A heaven, a gateway, a hope
Disclaimer: this post mentions beer and pubs frequently. You do not have to read this if your life has been affected by substance abuse.
For those of you who subscribed to posts that weren’t beer related I’ll have to confess that I can’t afford to not promote my book on desi pubs (British-Indian pubs). So from now I think I will be posting mainly about desi pubs and the rich adventures that can be explored further by a weekly email. But all those elements that you liked in my previous posts - especially concerning the identity of children of the British empire - will remain. If you want to know more about why I love desi pubs so much I really recommend this piece I wrote for Pellicle in November. Maybe use this week’s as a taster for what to expect.
You can pre-order Desi Pubs - A guide to British-Indian Pubs, Food & Culture here
Thanks for reading Episodes of My Pub Life! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Towards the end of 2022 I started noticing a trend on Twitter and Instagram that momentarily appealed to me. Screenshots were taken of notes detailing people’s achievements in the year - the personal (“got engaged”), workplace (“got a new job”) and whimsical (“got a photo with Gunnersaurus”). But how do you post humble brags without coming across as smug especially when a lot of people intend these as networking LinkedIn-style job pitches? (This one I found searching on Twitter - as an example)
Maybe it’s unavoidable. I’ve been told by a lot of people who like my writing that I’ve had an “incredible year” because I’ve won prizes, started a book and launched a beer that tried to be the first decolonised India Pale Ale - Empire State of Mind (Villages brewery). I also had my photo taken with Gunnersaurus.
I’m not great at accepting compliments particularly because they tend to be surface deep and 2022 was a massive struggle for me. The reason I am lucky enough to have a creative job is because my partner supports me but recently our childcare demands have put too big a strain on our relationship. The equilibrium we attained was based on me working from home so I can do the school-run, while she leaves early to travel across London to a job she hates but pays a reasonable wage. (She’s soon to get a job where they value her and is more flexible, I’m sure.)
Travelling across the country to write a book, while working on my regular journalism shattered this idyll as I became ill a lot from lack of sleep and general exhaustion (nothing to do with the many mixed grills and pints of Mild). We lurched into the latter stages of the year and had very little time for each other. I vowed to take off Christmas and not work, which I achieved, but as this post will detail it was far from relaxing.
I realise a lot of people have family Christmases they endure and when it gets to the first week in January just want to forget all about the arguments, the aggression and agro. But what I want to say is we don’t have to do this every year. We don’t have to tolerate toxic relatives. Or we can set boundaries.
The beer was brewed by my friend who moved from Tottenham to here in the North - my partner’s mother asked me repeatedly where he was from when she heard his first name. “Tottenham” is the answer as I refuse to teach her about racism when the information is so easily accessible.
She was more interested in his literal skin-deep differences - he’s black - than the commonality that she shared with a fellow gardener - he grew some of the beer’s Fuggle hops in his garden despite this being the north west. In any case he created a finely balanced stout offsetting the bitter hoppy taste with malty flavours - it was absolutely superb and I paired it with a curry that took three hours to slow cook made from previous day’s leftover turkey. The Christmas Day roasted meat was soaked in butter and this made the dish take on a luxurious, fatty depth.
I was slightly on edge when I stirred this ‘desi’ turkey stew because my two-year-old was napping and it’s never a real rest as you expect the child to wake at any moment.
I brought the twice-cooked turkey along with my friend’s homebrew to the table.
My partner’s father drank it like it was a glass of Coke. He ate the food without comment. He fled to the lounge with my partner’s mother where they slammed the door leaving us with our kids in their creaking, decaying house.
I could call them Grandpa and Grandma but their behaviour shows that the titles are honorary and not earned. I step outside and the claustrophobia doesn’t vanish but instead the surrounding hills enclose in. Suffocating me. The wind seems to want to push me home - earlier in the day a visitor had said “London, why would you want to live there?”
Because it’s not here. Because it’s where I’m me. Because you’re not there.
Also that day, my partner’s father had let my two-year-old run down a road when a gate was opened by my six-year-old daughter. I shouted at him and he matter-of-factly replied: “it’s not my responsibility”. Most people I know would’ve sensed the danger and chased after the boy.
I rang him up to keep the peace after the argument. He accepted the apology but when I said we weren’t being made to feel welcome the gaslighting began again “that’s not the case” and when I said I expected more help he said “that’s just the way it is”.
