It is not always appreciated quite how much authority resides in a publican. He or she (and the shes are among the most formidable) can give you the bum’s rush without warning or explanation, even when you have a leg to stand on.
This does not apply to the managers of theme pubs who are for the most part salaried jackasses who care not a fig for the lowly paid employment to which malign fate has consigned them, and are content to preside in a surly sort of way over a pastiche version of the real thing.
Proper landlords are rulers of all they survey; enlightened despots ever mindful that they are the host and you are the guest. They know that each role carries rights and responsibilities. For their part, they are obliged to provide clean, congenial surroundings, well kept ale, and wholesome food. For your part, you, too, are required to be clean, congenial, well kept, and, up to a point, wholesome.
It is every landlord’s right, having striven to keep his side of the bargain, to ensure that you keep yours. But in a Britain where the moronic tendency is in the ascendant there is an absence of understanding that no man is an island; that each of us impinges to some extent on the other and we have a duty not to give offence if we can help it.
Few had a better grasp of these neglected truisms that the late Albert McKessack, a former Scots Guardsman who was for 30 years the unbending landlord of the Fleece Hotel in the Scottish border town of Selkirk.
He passed away at the age of 76 just a few days ago and, when the pages of his record were turned by the sentry at the gates of heaven, they were found to be full of shining accomplishments, not least of which was that in the 1960s he barred the Rolling Stones on the ground that their long hair offended.
Selkirk stands in glen country where farm, wilderness and trout stream lie serenely in the shadow of hills that melt into each other. These are not the surroundings in which the seeds of political correctness are encouraged to take root.
If you want that sort of thing, you must set foot on the stony unforgiving slabs of Islington, Highgate, Hampstead and parts of Belsize Park. In McKessack’s bar disciples of The Guardian would better save their breath to cool their porridge.
He refused to serve pints of beer to young women because it was unladylike; he insisted that females in mixed company should ask male companions to go to the bar; he forbade swearing and refused to install a juke box. When he died, his funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners. In a fitting tribute, Jim Newlands, provost of Selkirk, said, “His rules may have been strict, but they created a place that was a pleasure to go into.”
This side of Armageddon, could that ever be said of a manager of a Ferret and Trouser Leg?
When the long-awaited manual, Marketing to Morons, is written it will contain an appendix, Etiquette for Morons, a guide intended to help the modern drinker to gain access to civilised premises.
The rules, though many and complex, will not trouble those for whom they are not intended, since they will already observe them as a matter of instinct. For instance, you cannot expect to be served if you are male and wearing your hair in a pony tail. Nor if you have a ring in your ear. Nor, whether you are male or female, if your body is pierced, other than by a surgical device intended to help you heal from an injury, in which sad circumstance you will be extended every courtesy.
You will not be permitted to swear nor excused such behaviour on the ground that you are not aware you are doing it. You will never under any circumstance use a mobile phone on the premises either to make or receive calls. You will not attempt to look cool by drinking out of a bottle. You will not ask for TV, music or pool because there is none. You may, of course, play darts, dominoes, or shove halfpenny. And, since we are not prudes, you may, if you wish, tell the one about the honeymoon couple and the bubble car.
You will not endlessly repeat yourself, getting louder and louder. You will avoid, if possible, discussion of religion or politics, this because your immortal soul is your own affair and because mention of politicians inevitably sullies conversation with the baser human urges of vanity, venality, corruption, dishonesty, and the lust for power. We are, after all, here to enjoy ourselves.
To assist the bar staff you are requested not to order rounds piecemeal, as in “I’ll have a half of lager,” And (when that is served) “a Bacardi and Coke”. And, “a gin and tonic, no ice”. And, “a pint of Guinness”. And, “Yes, that’s all. Except for a packet of crisps. Sorry, not those. Cheese and onion.”
For his part, the landlord undertakes to refrain from calling you squire, chief, or skipper and from posting arch notices behind the bar referring to the establishment’s unwillingness to extend credit, or to the degree of sanity required to work there.