Tim Hampson's Beer Blog

The quest for the perfect beer

Rainbows End – the search for the perfect pub and overheard conversations

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Rainbow’s End

It doesn’t look much from the outside. Set back from the road, most cars seem to speed by on the way into town. But it is a pub and its glory is somewhat faded. Its exterior belies a less egalitarian time. On either side of the façade, standing like battered bookends are two bricked in doors. Above one can still be seen the words “lounge” the other says “public”. Now, just one large central door leads inside. There isn’t much to the décor. It was all new once. But now it is well worn. Like a much loved, favourite pair of shoes. A bit scruffy, it is in need of a polish and some tender loving care.

It’s 10.30am and already Tracey is hard at work behind the bar, stacking the shelves with bottles and checking on her beers. She has been here for five years now, and loves it.

“I was bought up in a pub in the East End”, she says. “Now that was a real community. Every one knew each other. We all pretended we were friends with the Kray’s and other local gangsters. We lived in Mile End close to the Charrington Brewery. I think every town should have its own brewery. It really makes a place.

“Eventually I went away to university and studied literature, I remember doing Proust. Fat lot of good it did me. I spent too much time in the union bar. Do I really need a degree to run a pub? What was it Proust said about smells reminding you of times gone by? Well each time I smell beer being brewed, with that marvellous smell of sweet malt which seemingly hangs in the air like a cloud of Horlicks, it takes me right back to my childhood.”

It is noon and the pub is open. Bert is the day’s first customer. He is soon joined by Renee, who walks with a frame. She sits at an adjoining table and orders a glass of beer too. “I’m 92 year’s old and never had a man, and don’t want one now,” she says loudly and fixes Bert with an impish stare. “I served all over in the war I was in the WAAF, we had such fun.”

Bert smiles into his beer. He never talks about his war. But it is there, often there in his thoughts. He is in his Hurricane and he can still hear his squadron leader’s voice, shouting, imploring into his radio. “Please keep the bar open sir, we’ll be down in 15 minutes.”

For Battle of Britain pilots a beer at the end of the day was their great escape. In the world of the quick and the dead, two and a half pints of beer was their chosen ration. From the moment that action stations had sounded in the far distant morning this was what they had looked forward to, yearned for. The chatter in the bar was often loud and raucous. Beer enjoyed with friends is a wonderful social lubricant. But then above the conversation someone would say “did anyone see Sam go down?” The anguished quiet would be broken by some saying “come on guys sup up”. And in his crystal clear memory Bert was once again ready for a four or five hour sleep, before the dawn came again.

At lunch time the trade is brisk. Office workers mainly, wanting something quick and a bottle of lager. The days when a banker’s lunch was a swallow seem long gone. The food won’t win any awards for being cordon bleu. It is good, honest pub grub.

“I bet Heston Blumenthal wouldn’t eat here,” says Frank. He comes in every day for lunch. A carer now, he used to come in with his wife. But she has MS and is confined to her bed. He comes in for some respite. There are some days when the only people he will talk to will be Tracey or her barmaid Emma, a single mum who is able earn some money working part time, while her son is at school.

“A bowl of chilli and a pint” asks Frank. He sips the beer and eats his food. And when it is finished he asks for another chilli and a pint. And while he drinks Tracey wraps the second bowl in silver foil. “I’m not a good cook” he says. “So it is great that Tracey lets me take the plate home for my wife. I have to remember to bring back the dish though. Still that gives me an excuse for another beer.”

The afternoon’s racing is on the flat screen tele. The sound is down with the customers preferring to listen to Radio 2. Punters with iPhones and Blackberrys in hand study form in the Racing Post while placing bets online. Hoping, against hope that one day there horse really will come in.

It is like a gay bar in here” says Emma, as she rushes by heading outside with her hand-rolled cigarette desperate for a gasp of nicotine. “Look at all them men sitting on their own, one at every table.”

Nico is one on his own today. He comes in every day for a pint at the end of his dog walk. His heart is heavy. He left for his walk at his usual time and has a pint of his favourite beer in front of him. He must have repeated this ritual come rain or shine for 10 years, save the time he went to Butlins for a holiday, which he didn’t enjoy or to visit his sister in “somewhere up north” and they’d had a row. But there is something nagging at him, eating away inside. His faithful Patch, a Jack Russell, who had terrified many a cat in the neighbourhood had developed a tumour and had to be put down that morning. But old habits die hard. He stared at the carpet where Patch had once peed and swore he could still see the stain. He took a sip of beer, reinvigorated by the spiky citrus aroma from the hops and he smiled and shed a tear at the same time. Hoping no one would see.

As the evening begins, so come in the bankers and builders, architects and artisans, police and plumbers. The lions and antelopes, happy to stand side by side, at their watering hole, pints of beer in hand. They share a story or bemoan United’s loss of form. For a moment they are not divided by class, income or education. The pub and beer has bought them together.

The door bursts open and in rushes a hen party. A dozen women some dressed as nuns and the others as garish fairies including one with L-plates on her front and back. Raucous talk soon turns to the rituals of the wedding night. “Well I won’t be losing my virginity, I lost that years ago,” roars the woman with the L-plates, between sips of lager.

Close by, two women of a certain age stare into intently at each others’ eyes. “I never liked him, you are better off without the bastard, he’d chase anything in a skirt,” says one. Seemingly forgetting her own drunken fumble with him after the pub’s last New Year’s Eve Party.

Across the bar a darts match is in full swing. It is a top of the table clash with the first team from the nearby Royal. Old rivalries are being fought out by scoring more double tops rather than using fists. And once the game is over they will relish each other’s company and the bowls of chips, which Tracey will provide for free to go with “just one more pint” before they go home.

A group of office workers, trying to change the world, drink pints and talk loudly until it is time to go.

So there it is, it is all over for another day, Tracey stands behind the bar. The pub is still warm with the voices of all the people, all that laughter all those conversations. The sound seems to get louder as the building remembers all those that have come to this place over the years with their hopes and tribulations, loves and labour’s lost.

The bar has been a moving tableau, an ever changing tapestry of human activity. Tracey might own it and it is her home, but for each and every one of her customers it is their place. Their home away from home. The place where they can drink good beer – a symphony of tastes and aromas made with four simple natural notes – barley, hops water and yeast.

“They say a pub’s name always tells a story. The King’s Head, Red Lion and the Bell, they all have a meaning and tell you something about the history of the place,” says Tracey. “This place isn’t perfect, but it is my pub and I couldn’t have a better name for it than the Rainbow’s End.”


Written by timhampson

August 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. What a wonderfully observed piece of writing.


    August 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    • Thanks you for your kind words. Pubs really are wonderful places.


      August 12, 2011 at 6:59 am

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