A few weeks ago I visited here - Marple, Greater Manchester - with just my daughter in tow and things were a lot brighter. My aim was to visit the local pubs and write about how they had changed and become more inclusive. Had they? Not sure. Let’s find out.
Here’s something I shouldn’t admit but is actually obvious. There’s no real gauge if a pub is inclusive, like there’s no way of measuring if a place is racist. OK in the pub with my non-white friends sometimes we play “which place is more racist?” but it’s a semi-silly game and really just a way of talking about racist incidents from Aberdeen to Cornwall.
It also depends on the day you visit, the mood of the punters and external issues, such as news events. You could have a black landlord or the most left-leaning publican imaginable but if a bunch of fascists want to visit then suddenly your safe place becomes perilous. And if your pubs are always white majority - like in Marple - then they become nightmarish.
A few years ago this happened to me in the town’s Norfolk Arms - a pub transitioning from traditional to a more craft beer offering to entice a younger crowd. Three middle-aged men wearing Berghaus jackets were defending their British “right” to throw bananas in football stadiums because in India there’s bad words for white people too. That really was their logic.
These gora - it actually isn’t a racial slur - were full of bile for how their version of Britishness (which they equated to whiteness) was being “cancelled” despite having this open forum of a pub. They also hated trans people so I guess I should be thankful that their hatred was all-encompassing and dispersed liberally.
I visit the same pub years later and it does feel more inclusive. But what if these three guys returned? Whatever the case I had a pint of Titanic Plum Porter (one of my favourite beers) and spoke to my publisher on the phone about my book. Sitting in this white-ish setting it struck me that desi pubs really stand out as a rare case of post-racism success in the UK. I raised a pint glass to the Berghaus baddies preaching a British Blutschande and how, without them, this was a safe space. For now.
My daughter also liked her stay here. “She’s no trouble”, my partner’s parents said, but it seems my two-year-old, who is so full of life, wonder and love, is different to them. I thought my eldest was affectionate but sometimes he climbs on me and then kisses unprompted on the lips. That’s not mentioned in any parenting books and no matter how tired I am I feel I can draw energy from this innocent, unconditional love. He sometimes cuddles those guide dog donation boxes which, I believe, makes him the opposite to people spreading bile at home and in pubs.
My partner’s mother is worse than her father. This Christmas she spent no time with the kids and when she wanted to watch horse racing on the TV, literally pushed them out of the room, causing them to cry. When the dogs barked at the children (they’re getting old, senile, decrepit - the dogs that is, not the grandparents - and should be destroyed - the grandparents that is, not the dogs) she sided with her pets.
But she saves her ire for my partner. Passively aggressively refusing to engage in any conversations, running from anything that might be controversial and worst of all not offering any answers. I guess there’s no way to spin it when you’re discovered to be selfish and you refuse to change.
My kids are the last line of her family. They don’t bear her name but they have her features and occasional mannerisms. It’s sad really. There’s nothing you can do when you have a toxic family other than to realise they’ll never be happy. Despite wealth. Despite love. Despite horse racing.
We’ll return to Marple again as my kids love the big house, the animals and the countryside. If they’re willing to endure being pushed out of rooms then so shall I. Especially because I’ve never been physically manhandled out of a pub. Yet.
The headline is the opening line from the New Order song Temptation. The band were once managed by Tony Wilson, who lived in Marple from the age of five.
Next week I’ll be looking at Smethwick. I’ve written extensively about how British-Indian campaigners, such as Avtar Singh Jouhl who sadly died recently, made it a town of desi pubs but have overlooked other communities, such as those of Irish and Caribbean descent. Hopefully this will bring out a nuanced exploration of a fascinating Black Country town that I love visiting.
If I can’t finish that in time I may explore why during a cost of living crisis it’s important to highlight inclusivity. (I once got told that I should be supporting hospitality more and not complaining about racism). Or I may write about desi places without desi pubs, like Tooting or Brick Lane.
Finally, if you’re not yet sick of newsletters or chat about desi pubs please sign up to fellow beer writer Will Hawkes’ London Beer City here. He’s given me a guest column where I detail a London desi pub each month. Thanks, Will!
See you next week.
Thanks for reading Episodes of My Pub Life! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.