Wednesday, 12 April 2017
No, not a dissertation on the development of types of prehistoric or medieval portals, but a celebration (if that's the word) of that strange twilight zone between late afternoon and early evening when your local pub is (or was) the haunt of a strange and varied collection of eccentrics and ne'er-do-wells inhabiting the no man's land between the end of the lunchtime trade and the start of the evening drinking session.
Before the advent of all-day opening, the start of early doors was strictly defined by the archaic licensing laws, (introduced, we're told, to prevent First World War munitions workers getting too drunk) and, in this neck of the woods, at least, was always 5.30pm.
The presumption was that the local drinkers, in the absence of any munitions to manufacture, had spent the afternoon at home reading the bible, doing crochet work or blackleading the fire-grate.
This was never really the case.
Most members of the early doors crowd had usually spent their time in the special-licence drinking den of their choice (usually a club of some kind), or topping their lunchtime imbibings up with whatever drink they had at home or could buy from an off-licence..
Unless, of course, their lunchtime imbibings had been a little excessive, in which case they may have spent a couple of hours 'getting their heads down' (or, as one drinker memorably put it to me, 'throwing a few Zs out the winder') and made straight for the pub at 5.30 for 'a reviver'.
Then there were the drinkers who had 'popped in for a quick one on the way home from work'. These part-time early doorers would, of course, be quite sober at the start of early doors and 'gagging for a drink'.
They would then get into misguided conversations at hopeless cross-purposes with the early doorers who had been 'on it' for most of the day. Misunderstanding heaped upon misunderstanding, often with disastrous consequences.
The dynamic changed when pubs were allowed to stay open all afternoon, and the determined and dedicated early doorers could drink themselves almost unconscious by 5.30 without having to move from their barstools.
The parameters of early doors became confused and muddled. Some would start at 11am and drink right through the afternoon and evening until closing time; some would wander in in the late afternoon, have a few and then wander off again, only to return looking confused and anxious and, in extreme cases, unable to remember whether or not they had called in earlier. .
But your true early doors drinker is (or was) a race apart, with a different way of looking at the world.
The changes in the pub trade have meant that the phenomenon is less common these days, and only a few die-hards continue the tradition of going for a drink early doors..
This poem, by the way, was written in the 1990s and pre-dates the superb TV series Early Doors, which captured the pathos and hilarity of Manchester pub life perfectly - so perfectly that it was hard to believe that the pub in question, 'The Grapes' (actually a set at Granada TV), and the people in it weren't real.
But the poem always had an alternative title anyway, reflecting the feeling that these bizarre and quirky people may not have entirely voluntarily become part of the early doors scene, but found themselves 'washed up' there by the vagaries and misfortunes of life.
(Flotsam and Jetsam)
by Dave Roberts
That raddled old hag with the carrier bag full of bottles of gin and cheap wine
Clearly deserves her chronic 'bad nerves'. She's certainly getting on mine.
She's all faded glories and long boring stories of debutantes' balls long ago.
She's a dreary old bore; but I think that she's more to be pitied than censured, you know.
She's only a part of the flotsam and jetsam which drifts in and out all the time,
The genteel wine topers, the beery no-hopers, and all of them way past their prime;
The brainless, the gormless, the witless, the daft. The endless procession of bores;
The lonely, the sad, not to mention the mad, who come here each night, early doors.
And that tedious old sod with a face like a cod and a sports car and 'bachelor pad'
Keeps buying girls drinks. He quite clearly thinks that he's still quite 'a bit of a lad'.
He's all gin and lime and 'let's have a good time', and 'I'm really a very nice bloke,
'Can I give you a lift?' He might think he's God's Gift, but that just proves that God likes a joke.
Still, he's only a part of the flotsam and jetsam which washes up here every day,
The drinkers of sherry who get a bit merry and say things they ought not to say;
The sozzled, the stupid, the dense and the thick; the ones with tight minds and loose jaws,
And the ones who contrive to stay barely alive, as they slosh it all down, early doors.
And that weird looking prat with the badge on his hat with the legend CAMPAIGN FOR REAL ALE,
Is insufferably smug with his own pewter mug engraved with the words SAVE THE WHALE;
He keeps wittering on about 'sessions' long gone when he drank himself blind and insane,
And his wife went berserk and he got sacked from work...at the memory, he laughs like a drain.
Then again, he's just part of the flotsam and jetsam who'll tell you they drink to forget,
Professional boozers and wearisome losers, all plastered, all full of regret.
And they're always dead drunk,and they always talk bunk; they're pathetic and can't see the cause:
And I think it's a shame. Because I'm just the same. I'm here... every night... early doors...
© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 1995
EARLY DOORS (OVATION/BBC) YOUTUBE LINK
Michael Tully says:
I once spent a very late evening with a pal and the two lads from the Early Doors series in the Kingsway Hall hotel in central London. Top lads. One City, and one Red. Very very messy evening. Brilliant.
Update: I made a last valedictory 'Early Doors' visit to one of my old Middlewich haunts during 2014. Never again. The characters all seem to have turned into intensely irritating idiots. Perhaps they always were. It dawned on me that one of the drunken fools babbling at the bar used to be my bank manager. Good grief!