Saturday, December 09, 2006

From red diesel to Greene King ...

This has not really got much to do with boats, but it was sparked off because I was re-reading Narrow Boat (the better to give you the dubious benefit of my opinion of the book in due course), and I noted this passage:

We ate a simple lunch of bread and cheese at the sign of "The Boat" by the canal side, a sign representing a narrow boat on the move which did the brewers concerned, a Leamington firm, much credit. In some quarters there is evidence such as this that the neglected art of the inn sign is being belatedly revived, some more enlightened brewers ... having accomplished much in recent years. Evidently it is dawning upon the brewers' commercial mind that the average countryman goes to the village inn because he is thirsty and because he wishes to gossip with his neighbours, and therefore that to advertise their beer in foot-high letters across the outside walls is not merely unsightly, but expensive and ineffectual.

And then I got home (I was reading the book on the train) and read Private Eye, in which there was this letter:

Greene King must be fast becoming the country's least favourite brewers. Down here in Kent, they have recently replaced traditional pictograph inn signs with just a large depiction of their logo in green on white; thus bring to country lanes the same bland uniformity that bedevils our town centres... [very Roltish, that last bit, I thought]

So, it appears, things come full circle. I have two personal reasons to dislike Greene King. Firstly, since they acquired the Lewes Arms, this fantastically old fashioned and atmospheric pub hidden away in the middle of Lewes (to no inconsiderable, but ultimately ineffectual, local outcry) has stopped selling Harveys (except sometimes, maybe, if they're very good, as a guest beer). It is hard to explain to someone who is not local how outrageous this is; Harveys, winners of CAMRA's Best Best Bitter accolade two years in a row have been brewing in Lewes since 1790, and the pub has been there as long. And Harveys really is very, very nice.

Secondly, the last time (hopefully ever) that I drank so much I was sick I was drinking Greene King Abbott (obviously this was before the Lewes Arms scandal). There is of course a story to this (excuse alert!) and it is a very long one, the key points being that I'd spent the day in Halifax, where I found a cast concrete griffon ridge tile that I decided would make the perfect birthday present for Jim ... I got back to Huddersfield on the train with it in a box, and on leaving the station it dawned on me that it was really very, very heavy ... then I had the luck to run into a chap who was nearly a total stranger, but whom I'd met the previous week in Primark, and he volunteered to carry it to my office for me. This, I think, turned out to be rather further then he thought. I insisted that I must buy him a drink for his trouble; he said he'd already arranged to meet some friends in The County, would I join them there ... so I, along with Pete-from-work, did. The County is quite a nice pub, marred only by a large plasma screen and a youthful clientele, but with a limited range of beers, of which I latched onto the Abbott as being the most Southern. I may have bought Graham (for that was the knight in shining armour's name) a pint; he certainly bought me a lot (four? five? and it's 5% and I'm only little and I hadn't had lunch, let alone dinner). But we did have a nice evening, and his friends were very interesting, and it wasn't until I got back to the boat that it really dawned on me that perhaps I shouldn't've.

But that was the last time I graced Greene King with my custom, and probably the last time I ever will, so in the light of subsequent events I suppose it all ended quite appropriately.

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