What is Britain?
Britain is flasks of tea and soggy chips. It’s beige chinos, midweek five-a-side, shepherd’s pie and recognising that Robbie Williams is important. True Britishness is to defend the queen and know every single word of the national anthem, despite not knowing the name of the co-worker whose desk you’ve faced for the past six years; it’s Bake Off, Heathrow Airport, stock cubes, monolingualism, motorway tolls, rain, wind, Tories, used car lots, crisp sandwiches and never once questioning what it is that Amanda Holden does.
However, above all, Britain is the pub. Nothing – nothing – is more deeply rooted within our country’s identity than the Great British boozer. Unnamed British Pub, situated in the heart of **** ******, is the most quintessentially British of triumphantly British establishments. For all of its overt, embodied patriotism, it may as well be painted red, white and blue.
On a Saturday, it throws open its doors at 11am sharp, although it takes half an hour or so for punters – those chipper, faithful, oh so very British punters – to begin arriving.
“Watcha Steve!” shouts a man upon entering. The barman – Steve, indeed – grins and immediately begins to pour him a pint of Blue Moon. In pubs – real, British pubs – it’s not only that everybody knows each other, it’s that they also know each other’s tipple of choice and the exact, down-to-the-second moment at which said other desires it. For humans, it’s the closest we’ll come to telepathy; an unspoken, mental communication, built upon the foundation of companionship and communal, classically conditioned boozing.
By 1pm, the Unnamed British Pub is almost full. Clusters of blokes huddle around the single, wide-screen television available, grunting at the unfolding saga that is the Premier League’s early kick-off. Ladies, in slightly larger groups, gaggle and snort, sipping from glasses that they top up from jugs.
There’s an obvious gender divide (strangely, not one group in the pub qualifies as unisexual), but nobody seems to think of it as even remotely odd. A gold-toothed, balding 40-something in a West Ham shirt drops a pint and, for a moment, man and woman are temporarily united in their simultaneous cries of “waaaaaaay!” as the glass smashes on the floor; but, as Gold Tooth holds up his arms in way of smirking acknowledgement, gender segregation is quickly and quietly restored. At Unnamed British Pub, on Saturday afternoon, guys stick with guys, girls stick with girls.
At 2:30pm, peak Britishness is in full swing as the effects of ‘The Day Session’ begin to take flight. The fellas chant and banter with a sordid, seaside humour while the ladies pose for pictures with cocktails in their hands. Restless punters circle like vultures around an occupied snooker table with a theatrical kind of impatience, as an illustrated caricature of Queen Victoria watches on with eye-rolling disdain from her frame on the wall. She’s certainly not amused, but she’s not quite condemning her subjects, either. To commit to the British pub is to commit to an exercise in joyous, willing self-destruction and Her Highness understands such behaviour is a cultural necessity, observing as Steve the barman rips four bags of pork scratchings from a shelf for a pack of hungry customers. “I’m fucking starving. The missus hasn’t been shopping, there was nothing in the fridge for breakfast.”
The mundane buzz of Unnamed British Pub may not seem like anything to write home about – and that’s precisely because it isn’t. If you were to wander in on any Saturday, you’d see exactly the same thing: groups of men and women, stood together, getting gradually drunker and drunker in between bursts of laughter and slurred, regurgitated conversation. Nothing, in the Unnamed British Pub, will ever change – which is what makes it such a perfect, encapsulating snapshot of British life.
The pub, in essence, is totally and utterly rubbish, but at the same time, inconceivably brilliant, too. With its monotonous, mind-boggling capturing of both the dull and delightful, it embodies everything that makes Britain what it is. It’s shit, so very undeniably shit, but it’s ours – and, unconditionally, we love it with all of our being.
Come 3pm, another pint has hit the deck. As Steve the barman grabs a brush to clean up, Candy by Robbie Williams begins to play on the jukebox. With smashed glass at his feet and a wry, knowing smile on his face, he pauses, as if to say “this – this – is my country.”
Words by Niall Flynn