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'John Barleycorn' by Carol Ann Duffy
January 19, 2010 2:23 AM   Subscribe

'John Barleycorn' by Carol Ann Duffy From BBC2's 'The Culture Show', aired 26th November 2009. A lament for, and a celebration of, the Great British Pub.
posted by srboisvert (26 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The decline of the pub: what can we learn from history?
posted by Abiezer at 2:44 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is much in British pubs that is ennobled by The Verse,
But much again that rhyme and meter makes much worse.
posted by Jofus at 2:49 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


To flesh out the post:
Some more background including the poem in written form.

Paganism & pub names

Some discussion regarding a link between John Barleycorn & the Green Man. (Includes Robert Burns's version of John Barleycorn which has seemingly influenced everyone from Traffic to Jeff Noon.)

Short history of the Green Man. John Barleycorn & the Green Man on Wikipedia.
posted by i_cola at 3:02 AM on January 19, 2010


Give praise my brethren
For what you are about to receive
Old John Barleycorn, nicotine
And the temptation of the rock and roll chord E.
posted by bwg at 3:05 AM on January 19, 2010


Missed one...
Mike Harding on the Mystery of the Green Man (& going global).
posted by i_cola at 3:15 AM on January 19, 2010


The huntsman, he can't hunt the fox
nor so loudly to blow his horn,
and the tinker, he can't mend kettle nor pots
without a little barley corn.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:16 AM on January 19, 2010


Dumb American question here: Abiezer's link discusses how the pub is on the decline, and that "most now spend their time in bars and clubs."

What exactly is the difference between a pub and a bar?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:40 AM on January 19, 2010


What exactly is the difference between a pub and a bar?

This (first result from googling "What exactly is the difference between a pub and a bar") has the rough idea. There isn't a cut and dried difference, but yet you can tell it in a glance.

I'd say that a pub is pleasant, where a bar is trendy; a pub may serve beer, where a bar has only lager; a pub may have single malt whisky, a bar has jager & sambucca; a pub has soft furnishings, a bar has metal and wood; a pub will have a jukebox, a bar will have a dj

but none of these are hard and fast rules

basically if you're under 30 and you like it, its probably a bar; if you're over 40 and you like it, its probably a pub
posted by criticalbill at 4:56 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


my last date in Chicago back in 05 was at John Barleycorn
posted by infini at 5:08 AM on January 19, 2010


Key to that is in this quote from the article I'd say, EmpressCallipygos:
Historically, too, the pub was rooted in working class communities. Those communities have been disappearing, whether one is looking at big city slums or agricultural villages.
The new bars and clubs have a different relationship to the community than the older pubs.
posted by Abiezer at 5:08 AM on January 19, 2010


The original folk song is worth a listen, too:

Here's the John Renbourn Group version
posted by heyforfour at 5:14 AM on January 19, 2010


A Public House is a community space: you can have political meetings, or rehearsals, or functions of state like hustings or inquests - check out the Coroner's Inquest into a death in Chapter 33 of Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE. If you have only one room, which you share with your wife and three children, it provides somewhere to go every evening that is warm and comfortable and bright and not surrounded by children. It will cater for wedding breakfasts and funeral wakes. Shift workers from manual trades can sluice away the coal dust, cotton fibres, smell of oil and manure, with stouts and bitters - flat low-alcohol drinks with lots of calories and nutrients. These pubs are a dying breed, thanks to the changing role of women, the motor car, the smoking ban, television, employment changes, and better housing. They can also be dark, patriarchal and unwelcoming.

A bar is a small establishment where you drink expensive strong foreign alcohol until you are sick and shout at each other over the music until you are inebriated enough to suppress your Englishness enough to approach another person and arrange to have sex. These have been very successful over the last twenty years with increasing disposable income, especially amongst the poor. They can be also bright, female-friendly, anonymous and cosmopolitan.

Kate Fox's WATCHING THE ENGLISH is also good on stuff like this. Personally I think the pub is like the church: it's not actually the building, it's the congregation.
posted by alasdair at 5:20 AM on January 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


most now spend their time in bars and clubs

I thought that was a weird part of the article, implying as it did that no-one in Britain could drink in a restaurant, bar, hotel or club until recently (which is quite untrue, btw).

It's hard to pin down the exact difference between a bar and a pub. I'd say a pub is generally larger (thought there are tiny pubs) and more comfortable, more of a destination and generally occupying the whole of its own premises. A pub should have a reasonable selection of draught beer, whereas you can have a bar based exclusively on bottles, or with one crummy lager on tap. But it's like the difference between a bistro and a restaurant - essentially a matter of style.
posted by Phanx at 5:23 AM on January 19, 2010


Carol Anne Duffy's real achievement here is to capture in a poem the essence of the pub without ever coming close to being the kind of person I'd want to meet while in one.

DUFFY: I give you an onion / Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips. / Possessive and faithful / As we are / For as long as we are."
SELF: Can you put it over there with the others, Carol? I'm trying to play darts.
posted by Jofus at 5:25 AM on January 19, 2010


Not actually read much of Duffy's work and had even forgotten she is our Poet Laureate, to my shame. Any fans care to recommend any of her work as a good starter/introduction?
posted by Abiezer at 5:37 AM on January 19, 2010


It's hard to pin down the exact difference between a bar and a pub. I'd say a pub is generally larger...

Just to show how difficult it is, I would have said the precise opposite to this. In my experience, bars tend to be larger and pubs smaller. At least in provincial cities, bars are in the centre of the city and pubs further out.

If you try and define an exhausive list of what constitutes one or the other you'll easily find a bar that has the characteristics of a pub or a pub that has the characteristics of a bar. When you see one or the other though you know exactly what it is.
posted by vbfg at 6:06 AM on January 19, 2010


Pub is the place your grandad drank.
Bar is the place your kids will drink.
There is overlap. But not much.
posted by seanyboy at 6:13 AM on January 19, 2010


From a female friend in Britain for the first time.

"I always thought I hated bars but being to a few pubs made me realize what I hate are dark caves to get drunk in. "

I am so happy I live a block away from a cheerful-as-fuck honest to goshers pub, with the chatty barmaid and cheap beer and food that's better then it has to be and old Beatles songs playing.
posted by The Whelk at 6:52 AM on January 19, 2010


I'm sorry, Empress, but what it comes down to is you have to come over here and then we'll show you.
posted by Phanx at 6:57 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


my last date in Chicago back in 05 was at John Barleycorn

Oh, this makes me sad. Not a British pub, but John Barleycorn's in Chicago used to be closer to a real pub that many places around here. Back in the early 90's, it was a fantastic place to get a pint, a decent sandwich and play a few rounds of darts. I lived down the block on Belden Ave, so I used to study there when I was in graduate school while enjoying a (warm, NOT cold) Guinness. Then the trendy set took it over, hacked it up, took out the dart boards, put in pool tables and a DJ, and made it absolutely intolerable and as generic as every other meat market club on that stretch of Lincoln Ave, with lines out the door on weekends and frat boys puking in the alleys. R.I.P. John Barleycorn.
posted by jeanmari at 7:35 AM on January 19, 2010


...After reading all the responses, it sounds like the reason that I wasn't certain as to the difference was because I've only ever BEEN to pubs. Only I was calling them "bars".

As for the other kind of bars, I always thought of them as "the kind of bars I wouldn't like going to."

Works for me! Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reading Carol Ann Duffy - I really enjoyed and would recommend The World's Wife. I'm not much of a poetry reader, but these poems stuck with me for their imaginative reinterpretations and the flow of the words, and they made me want to read more.
posted by cadge at 10:06 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm in Northern Ireland now, we have good pubs, but often the beer selection is appalling.

"Would you like Guinness or Carlsberg?"

On Thursday I'm going to England for a few days and I can not wait for the plethora of delightfully quaffable ales that await me.

One of my criteria to distinguish between pub and bar is that in a pub any music that there is should be either background music or live, while in a bar, the music is foregrounded and often makes it impossible to hold a conversation. Conversation being an important part of what makes being in a pub enjoyable.

As for the other kind of bars, I always thought of them as "the kind of bars I wouldn't like going to."

And I approve of this sentiment.
posted by knapah at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2010


Bitter old men, staring at a pint, nary an ashtray in sight.

Those smokey old pubs just ain't the same since those anti-smoking laws.
posted by ovvl at 4:22 PM on January 19, 2010


Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die.
posted by ovvl at 4:30 PM on January 19, 2010


Jethro Tull : John Barleycorn Must Die.
posted by garlic at 11:00 PM on January 29, 2010


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