Wednesday, 20 August 2008

You can't go home again...

I think it was Thomas Wolfe who said, 'You can't go home again', meaning you can't revisit somewhere you've left, because it won't be the same again and it will spoil your memories.

That's happened to me on several occasions. Most recently, I visited a favourite old haunt in Brighton, called the Bedford Tavern. It used to be our favourite watering hole, a well managed, friendly place with a real country pub feel, (it even claimed to be haunted) and with excellent real ales and good food. It was always packed.

A change of management and a slight trendying up of the décor, saw the beginning of a slow decline a few years ago, but after a recent change of management we thought we'd give it another go. Unfortunately, Thomas Wolfe was right - you can read about the full disappointment here.

It's also happened to places I've visited longer ago: my first trip abroad, at the ripe old age of 19, was to France for a field trip from University. We were based at the Marine Research Station at Concarneau in Brittany, and I had a wonderful time there. I went back a few years ago and, while the town is still lovely, my companions (for obvious reasons, really) just didn't get the same buzz that I did, and it felt like a reunion spoiled. Perhaps I should have gone back on my own?

But back to pubs, which seem particularly vulnerable to the phenomenon because of changes in management. As a postgraduate student, I visited a place called the Crab Mill near Henley-in-Arden back in the mid 1980s. It was a truly authentic pub: fabulous real ale - one of the best pints I have ever had; gorgeous and interesting food - I tried a Gloucestershire Sausage, (a more interesting variant on the Cumberland); and the American (yes - really) owners had Tennessee Grasshopper Pie on the menu - a stunning, Crème de Menthe-flavoured cheesecake. There was no jukebox, no slot-machine, no piped music: just happy pub chatter.


A visit several years later therefore had a lot to live up to. At first, all seemed as before, although a large, plastic, garish children's 'play feature' had been plonked on the pub's lawn outside. Inside, there was the hum of piped music; table numbers had been stamped on the tables; and the menu was a watered down version of the one I had eaten from. You've guessed it: Gloucestershire Sausage replaced by the more standard Cumberland Suasage. And no sign of any Tennessee Grasshoppers...

Our worst fears were shortly confirmed: As we opened the menu, we read the dreaded words, 'Welcome to our Whitbread Happy Eater Pub'...

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