One of the first things that every journo learns is that “dog bites man” is not a story. “Man bites dog” is much more interesting.
Similarly, “village pub not for sale” would these days probably get more readers than a headline which said the opposite.
I write this, with considerable sadness, because my village pub is once again for sale. I have been drinking at the St Mabyn Inn for 36 years and have lost count of the number of landlords that have come and gone. My poor memory is not actually a direct result of drinking in the pub for 36 years, because I don’t drink there every day. But the number of ex-landlords in that time is easily in double figures.
The plight of rural pubs has been under discussion ever since the drink-driving laws were introduced in 1966. In recent years, the nation’s price-sensitive drinking habits have also been much influenced by cheap supermarket booze.
News that the St Mabyn Inn was once again on the market, with a price tag of nearly £1million, provoked a genuine outpouring of distress from friends in the village. The owners, who have been behind the bar for about three years, had invested handsomely in bringing the pub straight from the 19th century to the 21st.
The introduction of the indoor toilets almost provoked a spontaneous street party, complete with bunting. The new restaurant was also hugely popular, serving food that had not only been cooked to order, but had actually been cooked. Wherever possible, ingredients were sourced locally from a multitude of agricultural interests. The word “improvement” is simply inadequate.
I remember how, as a young man, early on a Friday evening, I would watch as the pub filled up with young women, plastered in war paint, before they would head off to Bodmin to do battle in the White Hart – leaving the local men to their beer. The arrival of the police, shortly after closing time, signalled the start of the lock-in and the drinking would continue.
The transformation from spit-and-sawdust dive to elegant place-worth-a-visit had been handled with a degree of sensitivity which is not always seen in rural areas. Previous incumbents had been known to ban their own darts teams in their bids to attract the more up-market customer – only to discover that once the summer school holidays were over, the pub was empty until the following Easter. The recent redevelopment had somehow managed to remain loyal to those locals who still liked to perch at a corner of the bar, Thursday – Monday, play darts, and occasionally walk round the pool table with a big stick.
The pub today is almost certainly the biggest single employer in the parish. Its success has not been without problems – such as a car park too small for the vastly increased number of customers. But now the owners are moving on to pastures new and one of the most important parts of village life again faces an uncertain future.