Pub gardens

Zoe Williams, the Guardian writer, spins a most agreeable yarn about the pleasure of pub gardens.

She talks about them in terms I remember from the past.

“The British pub garden is both reassuring and reaffirming. It’s like a co-dependent friend: you have a qualm about your booze intake and the garden waves it away. Should I be drinking this pint, when it’s lunchtime, and only Tuesday? Well, clearly I should – otherwise why would they have designed me this perfect green space, with its charming wooden bench and my very own umbrella? “

I’ve been in some lovely pub gardens, fringed with wild-looking herbaceous borders that have become rampantly infested with free-flowering bridal-white bindweed, gardens where you can hear the slip-slap of the river against the landing stage, where you can see clear across to the blue sloping hills of the next county, where you can sit on old, seasoned wooden picnic bench and watch wrens flitting to and fro their nest in the ivy on a Cotswold wall.

Obviously there are other things too – watching chaps reluctant to buy another round nursing their pints, noting people getting tetchy, getting squiffy, or even struggling with the attempt at the upright position. We were in a pub garden in Kingham, on the Oxfordshire border when an old local totteringly rose from his table of pals and made his way out of the garden using every available upright fixture for support – table, fence, wall, gate were followed by a floundery wave goodbye – followed closely by the hedge! He was rescued, unharmed and given a shaky two-man escort towards home.

It was perfect weather for pub gardens at the weekend in Glos; unseasonally hot and sunny. Great for cycling to a refreshment destination. You can forget ‘energy bars’ which taste like they’re made of plasticized marmite, Capt Sensible needs to balance his energy expenditure with the correct nourishment – which usually involves real ale.

So we had a pleasant ride by a tranquil canal with moorhens fussing about, necks jerking back and forth like windup clockwork toys, families out with kids, fishermen casting hopefully, dogs flat out on the grassy bank next to the narrow boats where their owners dozed in the shade.

It’s a long time since we’d been to this pub but it has a good view of the canal and a bridge and the general the goings-on – it also had a good view of the place where we locked up the bikes.

Our table with the view was next to a table where they didn’t much care too much about the view.  It was all about soaking up sun and Stella. Considering the volume of everyone’s voices, they had been making full use of their time. The men were all stripped to the waist sporting tattoos of various complexities and colours. The women were showing acres of dimply sun-reddened flesh and there was a Staffordshire bull terrier under the table.

There was something about the loud, coarse occasionally obscenity-peppered conversations that clashed horribly with the surroundings. I was looking at a peaceful scene – a swan proceeding in a stately fashion down the centre of the canal followed by six mature cygnets – still in their grey feathers – in a triangular formation behind her. A buzzard circled on the thermals high overhead. Yet I was getting a loud account, delivered by the biggest boor at the next table of his wife who was “f***ing fresh-baked when I ad er, she wuz.” The women was no longer fresh-baked, apparently. He didn’t mention if she’d past her sell-by date but it was a distinct possibility.

The man was almost completely ignorant yet one of those people whose self-esteem and conviction knows no bounds.

“Course they have closed Brize Norton,” he asserted “To stop them bringing in our dead boys from Iraq. Shocking it is.” No-one disagreed or questioned him. Cobblers. They have merely stopped the repatriations in Wootton Bassett where so many local people regularly turned out to pay their respects. The dead are being repatriated in private at RAF Brize Norton, which is definitely not closed.

I listened – short of wearing earplugs, it was impossible not to – and felt unnerved by the fact that he was entitled to vote. His voice alone put me off my bacon and brie baguette, even without looking at his flabby, sweating, roasting back.

But he wasn’t the only loud one. The garden was full of tables of people for whom a lack of consideration for others had become a way of life. They were loud, garrulous, sometimes lairy smokers where tattoos and bull terrier crosses were universal accessories.  There were some children but they were all at the play area doing their own thing unaccompanied.

I felt a bit fish-out-of-water-ish. It was similar but not quite so bad the following evening when we strolled down to the river and called in for a swift tincture on the terrace of a different pub on the way back home.

The terrace was full of smokers and women dressed up to the nines in chunky plastic jewellery, Ibiza-style sun dresses revealing acres of lumpy flesh and massive thighs. Fresh air isn’t really very fresh any more in places like this.

I felt under-dressed without an ankle bracelet. I hadn’t made any effort at all. I’d simply put on trainers and gone for a walk in jeans and a cotton blouse. Anyway we finished our drinks and I felt a bit sad, walking up the lane watching the little bats hunting insects beneath the trees, that some pub gardens aren’t what they used to be.  Maybe we just went to the wrong ones but whatever happened to couth?

