Author Al Needham outside the White Horse pub in Nottingham
Arthur Century Later 2
Originally published in 2012 as part of theSpace arts project funded by Arts Council England and the BBC
The second featured writer is Al Needham, editor of LeftLion magazine, who is writing a series of essays about the demise of the British pub as part of the second featured location, The White Horse. In the novel, factory worker Arthur Seaton gets drunk in the White Horse pub and collapses down a flight of stairs. In his second essay, Al Needham imagines Arthur waking up from his fall in 2012 and discovering a very different drinking culture.
Arthur Seaton falls down the stairs of the White Horse, bangs his head, and wakes up by the Left Lion outside the Council House – the de facto meeting spot for the people of Nottingham – in 2012. It’s the only thing he recognises because Slab Square has changed completely. There are no fountains for kids to throw bottles of washing-up liquid into, or steps to fall down. No traffic either, bar the silvery, silent trams and their ceaseless dinging bells.
After getting his bearings (and wondering why he’s practically the only person standing by the Lions on a Saturday night, being unaware that everyone else now has a phone in their pocket) his initial impressions are negative.
The nearest drinking hole he knows of – The Black Boy Hotel, an impossibly ornate Victorian confection designed by a local mad genius called Watson Fothergill, demolished in 1970 – has been replaced by a grey concrete box with the words ‘PRIMARK’ across the top.
On the other side of the Council House he discovers that The Flying Horse, one of the biggest pubs in town, has been done up, appears to belong to someone called Vivienne Westwood (presumably the new landlady) and is shut.
It’s not all bad, though. Actually, when his head finally clears, he’s delighted to discover that great swathes of city centre real estate have been converted into pubs. When he notices that the old bank on Beastmarket Hill has been converted into a pub – and they’ve had the cheek to call it ‘The Bank’ – he assumes that the revolution he was looking forward to in ’58 actually happened. In fact, the more he looks – and the more he realises that those flashing apparitions with the blaring music that looked like amusement arcades in Skegness are actually licensed premises – the more pubs he sees.
By now all this time-travel and culture-shock has left him absolutely clamming for a pint and this is where the surprises start to pile up. The first surprise is when he realises that that the heavy-set people standing outside are actually employed by the pub to do so. The second comes when they ask him how old he is, and if he has documentary proof of it. After he’s stopped laughing, the third, fourth, and fifth to thirty-eighth come when he finally walks through the door.
It’s the tellies that will make the greatest initial impression. Arthur would have had to surrender something in the region of a month’s wages for a TV set in ‘58. The average city centre pub in 2012 has at least a years’ worth scattered across the place, pumping out sports, pop videos, and an endless stream of information about future events – and he’s the only one who seems to be paying the blindest bit of notice to them. To Arthur, it’s like the events predicted in 1984 had actually happened, and nobody seems to be that bothered about it.
Making his way to the bar – and what a culture shock that is, with the silvery taps rearing up, the fridges groaning with bottles, and an actual menu for food, of all things – Arthur looks for familiar, local brands, and fails dismally. Shipstones, Home Brewery, Kimberley Ales, Mansfield Bitter…all of them have been sold off, folded into larger conglomerates, and wiped out. He’s dimly aware of John Smith’s, from a day trip to Yorkshire. Boddingtons would be completely alien, as would all of the lagers. Barring some of the shorts, the only brand he knows (and trusts) is Guinness.
While necking his pint and clocking the rest of the clientele, Arthur makes several observations. Why are there so few seats? Why are the tellies on at the same time as the jukebox, so everyone has to shout at each other? Why are those women drinking a jug of something pink through straws, like oversized kids? Why are those men drinking something blue out of a bottle? Why are all the men and women in separate groups, instead of in couples? Why is that woman actually a man in drag, wearing ‘L’ plates?
Shaking his head, Arthur sparks up a fag.
Five minutes later, after he’s tired of remonstrating with the staff and being looked at as if he’s attempted to set fire to a cat, never mind a Woodbine, Arthur stomps off in the direction of Radford. On the way, he passes a 24-hour Greggs. It has a bouncer on the door. He falls to the floor, bashing his head repeatedly on the pavement, willing himself to return to 1958…
Arthur Century Later 3
Read Al Needham’s third essay in which he examines the changing nature of drinking culture in Nottingham over the centuries.
The Sillitoe Trail
Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair. For updated content, visit Sillitoe Trail Xtra
Follow: Arthur Seaton @Thespacelathe on Twitter
Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)
Fillingham and Walker 2012 - 2022