Wonder and Mystery in a Great English Pub

The bar at the Basketweavers Arms in Brighton.


There’s something almost magical about a really good pub.
When I say “really good”, I don’t mean the ones with fancy cuisine (top rated in the latest pub food guides) or a vast range of beer, wine and spirits. “Crap pubs” my younger sister Nancy calls many of those places. Trying too hard.

As with so many rewarding and deeply English customs, the key to a really good pub is tradition.
And that’s a very difficult one to unpack.

Unlike fine French, Italian and Chinese cuisine or the fabled American burger, the great British pub isn’t an easy thing to export nor replicate.
Something about it is organic, or as we Americans like to say, authentic. If you have a favorite pub it’s “your local.” Regulars have a sense of ownership that has little to do with the money they spend.


A really good pub works because of “the punters” – the personalities who inhabit the place each evening. They know the customs and rituals. They supply the hum of laughter, conversation, even argument. Perfection it is not.
A really good pub works because of the beer. A perfectly pulled pint is a thing of beauty. Neither ice cold (perish the thought!) nor room temperature warm, the ideal pint of beer goes down smoothly: the perfect balance between fizzy and flat.


Half way down. A glass of Fullers London Pride.

And here’s the thing. I don’t really like beer anywhere else than in a cozy British pub. The mix of chatter at the tables nearby and a good humored, but not too friendly bartender makes the suds go down easy.


It’s all about balance. So easy to get that one wrong.
My sister Lucy knows. She was a publican for a decade. Being the landlady of a village pub in Somerset was “bloody hard work.” On her feet from morning ’til night. The place was open every day of the year. The routine included an exhausting mix of joy, laughter, friendship and even a certain amount of status. But it often came with physical pain. Challenging too. Managing the menus and bar staff was no easy feat. Not to mention the finances.
Because of a decades-long decline in custom, being a publican is often a struggle. Many public houses have shut down.

In the past English pubs were home away from home. When the telly was black-and-white and your indoor heating was iffy at best, the pub was a warm, welcome retreat.
Today, with inexpensive wall-to-wall carpeting, large Samsung flat screen TVs, wifi, Netflix and yes – adequate heating – many modest English houses and flats have been transformed. Vast numbers of folk don’t go out much as their parents, uncles and aunties did.
Successful pubs are increasingly rare. But when you find one, dropping into an English local is a real treat. A place where you’d be missing out if you didn’t go in for “a quick one”.



My Favorite Holiday:  July 4th Fireworks and Festivities Celebrate Our Freedoms and Democracy.

  Symbols of pride:  flying the flag for Independence Day.



Happy July 4th!   Independence Day is my favorite holiday.

On this vacation we celebrate something that many of us complain about for the rest of the year: our democratic institutions.

As a first generation American I love the freedom that this country represents.  239 years ago, The United States was the first nation to be founded with a formal statement that asserted the people’s right to choose their own government.  

That’s a pretty cool fact.

The Declaration of Independence was a bold statement of ideals by profoundly practical men.  It’s signficance rolls down through the ages, and continues to be an inspiration to oppressed people around the world.

The words were chosen carefully.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These most famous lines from Declaration give me chills. 

As a radio guy, I applaud NPR’s Morning Edition for its annual tradition of having hosts, contributors and commentators read the Declaration aloud.  

From the beginning – “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” – until the end – “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” – the sound of those profound words, written at a time of great danger, never fails to impress.

Despite a steady decline in trust in national institutions in recent years,  “questioning the aims and efforts of government is a foundation of American citizenship. It’s how the nation was born,” writes Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A. in The New York Times.  “The colonists didn’t trust King George III, and they carefully laid out their reasons for breaking away from his rule in the Declaration of Independence.”

But still we celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and barbecues.   For one day each year it’s time to put aside our complaints about the President, Congress, law enforcement and our system of justice.  We are lucky to be Americans.

At a time of doubt, division and even disgust with government, this country is still a beacon of hope for tens of millions of immigrants and many others who wish they could live here.

Although I was born in the USA, my parents were British and moved me back to England as a child.  After going to school there, I chose to leave my family and return.  I am glad that I did.  

So grab a burger, pour a cold one, and celebrate the Fourth with pride and gratitude for America and the best of its principles.