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The pub­li­can-in-the-street has been point­ing out por­tents of doom for years, but as far as I’m con­cerned, the day that Charlie Chawke de­clared that he will only hire Ir­ish staff to meet and greet cus­tomers in his li­censed premises, was the day Ir­ish pub cul­ture died. Proper Ir­ish pubs, as I re­call them from my glo­ri­ously misplaced youth, had no truck what­so­ever with this meet and greet malarkey. In fact, the mea­sure of a truly great Ir­ish pub was its land­lord’s ob­vi­ous dis­plea­sure at be­ing in­ter­rupted from read­ing his pa­per at the counter by an im­per­ti­nent cus­tomer de­mand­ing drink. Two sto­ries of leg­endary Dublin bar­men im­me­di­ately spring to mind: the man who, upon be­ing asked if there was an ash­tray, replied, “you’re stand­ing in it,” and the won­der­ful character who re­sponded to a re­quest for ice and le­mon by ask­ing the cus­tomer if he thought he was in a restau­rant.

Ah, sto­ries. That, above all else, is what we are los­ing with the demise of pub cul­ture. Bri­tish pubs might be de­voted to juke boxes and slot ma­chines, but the Ir­ish ver­sion has al­ways been about talk­ing. Talk­ing rub­bish, for the most part, but some­where in be­tween the thou­sands of con­ver­sa­tions about whether Keane or Fer­gu­son is a bet­ter man and how much the house around the cor­ner went for, there were nuggets. I have no idea how many of them I have pol­ished up and put into plays and sto­ries and col­umns, but just the other day, I sum­moned another one up and fit­ted it into the play I’m writ­ing about this sum­mer’s Garth Brooks fi­asco. It’s a story, since you asked, about somebody who owned a tor­toise which had the run of the front gar­den; a gar­den into which, one night, a pass­ing drunk did what we shall call – since it is Sun­day – a num­ber two. Un­for­tu­nately, the afore­men­tioned num­ber landed on the tor­toise, who then am­bled off, leav­ing a very shocked drunk to dis­cover that his mo­tions had ap­par­ently been fruit­less. Now ob­vi­ously, this story has noth­ing to do with Garth Brooks (though it does now) and is also, most likely, com­pletely un­true – but I heard it in a pub once and many years later it

I heard it in a pub years ago. That’s what hap­pens with pub talk: the re­ally good stuff finds a life and a home beyond the bar

has made its way into a play. Be­cause that’s what hap­pens with pub talk: the re­ally good stuff finds a life and a home beyond the bar.

I have al­ways be­lieved our rich lit­er­ary cul­ture and our pub cul­ture were linked. Sim­ply, if you are in the business of telling sto­ries, then you will find no richer seam of in­spi­ra­tion than from the company of peo­ple shoot­ing the breeze over a few pints. Perch­ing on a high stool at the counter with the news­pa­per sim­ply won’t do: you need to be crouched around a ta­ble, in du­bi­ous company, lis­ten­ing to the tall tales and non­sense that me­an­der through ev­ery pub that over­looks the meet and greet de­tail. Think of the best sto­ries you have heard and I’ll guar­an­tee you at least half will have be­gun their lives in a pub. Think of the big­gest, best laughs you have ever had and again, you will find your­self back on that stool.

But no more. There are a mil­lion rea­sons why pubs have fallen out of fash­ion – the (un­der­stand­ably) em­bit­tered pub­li­can will prob­a­bly cite the smoking ban, the drink driv­ing laws, ru­ral iso­la­tion – and as we have wit­nessed over the years suc­ces­sive min­is­ters for fi­nance and their greasy an­nual ten cents on the pint clearly don’t help mat­ters. But what­ever the rea­son, the sad fact is that th­ese days, most of us spend our nights at home, drink­ing wine and watch­ing The X Fac­tor. And I’ll guar­an­tee that you will never hear a story worth putting in a play on The X Fac­tor.

I have a feel­ing that our lit­er­ary out­put will suf­fer from the demise of pubs. If not from ram­bling con­ver­sa­tions over pints, then where will we find our sto­ries and our nuggets in the fu­ture? If we are se­ri­ous about pro­tect­ing the arts – and ob­vi­ously the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is any­thing but – at the very least we should start re­duc­ing the price of the pint in bud­gets. By the time pub­li­cans are giv­ing the beer away for free, our lit­er­ary fu­ture will be guar­an­teed. In the mean­time, we will all have be­come hope­less al­co­holics – but hon­estly, when it comes to a choice be­tween a story about Si­mon Cow­ell’s house or an in­no­cent tor­toise be­ing defe­cated on, surely that’s a small price to pay.

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