Britain is a fascinating place of eccentricity and sub cultures. One aspect fascinated me for a while and appeared vaguely related to beer geekery but quite detached. That of the Pub Shed. Yep, you got that right. Turning your garden shed into a mini private pub themed bar you can sit in and have a drink. Or even building a shed for that purpose if you don’t have one. I like to study beer geekery, comment and occasionally mock its idiosyncrasies, its occasional lack of self-awareness, and it’s detachment from the “normal” but in truth there is no such thing as “normal”.
I am increasingly convinced that Britain is a place where there is no such thing as “normal”. Everything is in some ways not normal. The best classification may be “harmless” or “dangerous” rather than “normal” and “not normal”. Having an interest in pubs, beer and drinking may not be normal but by and large I guess for most it is harmless. Unless you start on it every day at 8am, lose your job and your wife and end up in the gutter covered in piss, then it’s dangerous. Keeping ladies locked up in a cellar you have converted into a sex dungeon like Joseph Fritzl is dangerous. Traveling on buses and trains to visit obscure grotty pubs is harmless. Flashing at old ladies at bus stops is dangerous. Collecting beer mats or any pub tat is harmless. Having a folder full of the names of all the beers you have tried is harmless. Wearing an anorak, standing on a platform and writing down the numbers of trains in a book is harmless. Wearing your girlfriends’ knickers is harmless (as I keep telling her). Turning your garden shed into a faux pub then sitting in it and having a can of lager is harmless.
Reading the book, The Pub Shed Guide UK A-Z, I delved into the world of people that sit in their sheds drinking cans of lager, rather than sit in their living rooms, hoping to discover why? I didn’t discover why, the book isn’t the anthropological study I had hoped for. Though I did get the occasional glimpse and read a series of tales, some dull and some charming, regarding the sheds that sit in the back gardens of Britain.
The book is a list. A list of people’s pub sheds. In a book. Yes, someone has written a book with a list of sheds in it. That’s not the oddest part. The oddest part is I bought that book and read it. That is odd. Though I like to think, harmless. The photo quality is a bit of a let-down and doesn’t really do the sheds justice. Some of the written descriptions are quite nice. I liked the reasons often given for the pub names. The chap that named his pub shed after his deceased mother in law because she was a nice lady that liked a drink. I liked the pride taken in their construction. The collections of pub tat that decorated the sheds to make them look like pubs was something I found appealing. The fetishization of pub paraphernalia shows that the commercial art of pub and beer branding is arguably a genuine art form that people enjoy, wish to display and like to look at. A Guinness mirror has an artistic merit on a par with “proper art in galleries”. I liked that the sheds were a reflection of their owners, telling a story about their lives, their travels and represented an ideal. A dream, in shed form.
The book has a Facebook group here, and a twitter feed here. Both of these are better than the book as the picture quality of the sheds shows them in far more glory than the book. There is even a pub shed of the year, here.
Pub shed of the year 2015
Some of the nicer pictures were not just pub tat fetishism but of friends and families having parties in these sheds. Nice times being had. Whether that is a typical night in the pub shed or just one of the better evenings I would suspect the latter. Surely every night is not party night for the pub shed owner? I would guess most evenings are not spent in the shed. They are places to have a party when friends and family come round.
Much of the iconography would not be appealing to your common or garden middle class beer and pub geek. There are a lot of Union Flags being displayed and a lot of people wearing football replica shirts. It is the world of the British working class, a world often derided by the educated middle class. This is worth comment as it reveals to a degree my own middle class snobbery and prejudice.
A pub draped in the national flag is somewhere I would avoid entering. I’d make assumptions about the place being a bit rough. I’d make assumptions about the far right and politics I find abhorrent. I like down to earth working class boozers. I prefer them to the more gentrified middle class pubs that seem to dominate CAMRA type awards and appeal to beer enthusiasts. I quite like watching the football on Sky sports. A lot of national flags, though, puts me off. I associate it with nationalism rather than patriotism, I guess, and in that case I am likely the one in the wrong. I got no indication that people that liked to put up the union flag in there pub shed were anything other than decent patriotic working class people sticking up a flag they considered a source of pride. Part of the iconography of the tribe they belong to. A flag I should no doubt take more pride in and when it is reclaimed by decent people like these I should applaud.
A feature that fascinated me was the appearance of beer fonts and hand pulls in many of the sheds. I could understand wiring up the shed to power light fittings, a glass fronted fridge but draught beer? I gathered most were there for show rather than operational but some had them operational for special occasions if not all the time. A cask or keg of beer is a lot to get through, costly and not practical unless enough use is made of it. Further, many of the pubs are replete with TV’s and pub gaming machines. EBay is a source of paraphernalia as are many of the actual pubs that are shutting across the land. I gathered many pub shed owners had acquired some of the more impressive stuff off the landlords of recently closed pubs, getting rid of the pin ball machine and such like.
There is an element of the "man cave" about such outbuildings. The idea that the family home is the preserve of the wife and children and the man of the house likes pottering in his shed. What is a man to do if he does not want to make things in his shed, but just sit and have a drink? Invite his mates over but leave the living room to the family. Though most of the pictures do show that whilst the man of the house has decided upon building the pub shed, it is a place he shares with his wife. They do not appear the sole preserve of men. The absence of children and presence of spare rooms in my own home afford a home office full of computer related tat and possibly negate my need for a man shed. What would I do if kids filled all the rooms? Then, maybe I would feel the need for my own shed. A place to pretend to fix the lawnmower whilst drinking cans of lager.
A while back, me old cocker Mudgie was prone to bang on about the pub smoking ban and mention a concept called “smoky drinky” where people congregated to smoke whilst they had a drink. Not an unlicensed pub, but more I thought a series of on-going house parties among social groups of people, former pub customers that had abandoned their local pubs. There was no indication that this was a factor for most of the owners. Maybe for some, but not the overriding reason to build a pub shed. After all, you can just have a fag in your living room if so inclined.
Nope, I think the reasoning is more pedestrian than that. Like beer geekery has strong parallels with train spotting, this has parallels with caravanning.
I’ve never understood caravanning. Why buy a costly pokey box to drag around with you so you can have substandard holidays? Isn’t the money better spent on nice holidays in nice hotels where people cook for you and bring you stuff? Who on earth would spend that sort of money to sit on a camping chair or cook from a small camping stove and shit in a chemical toilet?
Life may very well be just a short series of experiences. The time between birth and death. Acquiring property may very well be futile as it’s all just stuff you cannot take with you. The universe may very well be one of entropy and decay and constant inevitable change. That doesn’t stop people wanting things. People wanting their own caravan or their own mini back garden pub. People valuing things more than experiences.
I don’t think I’m ready yet to sit in my own shed pub and only invite people I know to sit in it with me. To be a sheddie. For now I’ll continue to neck lager in my living room or go out to a pub containing people I don’t know. Most recently that was a grotty Irish pub in Hamburg where I talked to 2 retired prostitutes who told me their only ever visit to England was to film a bukkake scene for an English pornographic movie. I apologized for not having seen it as only an Englishman would do. They liked England, fish and chips and English tea. I liked the ice cold glass of Astra lager I was necking and pleased to be practicing my German language skills on people. Pubs are strange places with strange people in them. I like that. So long as you don’t get knifed, they are not dangerous. Harmless, even. You don’t get to hear the word bukkake in the middle of a German sentence often and learn the same word is used in German and English for the same thing. You don’t get that in a shed in the back of your garden. I might visit a nicer pub, next, mind.
p.s. don't google the word bukkake if on your work computer, or google it at all, for that matter. If it is not a term you are familiar with, then consider that to the good and leave it that way