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What’s so great about the Great British pub? Stokey Lit fest, Sunday 6th June

What’s so great about pubs?

We all know the answer to that one, of course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have the discussion all over again.

Sunday afternoon will be the culmination of lots of threads. The Beer Widow decided to organise a literary festival when I was reading Hops and Glory at lots of them last summer, and we realized that of all the places that have LitFests, our local manor, Stoke Newington, should have one, because of its rich and multi-layered literary history (Stokey residents invented feminism, sci-fi, horror, even novels, if you allow yourself to go with the flow of local history).

When we agreed that she would go ahead with the idea, I always thought it would be nice to do an event in my local pub. The White Hart has a good function room upstairs that often hosts great comedy nights, and I launched Three Sheets to the Wind there.

But it would be wrong of me to simply do another lot of readings from my books, like I do at other literary festivals. I want to use the occasion, the fact that we’re organizing it, to do something different, creating an event that you won’t get anywhere else.

So we’ve taken the topic of pubs – of locals – and made something special out of it. Regular readers may have noticed that I’ve become increasingly fixated by Orwell’s essay, ‘The Moon Under Water’. 

Orwell with a tea cup.  I bet it’s got beer in it.
So I’m going to kick things off by reading that, instead of my own work. I think that one essay says more about pubs, more effectively, than I’ve been able to do in all the many thousands of words I’ve written about beer and pubs. I want to hold it up to the light, while we sit in the pub, and see if it’s still a useful yardstick to measure the perfect boozer.

Then Tim Bradford tells us what he loves about pubs. Tim is a writer in the vein of people like Stuart Maconie and Andrew Collins – fond memories of growing up, reflections on British culture, a story that works because although it’s personal, its shared by many of us. He’s written about growing up in smalltown England, and of course the pub is a vital component of that. 

As I’ve said before, it’s always interesting to hear someone who is not a beer writer talking about pubs – they spot things the rest of us sometimes miss. The Glasgow Herald says “He comes across as the kind of guy you’d love to have a drink or three with.” So that’s what we’re going to do.
Finally we have an absolute treat from Paul Ewen. If you like pubs, and you live in or around London, and you don’t own a copy of his London Pub Reviews, you’re even more insane than he is. 
They start off as any pub review does, but increasingly descend into surreal madness. I’ve always loved the pub partly because it gives licence to the irreverent, absurdist streak that runs through British culture. Paul is a Kiwi – this streak is foreign to him – but he’s fallen in love with it, warped it and presented it back to us in a way that makes it alien to us too, like a picture that’s run and blurred, a pub on an acid trip. 

I asked Paul if he would come and do one of his reviews on the White Hart, and he has done. Fuck knows what he’s written, what he thinks happened there. I have no idea what he’s going to say. But he will unveil this review during our event – a unique thing – we’ll be sitting in the pub he’s describing, in a review that has never been seen before. Trust me, it’ll be like no other pub review you’ve seen. Steven hall, author of the amazing The Raw Shark texts, says Paul is “A surrealist’s dream, a landlord’s nightmare!” I’m just worried we might get chucked out or even beaten up by the time he’s finished. 
Things will be eased along by free beer – Schiehallion and Bitter & Twisted – kindly donated by Harviestoun Brewery. Buy their beers. They really are rather wonderful. I’m not just saying that because they sponsored the event – I asked them to sponsor the event because of how much I love the beers.

The event kicks off at 3pm on Sunday and tickets are available – until 5pm today – from here, and after that at Stoke Newington Bookshop, the festival information and box office point at the library, and – if there’s any room left – on the door of the venue.

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