How many ways to say Brahms and Liszt?. ‘Undredsanbloodyundredsh. Let’s face it, you can be drunk as a lord, a rat, or a skunk; you can be three or even four sheets to the wind; you can be off your arse, your face, your tits; out of your head, your tree, your skull; shit-faced; likened to a fart or a parrot; pie-eyed, bevvied, bladdered, blitzed, blotto, bollocksed, boozed-up, hammered, lampfaced, legless, paralytic, plastered, rat-arsed, pickled, puggled, sloshed, tanked-up, tight (as a tic or otherwise), tiddly, tipsy, well-oiled, in your cups, or just plain old Anglo Saxon ‘pissed’ – which is the word I was looking for in the first place and frankly does the job every bit as well as any other coined before or since. Nor do I doubt you can chuck in a few more choice bons mots of your own. That said, this – from ‘Worcester Herald’ October 1852 – takes some beating. Can’t help but feel the unnamed court reporter was somewhat discombobulated, blootered, blathered, bozo’d and/or trollied himself, right?
56 years ago to this very day, May 14th 1958 (a Wednesday), a 19 year-old trainee from accountants Bowen Dawes and Wagstaffe in Bridge Street called into two St Johns pubs: The Swan (Ansells), swiftly followed by The Bell (Hunt Edmunds). The next day (Thursday May 15th) he called into his local, The New Inn in Ombersley Road (Banks’s). The day after that – and it being a Friday – he did what he was fast developing a taste for, visiting a selection of Worcester pubs and making a note of them just in case they might be in danger of closing and vanishing off the face of the earth for good. On this particular day they were The Old England and The Waterloo in the Blockhouse (both Spreckleys), The Crown & Anchor in Hylton Road (Marstons), The Royal George on Tunnel Hill (Spreckleys), The Virgin (Marstons), the newly-opened Farmers Boy on Tolladine Road (M&B), and The Gun at Newtown (Spreckleys). Not only that, but being a trainee accountant he even logged them as the 128th to 136th pubs he’d visited that year – a year that saw him taking-in 341 pubs in all, not only every pub in Worcester (153) but also pubs in Bromyard, Bringsty, Powick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Porlock (Somerset) Lynmouth, Clovelly, Bodmin, Dartmoor and Port Isaac in Cornwall, all lovingly logged, neatly scripted and meticulously notated in two exercise books (‘ruled narrow feint and margin’).
And yesterday, Gus Tysoe, now 75 and living in Droitwich, re-opened the world of 1958 and 1959 and the crusade he and his mates Tony, Brian, Ray and Big George (‘I never knew their surnames’ he told me) embarked on after reading a ‘shock, horror’ article in the then ‘Evening News and Times’ that the 1960s were likely to see the City’s pubs closing down at a rate of knots unimagined. “I’d worked it out that in Worcester we could visit every pub twice in a year so long as we stayed away on Sundays and Good Friday. So that’s what we set out to do” he told me yesterday over a breakfast in The Postal Order – then the City’s telephone exchange. Readers of ‘Bob Backenforth’s Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ – still Worcester’s best-selling book five months after its launch – will have seen reference to the elusive ‘Gus’ (real name John) on pages 41-2 when I referred to details of two of his memorable pub crawls – a 9-pub Blockhouse trek that took place on February 23rd 1958 and a 12-pub marathon just over a year later to celebrate completion of his Intermediate exams when the itinerary took in The Royal Exchange; Plough (Cornmarket); Old England (Providence Street); King William, St Paul’s Street; Waterloo (Waterloo Street); Croft Inn (James Street); New Inn (George Street); and the Potters Arms and Vulcan (both St Pauls Street)
As I said in the book : ‘…I like the sound of Gus. What’s more, he adds that the evening’s entertainment was so successful that they – he doesn’t list his friends sadly, but like him, they sound like a merry bunch – decided to make it an annual event’. So you can imagine how chuffed I was when he contacted me after drawing a copy of the book from Droitwich library and confessing to being ‘completely gobsmacked’ when he saw his name in print. Truth to tell, I was pretty much gobsmacked meself when he called me – which is why yesterday saw us undertake a mini-crawl of our own, taking in three more of the pubs he hasn’t seen the inside of for more than half a century: The Crown In Broad Street (now Lloyds No1) ’Aw… gutted. What’s happened to the Gents Only bar?’; his favourite at the time, The Shakespeare (now The Cricketers) where gaffer Adrian was only too pleased to open up the upstairs bar for Gus to wallow in a hefty dose of nostalgia (see pic left); and The Royal Exchange – which, the more astute will have noticed, is the only one left standing from his 12-pub tally from March 1959. Gus has given me temporary loan of his notebooks and they’ll be re-appearing in some detail in forthcoming new editions of the pubs books – on which subject there’s soon going to be some exciting news about more volumes to come. There’s a rich seam of priceless information in Gus’ memory-crammed notebooks and it’s just too damned good to keep to myself. Which is why I’m going to be sharing it with you. And that’s a promise, count on it. Meantime, thanks Gus. I’m overcome with nostalgia – which, as we all know, ain’t a patch on what it was! Sighs……
