The Longest Crawl, by Ian Marchant

A cheering toast to our love of the public house
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The Independent Culture

Ian Marchant, who believes that getting to and from the pub defines Englishness, went on a month-long pub crawl from the Scilly Isles to the Shetland Isles. He and his photographer companion, Perry, are a pair of ageing hippie/punks who drink only real ale as they search for the perfect pub. Initially, you fear that The Longest Crawl might be lacking the gravity of Pete McCarthy, with too many recorded conversations repeated verbatim. But as it continues, Marchant's loquaciousness increases, rather like a man on his second pint, and you realise you're going to be locked in for an all-night session.

His memories of the pub that he used to visit with his father as a teenager in the 1970s recall a lost age of songs around the piano, when pubs were at the heart of their village. When Marchant revisits the Kicking Donkey, now converted into a house, his outrage is both poignant and amusing.

The book is full of memorable boozers, and there are some great cameos. You can feel the lunchtime dizziness as Marchant tries to keep up with Chris, who starts drinking at Smithfield Market at 7.30am. There's Ash, a hippie who now runs an illegal still in the Welsh hills; Zig, a philosophy lecturer who takes the pair on an eight-pint tour of Leeds while debating the Aristotelian notion of the good life; and a terminally drunk, glass-smashing barman on the Isle of Jura.

In a Walsall pork-scratching factory, Perry and Marchant are delighted to receive three free boxes of pig skin. The only problem is that when they put on their suits to drink in a posh hotel in Woodhall Spa, favoured by the Dambusters and later Tarbie and Brucie, their clothes are saturated with the odour. They find many fine pubs, but are called "faggots" when they enter theme bars. And when Marchant encounters a baseball-cap-wearing youth beating up his girlfriend in Great Driffield, beery logic finds the reader rejoicing as the author punches him.

This is more than a boozy romp, though. There's much historical data and a cogent argument that alcohol is so ingrained in Anglo-Saxon culture that no one will ever stop us getting "pished". Some of the best writing is the personal material, dealing with Marchant's drunken, wife-beating grandfather, and a breakdown cured by joining the Yorkshire House quiz team in Lancaster. Pub trivia can rescue the soul.

Pete May's 'Rent Boy' is published by Mainstream

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