Saturday, 20 April 2013


I took John's advice about reading books in a quiet pub, and chose a little ancient one close to home which does not play music, to carry on reading Daniel Defoe's 'A Tour of the Whole Island of Great Britain', written between 1724 and 1726, but bought by me 287 years later.

I have been going to this pub for almost forty years, but it is a Winter pub only for me, because it is wood panelled and has no natural light in the peaceful back room. Luckily, Winter has stretched right through to today, and I'm not sure if it has entirely gone anyway.

The drawback to a small pub with no music is that it only takes one boring bastard with a loud voice to make reading impossible, so it is a hit-and-miss kind of plan.

Defoe (the writer formerly known as 'Foe' without the 'De' and the author of Robinson Crusoe) was many things in his life, including being a government spy, and I think he was commissioned to carry out this nationwide survey on the British economic climate, in the same way that the Domesday Book was commissioned for similar reasons. It does not read like a simple list, though, and is a genuinely interesting read - if you like that sort of thing. I think I have said before that his rule-of-thumb when assessing the poverty of a town was counting the amount of oyster bars, in the same way we count charity shops.

The amazing thing - to me - is how certain areas with qualities and characteristics which were associated with the topography of about 500 years ago, still retain the same ones, and how people still use the same words to describe how they feel about those places today.

For instance, Defoe could not understand how Bath came to be called a 'city', because when he carried out his tour, Frome had about twice as many people living in it. Wiltshire was known for it's bacon - and still is. Cheddar was renowned for it's cheese, and you know the story of that stuff. Gloucester likewise, and even then, he considered Gloucester to be a boring and unremarkable city - just as I do now.

When he set out on his westward trip, London was centred in the east, and he comments about all the little towns and villages he passed through on his way - places called Hampstead and Chelsea, etc. He said that the dwellings that were strewn in between these hamlets were becoming so numerous, that they were likely to form part of a greater London as they joined up. How right he was. Stick a compass into the map at the centre of modern London and scribe a circle of thirty miles in diameter, and you may just hit the outskirts of the suburbs. When I was a kid, the circle was only about twenty-five miles in diameter.

The only fundamental change that has taken place in the last three hundred years - in all of the counties which border Somerset to the East and North - is the drop in the wool trade which turned so many landowners from simple farmers to wealthy gentry. I blame the British Empire in cotton-rich India, and the rise of the petro-chemical industries. These days, people create wealth by far less honourable methods, even though almost every women and child in four southern counties were employed in the spinning of yarn for the 'Spanish Cloth' trade out of London.

Anyway, back to this pub. A few years ago, I started frequenting it more often (as I had occasionally done for years before) just to get away from one particular customer of my other 18th century local, because - when he was not complaining about the music that is constantly played in it - he would bellow into your ear about every little detail of his uneventful day, and the last straw was when he actually started to describe - in detail - how he had just washed-up his dishes before going to the pub. He pretended to be deaf, but in fact he was just too lazy to concentrate on anything that anyone else had to say.

After a week or two, he discovered where I had been going, and one night he tracked me down, sat next to me and continued where he had left off in the other pub. He had a real knack of winding people up by broaching controversial subjects dear to his right-wing heart - stuff that should never be spoken about in pubs, let alone in the volume he bellowed at - and like I said, this little place is too small for people with large baggage.

He couldn't understand why I almost poured my beer over him when he said, "What I like about pubs with no music is that you can have a decent conversation without shouting". He could not do one and couldn't stop himself from doing the other.

The other night, a man was randomly reading parts of a newspaper out loud to his uninterested friend, and I had to put the book down. Tonight, I am having a quiet night in (I had a quiet night out last night), whilst H.I. actually goes on a Hen-Night with her daughter.

Bath is the all-England venue of choice for Hen-Nights these days (Google it...) but somehow I don't think that she will be falling over, wetting herself and screaming in 6 inch heels, like I plan to do on the associated Stag-Night this coming Saturday.


  1. Tom....the next time you put lipstick on
    Use a mirror

    1. I'd have to use two mirrors to see what I was doing, where I put it.

  2. This reminds me of a 'Bicycle bore' I encountered many years ago at a favourite country pub. I'd just happened to say 'nice bike' as I passed him outside, and was rewarded with every conceivable detail about sprockets, widgets, and tyre pressures for the following hour.

    1. I used to get the same thing in reverse when stopping near old men on my 1938 Triumph motorcycle.

  3. Even as a child I loved Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and later Moll Flanders. The voyage descriptions I didn't know - spent my time on a sentimental journey :-) What you observe about descriptions of landscapes and towns I always find in descriptions of people: they also haven't changed very much from Old Times to now. I'm sure the same uninteresting fellow who bellowed into your ears in the pub will have then sit net to Mr. Jonson, or Mr. Addison, bleating.

    1. Yes, when ever there has been alcohol drunk in public places, there has always been at least one - it is one of the prices you have to pay for going to pubs.

  4. Yes the bleaters will always be here. Like violets rooting in horse shit, they thrive. :~)

    Hey Tom, my Mum, a Blitz baby, is returning to the old country in the next day or so. She'd probably think you are a rude old bugger but I'll keep you in the loop as to where she is. If she goes to Bath, I'd love to put you two in touch. I think she'd enjoy you. (in a completely non-menacing kind of way)