I have always been puzzled by people who spend any portion of Christmas in a pub. Apparently, we booze-loving Brits need more alcoholic sustenance for the most joyous day of the year, alongside the other three hundred and sixty four days that rarely get a look in. It’s hard enough containing the brouhaha within your own home without unleashing your family upon licensed premises as well. Seeing your republican Granddad pissed out of his head on enough scotch to incapacitate a herd of cows while telling the Queen where she can shove her crown is a sight which should never leave the confines of the living room.
Christmas bookings must be popular because every pub has signs advertising their yuletide feasts. If you are going to employ a gang of waiters, cooks and bar staff at Christmas day rates, it must be a serious money-maker. It is easy to tell the classy joints from the grubby ones just from the adverts. A carefully worded message on a chalk board decorated with holly, offering a two course meal for a sum of money which would make what the cheating Pakistani cricketers were jailed for look desperate, indicates a stunning slap-up meal. An A4 sheet with the words “Book Now” written in Times New Roman font, adjacent to a drinks promotion for Bacardi Breezers, indicates the pub will probably try and pass off a microwave roast dinner as valid Xmas fayre.
My Brighton local is not a terribly sophisticated place. It deals in simple pub grub served with less creativity than a grammar school tutor from the 1930s, setting lacklustre texts with the mercurial air of someone wielding too much power. Outside it says “Book here for the original Christmas party!” with the added exclamation mark badly attempting to make the mere thought of a Christmas party anything less than an unedifying spectacle of doom. The picture accompanying the phrase depicts two photogenic blondes laughing over a glass of wine, an image which was only just favoured by the pub’s management over a scene in which colleagues projectile vomit over the shag pile carpet and hurl two-fingered salutes at each other from opposite ends of the bar. Apparently, realism isn’t necessary in advertising.
You know a place is downmarket when everything on the menu has chips included. Sandwiches, steak pie, burgers and brunch: all served with a pile of greasy deep-fried potatoes on the side. It’s a bigger shock when you don’t get any. “Tell the chef he could fit a few chips on the edges of this plate of spaghetti bolognese if he really tried”.
How can a pub, with little history or culture (it doesn’t even have one of those annoying plaques saying “This is the oldest pub in Brighton”, despite the other ten that do) claim to be the original Christmas party? Did Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the wise men, shortly after undertaking the pilgrimage to Bethlehem and giving birth to one of the most important children in history, say “Let’s pop in The Stanmer for a few beverages and a share-size plate of nachos for £3.49”?
What’s perhaps more irritating is that you know the same poster is on display outside numerous pubs up and down the land because The Stanmer is owned by one of the large corporations currently leaching money from the sector and contributing towards the dire state of public houses in the country today. It’s the original Christmas party! In Gravesend’s The Swan, Halifax’s Black Lion and Basingstoke’s Ram Inn!
The management have a new edict for customers eating food. Those working behind the bar have to bring knives, forks and condiments (I once heard someone being asked if they wanted any condiments, to which they said “Oh yes please, tell me I look handsome”) to your table. Clearly the previous system was too complicated. Staff waved in the general direction of the knives, forks and condiments, all laid out in an orderly fashion on a table, and said “Help yourself”. People obviously took this too literally and started having it away with the cutlery.
This causes further tailbacks at the bar, where often just one solitary pint-puller is in operation, which must form part of the company’s newfound health concerns for their patrons. If you have to wait half an hour for every refill, it’s much harder to binge drink; when you next get served quickly in a pub, club or off license, just remember that their speedy service is at the expense of your liver. Even when there is a big football match on and the place is heaving, you have more chance of being served in Tesco’s wearing a massive badge saying “16 today!”
In summary, if you’re looking for a cheap party during this festive season, make sure those attending are not allergic to French fries.