The Curmudgeon


Friday, July 25, 2014

Closing Time at the Gallows and Glockenspiel


At any given time, there are any number of establishments which claim the title of oldest pub in England. Some optimistic reckonings put the number as low as fifty-seven, and even many of those can be discounted for one reason or another.

The commonest fallacy is to assume that, just because a pub is in an ancient building, it can therefore be considered an ancient pub. The building which is now the Fiddler’s Arms in Gloucestershire, for example, was probably completed as early as the sixteenth century; but it went through successive incarnations as a lodgehouse, a threshing barn, a debtors’ prison, a school, an emporium for gentlemen’s undergarments and a roller disco before finding its present calling.

There is also the equal and opposite fallacy of assuming that the survival of a pub’s name is the same as the survival of the pub itself; and this despite the recent discoveries of semioticians and other heavy drinkers that the sign is by no means the same as the signed. In one sense, the Old Game Leg in Yorkshire has “survived” since the year 1487; but only in the sense that the name has been bestowed on half a dozen successive establishments which were built and demolished on more or less the same premises, though arguably even one of these does not count, on the grounds that it is slightly on the other side of the Pennines.

The oldest pub in England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom and probably the world is, in fact, the Gallows and Glockenspiel; which, thanks to its unique time-travelling facility, is also often the newest.

Although the Gallows and Glockenspiel has been present at any number of different times and locations since first being built, this does not invalidate its claim to antiquity, since the building, the barman and the regular patrons always remain the same. In this sense, of course, they are much like England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom itself, whose essential character has remained constant through many centuries of glorious history. The fact that the Gallows and Glockenspiel can travel through so many centuries, past and future, without changing its external appearance or exciting much notice among the locals is a testament to the homely continuity of British life and the steadfast calmness of the natives.

The means by which the Gallows and Glockenspiel travels are obscure, thanks either to the natural taciturnity of the barman, the lack of expertise in advanced physics among the regulars, or the unconstructive influence upon scientific research of dubious alcoholic beverages in large quantity.

Nor have the causes or purposes of these travels been satisfactorily researched, if indeed there are any causes or purposes to research. One hypothesis mentions half a dozen barrels of Swigler’s Old Malarkey being left in the cellar past their sell-by date, with fungal and chemical consequences possibly beyond the conceptions of modern science. Another hypothesis proclaims that the Gallows and Glockenspiel was originally built at some point in our future, after the invention of time travel, and that the pub will be intended all along as a device for exploring the centuries in their ever-developing, ever-continuing Britishness.

This last idea seems a plausible one, but it must be admitted that there is next to no evidence to support it. We do not even know whether the Gallows and Glockenspiel’s chronological voyages are deliberately steered, according to the subtle calculations of some guiding influence; or whether they really are the random, uncoordinated lurches about the space-time continuum which they in fact appear to be.

In a way, of course, such questions are secondary, and even irrelevant. The Gallows and Glockenspiel is undoubtedly a licensed establishment run for legitimate profit, and its motions through history and the future are not our business to judge. It behoves us only to stand and observe as the magnificent pageant of British history reveals itself to us through the thoughts and observations of ordinary drinking people.

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Extracts all over the place


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