Beers and Bears
Susan Williamson (@shiningred) takes her mum to explore the newly reopened Old Peacock pub in South Leeds…
One of the Leeds sporting scene’s best-known pubs has kicked off a new era. The Old Peacock, opposite Leeds United’s Elland Road ground, has been taken over by the independent Ossett Brewery and re-opened on Friday, August 2 – the day before United’s first home match of the season.
The Culture Vulture found a crack team to review the re-opening, as ever valuing the multicultural and the power of random-squared. And so …
My Canadian mother (“I’m eighty six! And I’m from Winnipeg!”) has been visiting me in Leeds for the last two weeks. No stranger to the more extreme variations on a cultural theme and the sport of conflict – she’s lived her life around the world, fitting with huge good humour into countries as varied as Turkey, Chile, Cuba, post-war Prague and Rome, Cold War Berlin, STAR-Wars USA – she likes to announce her credentials upon entry to each tribal context and, uhh, just take it from there.
For her, every new place is piece of ethnology and folk art: and if all else fails, a comparison to the Hudson’s Bay Company Customer Satisfaction Guidance (founded of course in Winnipeg) will set things right. Her father was a Depression Era travelling grocer, moving each year in Northern Canada to a new outpost, and so as far as she is concerned she saw everything there was to see early in life. Bears in buffalo coats, tattooed good time gals, Temperance ranters, badly behaved Mounties playing football with handstitched cattle-bits, beery wartime British airmen making off with the local WI, Pacifist-Marxist student politicians getting expelled from university. Hey, HER mother snaffled both a WWII airman AND an earlier WWI conscript, and MY mother married one of the local Marxist-Pacifists, went travelling, and never looked back.
So what does this all have to do with the re-opening of that pub veteran, the Old Peacock, across from Elland Road? And does my mother (“I’m eighty-six!”) actually know anything about sporting warfare, beer, pubs, big men and tattooed ladies?
So, “A Woman Walks Into A Pub.” (Yes, my mother carefully read “the book” (provided by your editor @philkirby) before going to the Old Peacock, greatly enjoying the effort that had gone into amassing 175 terms for drunkenness.)
First impressions? “The men are big. Very big. And the women wear skirts.”
Uh, Mum, we need something a bit more substantive here. “Well, dearheart , what’s on tap?”
And so the very attentive PR team and around half a dozen charming young staff in black T-Shirts labelled “Proud As A Peacock” recommended “1919”, the ale celebrating the year of LUFC’s founding. My mother and I duly sipped in an academic manner, sticking out like sore Canadian digits, while my mother made a quick round of gross socio-economic generalisations about The English.
“The English like their beer warm because they have no access to cheap hydroelectricity”.
“The men (big, aren’t they?) wear loose shirts and shave their heads because they are of Viking stock.”
“The women like tattoos because during the war they didn’t have much in the way of fabric so they have become accustomed to showing off their upper arms.”
Uh Mum, stick to the programme. “Oh, the beer is actually VERY good! Didn’t I say? Shall we have another?”
Ever the grocer’s daughter, my mother next appraised the snack menu. “What do cucumbers have to do with football? Is it priapism?” “How much would ten of these cost, wholesale?”
We could see that the menu was diversifying and modernising, while trying to stay true to its football-ish mission. “So what DO they eat normally?” asked my mother. “Cabbage?” Mum, hell, that was forty years ago! Don’t talk so loudly! “Oh, sorry, I thought the cucumber might be a modern take on the cabbage, but more sculptural.” Well, she might have had a point there…
We then moved onto the décor. Mum wholly approved of the quite ingenious wallpaper which was based on a looped collage of photos donated by fans over the years: eye-catching, engaging and as she said “great at soaking up the dirt! But why do they all have moustaches? Is that Margaret Thatcher I see?”
I tried to keep my mother’s thoughts firmly on the connection with Elland Road and football, giving her a lightly potted history of LUFC, thanks to the prepping by noted footie expert @philkirby, but after she’d pointed out for the tenth time that it wasn’t real football, but soccer, and that no giant he-men of the bear persuasion in helmets and shoulder pads were likely to burst in looking excitingly sweaty, she lost interest in the football connection and got back to her real interest – the flora and fauna.
“That tattoo was a REAL mistake!” she confided loudly to me, pointing to a woman with a rather enveloping arm motif. “Do you think theirs are matching? Is it a mating call?” she asked peering intently at a couple, edging her walker a bit closer for a better look. “Will that one over there fade with time? I hope not… it’s a doozy. You know the only time I ever considered getting a tattoo was in 1947… right before I married your father.”
Her conclusion was that though it was unlikely, given her current domicile as a widowed classical musician in a Canadian retirement “Wellness” residence (complete with a very active pub full of equally retired Marlboro Men) means that she can’t often pop by the Old Peacock of an evening, she thought it was great fun, friendly, welcoming to people of all ages including loud old ladies from the Colonies, served a very decent beer and most of all there was something to look at, listen to and about which to make satisfyingly gross generalisations. She understood that it is in effect a clubhouse for football – but as she said “tribes the world over do this, what makes it different is when they welcome people from outside the tribe. Why, when your father and I used to hang out with the Sufis in Turkey…”at which point I broke in, and told her the guys from Beeston Lines had come to fetch us home.
“Those lovely men!” she said happily, clambering in, walker first. “Have you been to the Old Peacock?”