Oliver Cross: The right way to put the world to rights... with a pint

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This week has been what they call challenging, although bleak, harrowing and slough-of-despondish would be nearer the mark.

What’s happened is that the Chemic Tavern in Woodhouse, Leeds, which, as I’ve probably mentioned before, is my local pub, has closed for refurbishment. It’s only for nine days (it reopens tonight) but cue weeping and wailing and - although not very often - dignified fortitude as the Chemic regulars try to adjust to their loss.

In my case, the difficulty is greater because the only club which has ever let me in is the Chemic early-doors club, an after-work forum dedicated to putting the world into perspective, although, because perspectives vary, we seldom achieve much and often have to reassemble the following day in the never-ending quest for ultimate meaning – which is not, as Hamlet said, a consummation devoutly to be wished because if we ever found it, we would have to close down the club and go back to watching early-evening TV, yoga classes or grunting.

Not that conversations at the Chemic could usually be confused with ancient Greek philosophic exchanges. The last early-evening club meeting before the pub’s closure was mainly about biscuits, with a faction of chocolate Hobnobites taking on some Bourbons, Garibaldis and a lone custard cream, who entertained us for several seconds explaining how he liked to eat the top layer first, then scrape away the cream with his teeth, then finish with the by-now pleasantly soggy bottom layer.

A Platonic dialogue it was not, although sometimes our early-evening discussions stray into deeper territory, such as the State of the Nation, the Periodic Table or which group was responsible for the stirring old pop song Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

The answer (Middle of the Road) is instantly available from everybody’s iPad or smart phone, but I think electronic assistance should be banished from pub discussions; the great pleasure of unanswered questions is that they can spin off into hours of random, unconstructive speculation, which produces more interesting talk than you would get from someone who knew what they were talking about.

It’s true that the growth of social media and cyber communication make this the best time ever to be a socially-awkward misanthrope, able to do all essential communication by keyboard, but I think people still need real meeting places – sports clubs, churches, political groups, knitting circles, food banks and pubs being good examples.

In the temporary absence of the Chemic Tavern, some of the customers turned to the extreme option of making their own entertainment, which hasn’t happened much since the late Gracie Fields was a lass. One of the pub’s quiz teams, me included, had built up quite a fund by winning the £15 first prize enough times to buy a barrel of beer, several bottles of wine, two dozen cans of lager and some garnish.

Which we all consumed at our place, with entertainment from a busker and a hurdy-gurdy player because just about every musical need can be met by customers at the Chemic, who also have a strong presence in the fields of counselling, conflict-resolution, plastering, painting and decorating and idle speculation.

Really, if pubs and other social hubs were to disappear from the land, it wouldn’t be the same land. We need, particularly in a country being ripped apart by a brutal austerity programme, to talk to each other.

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