Mass Observation 113: 02.07.16

 
DSCF3576 Mermaid St Albans
 
On Saturday I took notes in a local for the Mass Observation Study hosted by Boak & Bailey. This visit took place from around 6pm to 8pm in the Mermaid, St Albans.
 
There’s around 30 customers in the pub when I arrive though it does steadily decline over my two hour stay. Most folk are over the age of fifty. The gender distribution at the busiest peak is 24 male and 6 female. The general dress is jeans and a shirt or T-shirt. Most people are British Caucasian though there are also British Asian. Beards amongst the men are rare – it’s generally clean shaven faces and heads. I discern three couples in the throng. The youngest – who look like they’re in their early thirties – sit next to each other on a settle scrolling through something on their smartphone. Whatever they’re viewing keeps making them laugh. Two men are playing darts. Most people are standing or sitting around the bar chatting. I see one man outside smoking.
 
The inside of the Mermaid has a stripped wooden floor. The bar is also wooden and horseshoe-shaped. Dimpled pint mugs and German Krugs hang glinting over the taps. There is a slate six-beer tasting flight hanging on the wall. The main decorative hangings are of old Worthington, Hammerton (not the new Islington brewery but its familial ancestor), Guinness, Maryport and Holt brewery mirrors. There are also depictions of the pub’s eponym – mermaids as well as framed photographs of David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. There’s also an historic Blaeu wall map. Last but not least, there’s a mounted document issued by Oakham Ales to pubs that stock their beer – the Oakademy of Excellence certificate. 
 
The furniture is comprised of wooden stools around the bar’s arc that are paired with coat hooks under the bar’s lip. In the lounge are wooden settles with heavy iron tables, small stools and several soft-topped seats chased into the large window recesses. There are also oblong communal tables that can easily accommodate eight people. There’s a couple of carpeted areas – one has a communal table and one contains a bookshelf, fruit machine and dartboard. Just below ceiling height, the pub also boasts rows of both archaic and modern beer bottles and drinking vessels on a narrow shelf. I spot some bottles bearing candidates from the British 1992 election (John Major and Paddy Ashdown are represented, though I can’t see Neil Kinnock) . The pub has outside seating both in front and behind. During my stay I watch people out front but can’t report on anybody in the back garden which contains picnic tables and a pagoda with astroturf.
 
The pub has one small television. It was showing the Tennis when I entered but went on to show football – Italy v Germany in the European cup. 70s soul music is playing in the background until the football match starts. Media wise, there is also a huge range of regional CAMRA publications from across Britain and a table with a newspaper/magazine rack. The Times, the Guardian and Private Eye are all tucked into it.
 
There is a lot here to drink. On cask is Citra by Oakham Ales, Slippery Jack by Brandon Brewery, Queen Bee by Slater’s Brewery, Fabric by Ashover Brewery, Cotswold Way by Wickwar Brewing, Booze Hound by Gun Dog Ales and Stowford Press Cider by Westons. On keg dispense there is Pilsner Urquell, Old Rosie, Guinness, Carling, Stella Artois, Amstel and Bitburger. Behind the bar is a wide range of bottled Belgian beers. The cider range here is huge, best covered by an image:
 
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With regards to what the punters are actually drinking, two of the cask ales are a stout and a dark ale so I can tell that few people are drinking them (though I have them both). The most popular beer is the Citra; it’s also the house beer that’s permanently on. Stella Artois goblets are also in evidence, then the choice seems to be cider and both red and white wine. One woman has a branded glass of Pisner Urquell too.
 
Apart from crisps, nobody’s eating. Cold tapas style dishes are available but this is by no means a food pub.
 
The topics of conversation I hear aren’t entirely impartial as someone notices me perching at the end of the bar and asks my opinions on the CAMRA revitalisation project; a consultation will soon be happening in St Albans. With the barman joining in, this debate then segues surreally into a conversation about how Nicola Sturgeon looks like Jimmy Krankie. This is because one of us shows a photo they took in an airport of them standing next to the first minister of Scotland. The barman once saw Father (Ian) Krankie in Dartmouth. 
 
There is some referendum banter across the bar about which side bullshat the most. Another thing I hear (without being involved) is “why is the England team so shit?” Two people debate whether Portugal or Wales will win the European cup. I also hear Michael Gove’s name mentioned but can’t hear whether the talk’s for or against him. The barman brings up the death today of writer and comedian Caroline Aherne and I also hear him ask an older patron if he was around in the 1960s and whether he knows why the Who song My Generation is sung with an enforced stutter.
A couple of details to end on: there is a Mermaid pub T-shirt worn by staff with the following slogan printed on the back: “The Mermaid: Always giving you head the way you like it” In the gents, a ceramic demijohn has been rigged up to make it seem like it’s integral to the urinal’s plumbing system. A Carlsberg label has been affixed to it.

Mass Observation 113: 27.06.16

The Boot, St Albans
 
DSCF3562 Boot St Albans
the tapered blue and yellow flags above the bar represent St Albans
I first read about mass observation when I read Austerity Britain by David Kynaston. People were interviewed following the end of the Second World War as Britain tried to pick up and move on from were it left off five years previously. 60 years on, beer writers Boak and Bailey are hosting a mass observation about pubs 
 
 
I’m very happy to share an intimate little slice of St Albans.
 
The Boot has 19 taps – 9 cask and 10 keg. On cask are:
 
Over the Bar – Tring Brewery (Herts)
1 – XT Brewery (Bucks)
Mr Squirrel – Red Squirrel Brewery (Herts)
A.P.A – Mad Squirrel Brewery (the craftier side of Red Squirrel Brewery)
Tribute – St Austell Brewery (Cornwall)
Golden Ale – The Three Brewers of St Albans (Herts)
JHB – Oakham Ales (Cambs)
Landlord – Timothy Taylor (W Yorks)
Old Rosie Cider – Westons (Heref)
 
On keg are Fosters Lager, Guinness, Peroni, Aspalls Cider, Addlestones Cider, Vedett, Estrella, Becks, Meantime Pale Ale and Stella Artois.
 
The majority of drink being consumed is from the cask range. Most of the beers on tap are golden in appearance and it’s difficult to know which was which though JHB and Tribute are popular and they’re always on. The golden hoppy range has been influenced by the hot weather. Otherwise the most prominent drinks seem to be Stella Artois (as it’s served in its distinctive branded goblet) and glasses of Pimm’s.
 
There are about 40 customers and virtually all are watching England v Iceland in the Euros on one of the two televisions. The only ones not involved are one man at the bar with his back to the room, one man sat at a table reading from his smartphone and me. I get a few puzzled looks when I discreetly take pictures.
 
The pub has a bare wooden floor and a low ceiling with vertical black-washed timber supports. Because it’s situated in the middle of Market Place in the town centre, it has no beer garden but a few wooden chairs outside for the smokers. There are none during the match but about ten people go out during the interval in shifts so as not to lose their seats. I don’t see any vapers among them.
 
DSCF3558
 
Just visible in the photo above are some of the pictures of music stars like the Beatles. There is a particular emphasis on Bob Dylan. The pub’s ageing chocolate Labrador (not present as time of observing) is named Dylan after him. There are also historical prints – one can just be seen to the left of the monitor above. The pub claims to be a battlefield pub. The first battle of The War of the Roses from the 15th century is depicted next to a plaque. Another memorable thing about this pub is on the wall above the urinal in the gents: it displays covers from satirical institution Private Eye. Half of them are changed regularly to keep up with current events but a few are black and white and go back to Margaret Thatcher’s time in office.
 
The Boot doesn’t have a Pool table, jukebox or dartboard but it does have a collection of boardgames heaped in a corner I’ve never seen played.
The match pretty much did for conversation but during half time the punters became reacquainted with their smartphones and all their faces lit up. I did hear one question: “As ‘e resigned yet?” That’s all I got but I’m absolutely certain it was about the current leader of the Labour party (at the time of writing) Mr Jeremy Corbyn. This is in relation to Britain voting to leave the EU in a referendum and the whole shadow cabinet resigning under his leadership. England went on to suffer defeat against Iceland (I wasn’t still in the pub at that point) so I don’t believe it was about England manager Roy Hodgson who later resigned.