Thursday, 28 July 2011

The vault

A handscanner is a very handy device. It's what I've been using on the "Pub and the People". I scan in the pages then OCR them. Not too bad, effort-wise.

Lexie needs cash and was asking for jobs he could do. "You could scan this pub book for me." "How much will I get?" Kids. Such mercenary bastards. "Three cents a page, Lexie. That'll be three whole euros if you finish it off."

He didn't, of course. I'm too fussy (I insist the scans are legible) and Lexie's too impatient. I finished it myself. Made for an thrilling Saturday morning. Adrenalin junkie, that's me.

All of which is irrelevant to the rest of this post. Which is about the different rooms in a 1930's pub. I have to smile at the attempt to rationalise and categorise something as amorphous and anarchic as pubs. But that's what middle-class academics love to do. It;'s a harmless enough activity.

We'll begin with my old stomping ground, the vault:

"The real difference between these rooms is in the relationship between the people in them, and the relationship of all the people to the permanent personnel of the pub. Broadly, this is the subject of most of the rest of this book, but it will be useful here to specify some points in the general pattern. The fact that the vault is the place where you often stand is first important. You do not come to the vault to relax physically. And many of the people in any vault are working nine hours a day on their feet. (The great majority of workers, both sexes, in Worktown have jobs which involve standing or walking about, mainly in artificially hot or damp atmospheres, tropical all the year round, so noisy that a lip-reading system has developed as language.)

Only men are allowed in the vault. There is a sawdust strip along the bottom of the bar, or the derived spittoons with sawdust or (further derivation) without. The seventeenth century usage of vault-lavatory has already been mentioned. There is something of the gent's lavatory and structure in a vault, which is almost always long and thin, and stone floored (in the older pubs). The vault is nothing like home. It is an exclusively male gathering. And the males who come to it come singly. They know that they will meet company there. To the vault you go singly, to the lounge in groups.

There are seldom pictures or decorations of any sort in the vault. There are very seldom aspidistras. There is generally some sort of game, often several. There is usually a bookmaker's runner who comes in at certain times. And the landlord spends most of his time there. There is of course constant contact between the people in the vault and the person or persons behind the bar, who may be a woman, and may then become focus of a whole pattern of banter and flirt. You may spit on the floor or burn the bar with a cigarette, and the barmaid won't reprove you. Indeed, as one pub-goer remarked, "You can do almost anything you bloody well like in the vault, short of shitting on the place."

The vault is thus the place where the male comes to relax mentally, though not so much physically. To meet other men, many of whom he only knows here, who may never have seen each other's wives except on the last half hour on Saturday when the man may accompany his wife in the lounge."
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), page 105.

I keep banging on about how I recognise so much in these pubs of the 1930's from my own experiences in the 1970's. But almost none of the description applies to the pubs I knew. First off, most people sat. None of this standing lark, except for the odd person at the bar. There were neither spittons, nor sawdust, nor were the customers exclusively male. There were decorations, too. Like the Brassmoulders collection of Rugby League photos. Arial shots of a packed SCG, where Great Britain were playing Australia. Bookies runners were long gone, though, like at the Whip, a bookmakers was often only a few steps away.

I wouldn't have spat on the floor or burned the bar in any pub I knew. Not if I wanted to drink there again. Shitting on the floor was definitely out. They'd obviously got more houseproud over the decades.

Long and thin - yeah, that was true of many. Stone floors? Mostly tiled in Leeds, as I remember. Quite often lovely decorative tiles. Or is that my memory playing tricks?

Almost 800 words already. Far too many for a blog post, according to the blognoscenti. I'd best stop now. Taproom and lounge will follow soon.

1 comment:

Martyn Cornell said...

It should be pointed out that the bookies' runner was completely illegal, as was any form of off-course betting at that time (and until 1960), and the landlord could be prosecuted for knowingly allowing him to operate on the premises. My paternal grandfather worked as a bookies' runner in pubs in North West London before the Second World War, and reckoned he could spot the plain-clothed policemen who were looking to catch him and his kind as soon as they walked in the bar. On at least one occasion he realised he was being watched, walked into the gents' and flushed all the betting slips down the toilet, was arrested when he came out and taken down the police station, and had to be released through lack of evidence (which was on its way to Mogden sewage works).