Looks like The Cavalier’s smile has faded and gone after all. Probably for good. I hear that Punch Taverns are about to flog it off to… are you ready for this? The Jehova’s Witnesses! Wikipedia, bless ‘em. describe the movement as ‘a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs’. Me? I describe them as a pain in the arse, banging my door, po-faced and preachifying, wanting to ‘talk about God’ and trying to flog their ill-produced literature. Now, while I recognise that this is no place to get involved in the ins and outs of near-fanatical alternative religious beliefs, I will say this… it’s not for nothing they’re viewed as the most persecuted group of Christians of the twentieth century, and if you want to find out more about this Brooklyn (New York) based organisation that believes that the end of the world really is nigh with Armageddon just around the corner – and from which the only survivors will be just 144,000 divinely-selected souls, Witnesses, of course – this is as good as it gets
So, as of St Georges Day – when, according to two well-placed sources yesterday it appears the deal might have been at least shaken on – it looks like the once-hallowed ground on which stood St Georges Tavern and its 1960s re-incarnation is on the brink of being turned into another ‘Kingdom Hall’. St George’d have a screaming fit. (Mind, given the Witnesses’ views on sex and relationships, they’re the ones who’ll be having a screaming fit once they see the array of johnny machines and performance-enhancing aids in the gents’!) Next phase, no doubt, will be a planning application to the City Council who will, if past performances are anything to go by, pass it through on a nod and that’ll be it. Of course, there’s the little matter of a reputed covenant that states that The Cavalier, opened 1968, must remain as a pub for 100 years – which gives it a potential lease of life of a fraction over 50 years – but I expect that’ll be conveniently got round/forgotten about/hushed-up as the drive to rid the City of all its pubs marches on. Punch Taverns, I’ve heard about selling your soul to the devil – and, given your present financial situation which is largely of your own making I would venture to suggest – I can see that desperate measures are called for. But to the Witnesses? Don’t send ‘em round to my house, that’s all I can say. They might learn two new words.
41 reasons why I’m relegated to the dog-house with a bowl of something enriched with nourishing marrowbone jelly for me tea
It being Bank Holiday week and also ‘cos I’m in the doghouse yet again – a situation I find myself in so regularly these days the RSPCA are starting to take notice – I’ve been doing a bit of a state-of-the-nation tour around the City’s pubs, some of which I haven’t seen the inside of for way too long. Aside from the bleedin’ obvious, a secondary object was also to leave my calling card – or to be more precise, 125 calling cards in the form of ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ beermats, but… well, it seemed churlish not to have availed myself of the fayre on offer when time (and the drink-drive laws) allowed. So, state of play to date (Tuesday am): Albion (new gaffer Wesley is a kick-boxing champ so if there’s any kicking out to be done, strikes me it’ll be painful!); Anchor (Nic in ebullient mood and gearing up for a busy session); Bell (bustling and busy, and a cracking pint of Hobson’s as per usual); Blackpole (lot of out-of-trim lads in sportsgear shouting at the telly); Brewers Arms (a constant delight where I was told my book is a pain the arse. Oh, why? I asked sweet and innocent. ‘Cos I can’t put it down! came the reply). Brunswick Arms (where gaffer Chris was putting out bunting for the holiday cider festival); Cardinal’s Hat (‘you’ll have to call the manager’); Cavalier; Chestnut Tree (garden full to overflowing); Coppertops (where Seb O’Donnell tells me he’s leaving this week after 2 years); Cricketers (where gaffer Adrian said ‘well you can take ‘em back then’ after being told they were 20p each – a jest, of course); Crown (Lloyds No1); Eagle Vaults (heaving, raucous and in fine singing fettle of a Sunday lunchtime, like pubs always used to be); Goodrest (where I sense summat’s up, but don’t know what); Gun (gaffer Jennie radiant and charming); Hand in Glove; Horn and Trumpet (gaffer Adey Birch effusive about the book and helping himself to an extra 125 for The Courtytard which he also runs); Kings Head; Lakes (where new gaffers Garry and Julie said they’re desperate for beermats as not a single one was left in the place when they took over 5 weeks ago: I left them with 250); Maple Leaf (gaffer Heidi in fine form); Marwood (where I was told the old ‘Green Man’ sign is still on the premises somewhere); Mount Pleasant (where gaffer Rob mistook my request for ‘a quick one on the house ‘cos I’m desperate’ as a demand for a free beer rather than a comment on the state of my overflowing bladder at the time: he complied too, bless!); New Chequers (hulking great gaffer Craig always extending a great beefy hand to shake whenever he sees me – which is often!); New Inn (where I saw them neatly laid out yesterday: some folks were even using them as coasters!); Northwick Arms (where I even used one myself as a soft cushion for a fair pint of Worcester Gold); O’Neill’s (where I was informed I’d have to come back ‘cos the manager’s on ‘er ‘olidays); Plumbers Arms (note to Bob: how come you left it so long to re-visit this friendly little boozer?); Portobello (‘leave ‘um wiv me, darlin’!); Postal Order; Prince of Wales (‘them’s good beermats!’); Punch Bowl; Saracens Head (where I was delighted to hear Steve and Shaylene are now staying after all); Slug’n’Lettuce (where the manager visibly shuddered when I told him about the body bricked up in the wall); Star Bar (where somebody big was visiting – huge guys with surreptitious walkie-talkies and I suspect shooters everywhere; Swan (Barbourne – where gaffer Craig completely ignored me: he’s got his arse in his hand over something); both Talbots (Barbourne and Sidbury); Wheatsheaf (where Kelly posted a lovely pic on the FB group page yesterday of the beer mats in situ https://www.facebook.com/groups/worcesterpubsthenandnow; Vine (where I see a facelift is underway and not before time either) and Virgin – showing off its new astro-turf in the sunshine yesterday. That’s 41 pubs, with 47 still to go – an eventuality I’m hoping to complete over the coming days. On reflection, she might just have a point relegating me to the dog-house with a bowl of something enriched with nourishing marrowbone jelly for me tea. Ah well…. at least my nose will be nicely wet and shiny by the time I’ve delivered them all, though I suspect the neighbours will have taken a dim view of a) me gripping them around the leg with me tongue hanging out whenever we meet, and b) my toilet arrangements with one leg cocked up the lamppost. Bowl of Pal, anybody?
The smile’s fading, but at least it’s still there… or is it a smirk I’m seeing? When it comes to Worcester, the cavaliers’ isn’t too healthy a track record: played 2, lost 2. But at least you could count on them to put up a bloody good fight against a tough old adversary – a trait that, it pleases me no end to say, continues to this very day. First off, it took Cromwell’s ‘oppoes two months to nail ‘em in the Siege of Worcester in 1646; five years later, the underdogs once more stood their ground as best they could against a massive army that cost 3,000 dead at The Battle of Worcester. And now, here we go again as apparently overwhelming forces appear to have it in for the poor old cavs and The Faithful City – this time with a vision of sweeping away the pub that bears the name of one of them as the drive towards building houses on every square yard of Britain marches onwards. Strikes me cash-strapped Punch Taverns were only too happy to go along with the plan too, but here comes the fight-back… Seems there’s a clause tucked away somewhere in the legal jargon of The Cavalier‘s original deeds from around 1968 that decrees it has to remain as a pub for 100 years from that date. Admittedly, there’s only a tidge over half a century left, but at least the scene is set for another hotly-contested re-match between the Cavaliers and Worcester with law’n’order on their side and the massed ranks of baddies on the other. We’re not called The Faithful City for nothing – Civitas in bello et pace fidelis (‘The City faithful in war and peace’ – or as Bob Backenforth’s Worcester Pubs Then and Now only ever so slightly bastardises it: ‘Civitas in beero et pubbi fidelis ‘The City faithful to its beer and its pubs‘) so the battle-lines are drawn and I know which side I’m on. We’re with you, Tracey (Tracey Franklin – manager).
Ms.Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway must be the best pub gaffer in the world bar none (well, I say ‘bar none’ when really I mean ‘bar one at least’; to whit, me, ‘cos that’s just what she did not so long ago on account of something quite innocuous I wrote in the book – and boy, did it unleash a backlash of abuse from the 1400+ members of the ‘Worcester Pubs Then and Now’ FB group https://www.facebook.com/groups/worcesterpubsthenandnow). But I digress. Where was I…? Oh yes, the best pub gaffer in the world… See, yesterday, the local #CAMRA coven unveiled its ‘Worcester CAMRA Pub of the Year’ – The Paul Pry no less, licensee and dps Ms. Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway. The accolade takes the tally of Worcester pubs that have won the title since 1993 to just four, of which Ms.Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway has, at some stage or another, been very closely involved in three: The Dragon – winners 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003; The Plough – winners 2006, 2008 and 2011 with no prize awarded in 2009; and, as of yesterday, The Paul Pry. Out of interest, the only other is The Firefly, winner 2012. Now, not having been permitted since last Christmas to set foot in any of the three she’s been associated with, I don’t doubt for one second that the accolade is eminently well deserved, and the local press will surely be reporting this particularly remarkable licensee’s incredible run of success once the Worcester CAMRA spokesman gets his usual two penn’orth in. HIs name’s Bill Ottaway – and if you didn’t catch it first time, here it is again: Bill Ottaway, former husband of said Catherine Esther Louise Ottaway. Look out for it – it won’t be biased in the slightest. Honest.