According to CAMRA, eighteen pubs close each week across the UK. Certainly here in Heaton village centre we have lost two of the four that were open in the 1990s. There are a number of explanations offered for this high rate of attrition. Beer and spirits are quite heavily taxed, but in supermarkets cut-price alcohol is commonplace. Many of those running pubs which they do not own are locked into agreements by which they can only sell beer, wines and spirits supplied by the freehold owners. I understand that some years ago a law attempting to restrict the number of public houses tied to individual brewers led, as an unintended consequence, to the development of management companies who are now unconstrained by any legislation. Locally in Bradford changing demographics have naturally resulted in unwanted pubs being left in the centre of communities for whom alcohol in any form is forbidden. Yet public houses have occupied an important part in our cultural life: the discovery of DNA was announced at The Eagle in Cambridge, The Eagle & Child in Oxford was the first place to encounter hobbits, and at the Tally Ho! In Eastbourne I was introduced to bar billiards.
It must be very hard to make an acceptable living by running a public house today. Many pubs have extended their range by offering food and live entertainment. Some real ales are of such quality, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is my current favourite, that the enthusiast will seek out a source wherever it is to be found. And then there are pub quizzes. Is there any pub in Britain that doesn’t offer a weekly quiz? I am part of a family team who enters the local Kings Arms quiz every Thursday night. Interestingly the results are heavily influenced by the quiz format. After an embarrassingly long series of victories we found that the pub had introduced an entertaining new format including more pictures, popular music and modern culture. This is much more difficult for someone like myself but I live in hope of eventual chemistry, archaeology or Roman emperor queries. Next month the inter-pub quiz league recommences; that is where all the scary people are. Having said that our team, in which Tim and I participate, were the Airedale League challenge cup winners last year. So, let’s drink to the survival of the Kings Arms and its quiz team; and wish us luck for tonight.