George Orwell, of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four fame, wrote an essay in the 1940s about his perfect city pub, called the Moon Under Water. For those of us of a drinking disposition, he paints a perfect picture. Go have a read, if you like.
The key thing about Orwell's essay, in which he goes into some detail about the atmosphere, appearance and facilities offered, is that it's actually a lament. He notes with regret that no such place exists. There is no Moon Under Water, certainly not as he describes.
For many, me included, a pub is more than just a place that serves alcohol, although that is quite an important part of the mix. People tend not to get misty-eyed about their local Starbucks, after all. The pub should be more than just a place to get your beer buzz. In fact, excessive inebriation is unnecessary. I've mentioned that here before now; a good pub is a home from home, a meeting-place for the like-minded, somewhere you can shut yourself away from the outside world.
Over the years, to those of us who are not strangers to the public-house, the Moon Under Water has taken on a near-mythical status. We've been looking for such a place for years. But can it be possible that the Moon Under Water could exist, especially now, some 60 years after its original invention? Pubs are shutting across Britain at an alarming rate, down to a number of factors including the rise of the stay-at-home drinker, the smoking ban and the desire of a handful of pub-owning corporations to strengthen their respective bottom lines. Surely, in these commercial times, the Moon is just a fanciful dream?
It isn't, you know. I think I found it on Friday.
It was down a side-street, my Moon. Accessible, but not too accessible. From the outside it had that bluff, no-nonsense appearance you get with Victorian architecture, a look that was continued inside. But there was no falseness about this Moon. To use Orwell's phrase, it had "that solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century." We stepped through a public bar, tidy and basic, with no fripperies intended to distract the clientele. A row of gleaming beerpulls topped the bar, advertising ales from across the country. There was a fireplace, a dartboard and that was it. But the welcome was tangible.
We ordered our pints of Butty Bach, and moved through to the saloon bar where the button-backed leather benches nestled snugly under wood-panelled walls. A doorway led to a rear garden, a rarity for a backstreet Birmingham pub.
This Moon had food - nothing to trouble the Michelin star people - but simple, wholesome and not a microwave oven in sight. I was taken by the full English breakfast, available from 1.00pm on a Saturday. Anyone that thinks 1.00pm is a good time to be taking breakfast is alright in my book.
The three of us could sit in our Moon and talk, discussing the important matters of the day. Politics, finance, families and why Windows Vista is so crap. There was the gentle hubbub of people enjoying themselves, with no amplified music getting in the way. I looked around and saw white collar, blue collar and no-collar. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.
We ordered more drinks, this time the Enville Ale, brewed using honey in the fermentation process to give it just a hint of sweetness. The barmaid took her time to work the beer engines under her control. I've tried this myself and it's easy to mess up, but she pulled three perfect pints all the time smiling, chatting and keeping eye contact with her regulars.
"This is as close to perfection as I think I'll get," I said to myself, as I lifted my third pint to my lips, this time a Black Sheep ale from Yorkshire. I've been searching for as long as I've been going to pubs, 20 years or more. This was, as near as makes no difference, my Moon Under Water.
Of course, that's not it's real name. I'd like to tell you where it is, but I don't want hordes of people descending upon it. It's taken me long enough to find it, I'm not sure I want to share it yet. Selfish, yes, but some things are best left secret.
I'm sure George would understand.