We are delighted to welcome back one of our favourite writers, artist, drummer, and beer drinker, Bari Sparshott. Over the next few posts, Bari will be writing about the history of pubs, or to be more accurate, his history in pubs!

Down the Pub…

I am not a sociologist, but I believe it was Friedrich Engels, after much thought in a Salford pub, The Crescent, who came up with the idea that there are three classes in Great Britain—the upper class, the middle class, and the working class. In fact, it was the first two who redefined the third into two classes–the ‘respectable working class’ and the ‘common scum’, which latter, in the first half of the 19th century were largely responsible for the creation of Australia as we know and love it today. Many of the convicts transported to Botany Bay and Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was called at the time) regarded alcohol as a release from the endless misery of their daily lives, and so it became a form of currency in the new settlements, much as it had been in the country of their birth and (invariably) crime scene.

For this, and no doubt, other reasons, the attitude of the working classes towards public houses has always been ambiguous to say the least. There are those who will shoot off for a beer at the slightest suggestion, and regard the pub as their natural environment. Equally there are those, whose desire for, and experience of alcohol is satisfied by an occasional sherry and maybe the odd glass of wine, usually white. As regards going to a pub to obtain these libations—forget it! ‘It’s only “common people” who go into public houses”, is their general attitude, even now in the 21st century.

My father left school in 1923, and  after a short course in office skills, began work as a ship broker on the West Quay in Newhaven in Sussex. His job was to find ships for cargoes, and cargoes for ships. In order to do this he had to become socially adept with the ‘shippers and skippers‘ who were the firm’s clients. This was invariably a pub-based activity, and although he was, at first, under-age, he was well-known as the son of Bill , a merchant seaman on the Cross-Chanel ferries, and so regarded as “safe” by publicans in the town..

As time went by, and he “matured” so he was allowed to go further, to Shoreham, and then to Dieppe, where his love of pubs and bars became more remunerative, as he built up a reputation as a more than adequate pianist. Playing with his band at a wedding in Earlswood in Surrey, he met the woman who would become his wife and my mother. This was a strange pairing, on reflection, because I never knew Mum to drink more than the occasional egg flip (Advocaat, if you must!) at Christmas. Still, it must have worked, as they stayed together from 1938 until 1987 when Dad died.

Now, after a suitable interlude featuring A. Hitler and B. Mussolini, we fast forward to the mid-1950’s, after I have started playing drums. Though now a solo pianist, Dad still occasionally used a drummer, which, of course, reduced his fee somewhat. After I had proved I could both keep time, and play the relevant rhythms, I found myself as a semi-professional musician at about the age of 9 or 10. This involved playing for all kinds of social functions, like clubs, weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties, etc. After a while, Dad became the “go to” pianist for pubs in our part of East Surrey, and we were faced with the problem of what to do about me, as I was only about 12 at the most. Not to worry, I was a big lad, and by putting my drum kit behind the piano I would be at my least conspicuous. So I became a regular fixture in many of the pubs and hotels in our area. But lemonade was becoming very tedious, and made me burp, usually during one of the many performances by wannabe Vera Lynns that we accompanied. What to do?

One summer we went to Brighton for our holiday, during the course of which Dad decided to look up an old mate of his, in Shoreham. We met this gentleman in the same pub they had done business in before the war, and predictably Dad was asked to play the piano. He had just bought a pint of mild when the request came, and he left it, reluctantly, on the table in front of Mum and me. “Don’t touch that!” he ordered, “You won’t like it!

Naturally, I weakened, and loved it! When Dad returned he noticed the deficit in his glass, and merely glowered, but with a twinkle in his eye! From now on, lemonade was out, and I learnt the art of making a half-pint of mild beer last all night. In years to come I would go to a folk club in Redhill a few times, and I noticed that many of the audience had cultivated the same knack, although they were mostly in their 20s and 30s, and I was still in my early teens!

© Bari Sparshott 2017

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