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Terence James The fine old English inn

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 12, 2013

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There have been many attempts to try to understand why it is that the pub is such a peculiarly British institution.

A pub can be all you want it to be.

You can be as gregarious or as reticent as you like.

You can enjoy the company of all, or engage in solitary reverie.

You can talk to strangers, make lifelong friends, commit to memory a cracking good joke for later use, and leave whenever you want to.

Foreign visitors often find it hard to come to terms with the fact that there is no waiter service.

I was sitting in a lovely wayside tap in the centre of Bath recently, when a group of four French tourists came in and sat down near to me.

None of them approached the bar. After about two or three minutes, rather than inquire how the service is achieved, they upped sticks and marched out, muttering bitterly about les Anglais in general.

I thought then and there about writing a paperback about advice for tourists, throwing in some mischievous comments like "railway ticket office staff expect you to barter" or "try the famous echo in the British Museum Reading Room".

There is also the strange etiquette in England which involves queuing.

We do it all the time. They say that even if an Englishman is alone he forms an orderly queue of one.

In pubs, however, there is no visible queue. The bar counter is one of the only places in England where this doesn't happen.

Yet there still exists an unwritten etiquette.

Both the bar staff and the customers are aware of their position in that invisible queue, once you have made eye contact, and any attempt to get served out of turn is severely frowned on.

There is also a sociability rule going on at bar level.

It is a place where it is socially acceptable to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.

All rules of privacy and reserve are suspended, while strange codes and local nicknames are used.

I am known in my local as Terry the Telly to differentiate myself from Terry the Turf, the local bookie who drinks there and on any night you will find an assortment of locals from Satellite Dave, who fits TV dishes, to Chris the Book, who deals in antiquarian literature.

So for whatever reasons our pubs are a peculiarly British institution, pay them a visit and quietly attend an unspoken lecture on the social structure of this wonderful country of ours; and in doing so, you might also stop them from closing at such an alarming rate.

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