The author of this handy travel book is from the United Kingdom where pubs remain central to the lives of residents – from office workers popping to their local for a pint and a pie at lunchtime, to families (from the youngest to the oldest) for whom it is their ‘local’ – a place to meet and socialise. George Lockyer has vivid memories of waiting outside the local in the family car on a Sunday when he and his brother dined happily on crisps with a fizzy drink while they waited for their father.
I have similar memories of eating chips and drinking raspberry lemonade, also in the family car. These days parents would face charges of child neglect for the things we did regularly back then. But it is not for that reason, I suspect, that the practice has died out. Pubs are not as central to society as they once were when travel was more difficult. And in New Zealand, a lot of things changed when our own form of prohibition – six o’clock closing - came into force in 1918. It was to continue for 50 years, and the practice, which resulted in what is referred to as ‘the six o’clock swill’ has been blamed for creating our country’s binge-drinking culture.
But in the 1960s, a new way of socialising began to emerge as restaurants proliferated and publicans – as well as Returned Service Associations – began to complain about their inability to serve alcohol alongside meals. Pubs were soon back in favour, albeit in a new form, as gastro pubs soon began to emerge, and country pubs began a new life as destination diners – perfect halfway points in a round journey for Sunday drivers.
In interviewing publicans and tracking the changes in fortune over time, George Lockyer has created a charming potted history of some of the country’s finest pubs. Many of the publicans share amusing anecdotes along with stories of their own lives before they took over the helm at local hotels. It reads well. And, as I suggested in the opening paragraph, it would make a wonderful travel guide for anyone who likes a good pub and a good yarn with their travels. After all, getting to chat with locals while also enjoying a drink or two is a great way to tease out places to include in any itinerary.
If I have any issue with this book, it is quite simply that the images let it down. Many of these are more like snapshots – poorly angled and badly shot. This is especially true when it comes to the all-important exterior shots, and overall these photographs, which to my mind are as important as the text, do little to enhance the stories they accompany. I understand the dilemma for a publisher. The concept of this book is great. And I have no doubt it will sell well. But if a new version is to be considered, I hope the quality of the images improves and becomes less of an ‘also ran’ and more of a star with equal billing to the writing.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli