What Are These Rats Doing to Britain's Pubs? AS MORE PUBS ABANDON THEIR TRADITIONAL NAMES

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON HEFFER

OUR town has not been exempt. A centuries-old hostelry known to generations as the Golden Fleece has become the Rat and Parrot, yet another example of what one MP described recently as the 'atrocity' of re-designating historic inns with puerile names.

The all-party Commons Beer Club has let some of the big brewers know of its distaste at the trend. One of its members, Nigel Jones, has complained that in his Cheltenham constituency he now has a Rat and Carrot and a Goat and Bicycle as well as the obligatory Rat and Parrot.

The offending brewers, however, are in business to make money, and could not care less. A spokesman for Scottish and Newcastle, whch has given the world the Rat and Parrot chain, said: 'Names have to change because pubs are dynamic, living entities reflecting the world around them and the customers they serve.' What? Does this mean that our world is full of rats and parrots?

Or does it mean that the customers are rats or parrots?

No. What the brewers mean is that they are looking for a way to extract ever-larger sums of money out of a group with pots of disposable income: notably young men without wives, children or mortgages but with the maturity of a demented rat (or parrot), and who, in their brainless dream-world, are mightily impressed by drinking-places with preposterous names.

For this is the insidious side of Rat and Parrot syndrome. On one level it is a destruction of our social history, a violation of our culture. Our pubs used to have a purpose in their names - British heroes, kings and queens, myths and legends, or local magnates. Many of the names are as old as the settlements in which they are found, and provide a continuity from generation to generation.

The vandalism required to wipe that history away is bad enough. But it is not all, and perhaps not the worst, that the brewers are doing by this cheap and cynical ploy.

The old names were almost always designed to bestow respectability - by assuming a local nobleman's name or coat of arms a pub attempted to become a respectable solid citizen, an inn rather than drinking den.

When the King's Head becomes the Rat and Parrot, the Slug and Lettuce or Scruffy Murphy's, the subliminal message is the exact opposite the aggressive slovenliness of the names tell customers this is a place where you can drink as you like and behave as you will.

Pubs used to be community centres - as, fortunately, in many villages and in parts of some towns, they still are.

Men, predominantly, went there for a quiet drink and even to do the things ridiculed by today's second-generation lager lout - to play dominoes, darts or cribbage. Except perhaps in some rougher industrial areas, or by the docks, communal heavy drinking ending in fights was simply not on the agenda.

Such pubs were the incarnation of a community spirit.

They ran soccer and cricket teams. They raised money for charity. They were businesses, first and foremost: but businesses that relied on fostering neighbourliness and a sense of community. They were places people went to make friends and catch up with what was happening.

Not so with your Rats and Parrots. Their aim is to act as a magnet for young drinkers.

These are people dislocated from the restraining social force of a community; they have not learned to take their drink, and have not learned to control themselves when they cannot take it. …