A bit of canal

A bit of Gloucester Docks


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Cycling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Pub gardens

  1. valzone says:

    Wonderful read Jan, thoroughly enjoyed this, mainly because I, and many others I’m sure, have witnessed the British decline in ‘couth’. This recent spell of hot weather, really has given the green light for the obese to expose the revolting lard they carry around.
    A couple of days ago I witnessed a rather charming scene, a rather disturbing family scene.
    The child, who was about 6 years old, said whiningly, to the mother “I wanna go to the beach” “well you can’t” “Why” “cos its too f…ing ot thats why” Makes you proud doesn’t it 😦

    • IsobelandCat says:

      To be fair I think that decline has been going on for some decades. I imagine every generation since the dawn of time has tutted, but now people seem almost proud of their impoliteness. It’s obviously Mrs Thatcher’s fault. I remember, when I started teaching in the eighties, witnessing a small child desperately trying to get his mother’s attention to show her a picture he’d drawn. “Why don’t you f***ing shut up?” she asked. I just prayed I wouldn’t have to teach him French a few years down the line.

      • janh1 says:

        Hi Isobel – I don’t object to people using the vernacular, it’s just the noise and the cursing is so intrusive.

        It chills my blood when I hear parents talking like that to their young children. Why do parents not feel what I imagined was an innate instinct to protect their children from harm and nastiness?

  2. janh1 says:

    Thanks Val 🙂 It was just sooo different to previous experiences. Like a parallel universe. I felt I’d missed out on some great change in society. Just a snapshot, but interesting nevertheless.

  3. Pintsize says:

    Aahh, it’s just a pub garden to you but for those who love Stella…

    • janh1 says:

      Brando! Gosh. Pass the smelling salts, Ethel!

      Well obviously I think it would be only sensible to make an exception for *that* kind of hollerin’ from *that* kind of person. 🙂

  4. IsobelandCat says:

    The loudness strikes a particular chord here as I have new neighbours sharing a house and its garden. They seem blissfully unaware that this is a quietish neighbourhood, and of how their voices travel. I overslept today as a result of being kept awake by conversations I did not want to hear.
    Good country pubs are one of the joys of rambling. Cosy in winter, expansive in summer.
    But maybe you should try Cambridgesehire. I was driving through a village I know slightly at the weekend, it’s lovely, just the right side of self-consciously pretty, and for the first time I noticed the pub, very discreet, very rustic looking, with a garden full of people quietly enjoying a drink and fresh air.
    When I have time, I shall investigate further.

    • janh1 says:

      Sounds lovely. It’s just about behaving reasonably, isn’t it?

      A friend of mine has a house full of new students near her and has just been to talk to them to remind them that it’s very much a residential area and people want peace after 10.30pm thanks. She undoubtedly said it very nicely but it remains to be seen what effect it has….

  5. Pseu says:

    What a shame you had your pub garden visit spoiled. There are still many good ones, off the beaten track, which don’t seem to attract this crowd

    • janh1 says:

      We’ll just have to cycle further – which shouldn’t be a problem – where the clientele are a bit more considerate. I felt a bit of a snob writing this, to be honest, which I’ve never felt before, being a common Welshwoman with no pretentions whatsoever!

  6. valzone says:

    You, our Jan, a snob?? Never, ever.

  7. John Mackie says:

    Hi Janh1

    Look, the whole problem is that you were in Gloucester or thereby. This sort of unpleasant encounter is inevitable when you visit the Badlands. Bound to happen.Gloucester is almost as bad as Stroud, in my opinion.

    My advice is to stick close to Cheltenham and civilisation. C’mon the Robins.

  8. janh1 says:

    Evening John! Yes I know, I live the wrong side of the river but it’s closer to Wales, look you. 🙂
    Gloucester has by far the most illustrious history but it took a wrong turn somewhere in the eighties whereas Chelters would still be a backward kind of place with a stream down the middle of the high street if it wasn’t for those pigeons pecking at the mineral springs and a Royal visit 🙂

    I wouldn’t say Stroud is bad. It’s full of vegetarians doing crafts in sandals and home-spun cardigans. They are gentle people, on the whole.

    Chelters is quite fab though, especially as all the tents are up in Imperial Gardens and Montpellier Gardens at the moment in readiness for the Festival of Literature which begins on Friday. I have a wodge of tickets, as usual 🙂

  9. earlybird says:

    I enjoyed this but it made me sad… I haven’t been in a pub garden for over 22 years… we get some of those people in our village café. No consideration whatsoever for others and, of course, being English, they stand out a mile here…

    • janh1 says:

      Hi earlybird 🙂 I’m putting it down to a blip. Maybe we just stopped at the wrong places. To me it signified a big change but hey, maybe we just need to sample more pub gardens.. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it! 🙂

  10. IsobelandCat says:

    Tell me when you are coming to London, and I may let you into the secret of our local!

  11. They are there wherever I look, too. I feel un p.c. for feeling furious. I think the invasion of a loud ignorant voice – and indeed of a culture of many – makes one want to bolt for serenity. Get me to a convent, someone.

  12. janh1 says:

    We could form our own order. The Sisters of Furious Indignation? I bags Sister Indignatia 😉

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