arrivals. But how monstrous a thing it is, too, to witness the imaginative novice with a note of currency held forward and aloft, as if the barman has rarely encountered such a concept as retail, or that the money might be taken, pocketed, for his and his family’s benefits alone.
At the __________ Arms, in W_________, the queue made its tail out of the building itself, preposterous and cartoon-like. And it was all I could do to shuffle past it and wait a while some respectful but appalled distance from its dithering head – there to have my turn at the bar, when it was naturally come by.
It was a very queer spectacle indeed, and I told myself as much at the time.
*The French translation has this note (in French): ‘hier’.
Words and picture © Steve Mitchell, Fisher Lane, 2013