Al Murray on Cask Ale: 'Tradition is the fabric of the country'

From Test Cricket to Sunday lunch, the Pub Landlord gives his own inimitable insight into what makes Britain great
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Indy Lifestyle Online

"Apart from the love of family, home, pub and pint, the most important thing in life is tradition. And because we the British are the most sensible normal down to earth people in the world, we know this and have developed a tradition of tradition – sort of tradition squared. Why else has morris dancing survived? Because it's traditional, not because in any sense is it sensible or normal or rational on any level – I mean, what a bunch of eejits, really. But don't knock it, it's tradition. If it didn't exist you'd have to invent it. And now it does exist it can't be uninvented, no matter how stupid it might appear.

Tradition is the fabric of the country and its smooth running. It tells you who you are and where you are. It is often misunderstood – anyone taking the citizenship exam to get become British is asked "what do the British eat for Christmas dinner?", with a multiple choice including turkey and pork as options. The correct answer is of course mind your own bloody business. No wonder this government is in trouble.

Beautiful British traditions include: pubs, morris dancing, cheese rolling, Pancake Day, Village Fêtes, Boxing Day sales, Bonfire Night, Yorkshire puddings (only with beef, I don't care how much you like them, they don't go with lamb), V-signs (not that Yankee single finger thing), not grumbling, tea, fry ups, the Scots jeering at the English – the Welsh jeering at the English – the English not knowing quite how to deal with it, Test Cricket, Wimbledon, going out in the quarter finals in the World Cup on penalties, inventors in sheds, women lying face down in the gutter in northern towns on Friday nights, gropey vicars, punch ups at football matches, salacious tabloids, Sunday lunches, tolerance, democracy, class, rioting when finally pushed too far, driving in the middle lane on the motorway, the NHS, stopping at zebra crossings. Compare this lot to France's tradition of shrugging. You see? You know where you are and who you are.

So the next time you feel lost or listless get yourself down the pub and order roast beef and Yorkshires, a pint, and try to squeeze it in over your fry up while the Morris dancers prance around in the drizzle and you'll know you're in the Greatest Country In The World (I've never been anywhere else).

FROM PARROTS TO PINTS: THE PUBLICAN'S PEARLS OF WISDOM

Common Sense

"Now it is a crucial advantage that we the British have which is that everyone thinks in English. Indeed English is the natural language of the human being, it forms naturally in the human brain, as well as the brain of some animals like parrots, and the dog on That's Life who said 'sausages'. Everyone thinks in English, which is why when you go abroad (if you must) if you shout loudly enough IN ENGLISH their brain will reverberate in its original frequency and they will understand your precise meaning. They'll realise, 'Chips, Beer! I know what these things are', and go and get them. Waving your fists and your money helps too."

The great British sense of humour

"We have the greatest sense of humour in the world. There is no denying that. Benny Hill is world famous, all over the world. And the fact that only the simple and the slow like Benny Hill...? I rest my case."

Wimbledon

"The Best Tennis Tournament In The World. It's the one they all want to win. All right, so there are supposedly four major tournaments, your Wimbledon, the American Open, the Aussie open, and the French Open, but ask any French, Aussie or American tennis player which tournament he wants to win the most and he'll tell you: 'Wimbledon'. This is because it's the best. There's a chance you might spot Her Majesty, and we use grass to play on, which is how tennis is meant to be. Lawn Tennis, that's its full title, and the clue's in the name. It's not called Red Muck Tennis is it? But you try telling that to the blokes down at Roland Garros. And even though it's donkey's years since a Brit actually won Wimbledon – it's our own fault, we made all the others want it too much – we're not all that bothered, because with strawberries at a fiver each we're making all that prize money back on the catering."

Wembley

"The Best Stadium In The World. It was already the best football stadium in the world before they pulled it all down, sold off the pitch in half-a-metre-square bits, and built a new stadium in the same place, so imagine what it's like now that it's £757 million better. It's got to be fantastic, hasn't it, like the stadium of the future, on the moon or something, with hover seats and telly helmets for everyone. It has always been every footballer's dream to step out onto the hallowed turf... I hope the new stadium made sure to get hallowed turf. I wonder if they had to get it specially hallowed? Do they grow it at a vicarage and only water it with water from the font that's been used for baptising babies? Or did they have a hallowing machine left over from when they pulled down the old place...? Anyway, it's every footballer's dream to play at Wembley, whatever country he comes from, because it's the best, and sometimes this does cause a problem. Sometimes foreign players can get so excited about playing at Wembley, the home of football, that they play way above their natural level of performance, which makes it that much more difficult for England to beat them. Someone somewhere didn't Think That One Through."

The British Broadcasting Corporation

"The Best Broadcasting Corporation In The World. Especially when it comes to sports. Just look at when we have to watch coverage that American telly has provided and you'll see all the faces are too yellow, and all the people in the crowd are distorted so that they seem grossly overweight. And when Sky do the cricket we see more shots of girls in bikinis bouncing around than we do of the batsmen. The BBC know how to cover sports properly. Years of experience means they know exactly what tinkly music to put over arty camera shots of the rain spattering off the covers at Wimbledon, or Lord's, or off the roof of the stand at Twickenham."

Regulars

"One day, if you are particularly blessed, you may be vouchsafed the title of 'regular' in a Beautiful British Pub. You will have your own favourite seat or, more likely, stool, from which you will discern titbits, such as on which nights the tastiest barmaid works. You will learn not to eat the food, excepting pre-wrapped bar snacks manufactured off the premises. Most importantly you will be able to go in on your own and not be by yourself, you will know the other regulars and they will know you, you'll be able to sit at the bar, and on those golden evenings when the Guv'nor feels like having a lock in you will be one of the chosen few that is ushered into the function room while he clears the other riff raff out. However it's not all take take take: you must be loyal in return, and if you leave it longer than three months without popping in, don't bother going back.

If your pub is a wine bar it will not have regulars. They pride themselves, for some reason, on their high turnover of customers. If a wine bar manager sees you more than twice in a month, he is likely to mistake you for a stalker and get some kind of a restraining order."

Check out what is on draught

"You would think, wouldn't you, that this would be the clincher. If your 'pub' is truly a pub, it will have pumps. Course it will. Pub 101. These will generally be of dark hard wood topped with a brass vestigial nipple, polished by years of usage to a dazzling sheen, and offering a beautiful range of kegged beverages which should ideally include some, many or all of the following:

An unimpeachable local bitter: (all hail to the ale)

A mild: (for use in making mild and bitter)

An Australian lager brewed in Watford

Something German: (I know, it sticks in the craw, but always remember that it's your choice, and if we'd lost, it wouldn't be)."

Saturday night success

"One of the key ways in which we measure Success in this celebrity-powered age is Fame. The thing is, nowadays you don't actually have to do much to get Fame. Look at Saturday nights, that's all you've got to do. If it isn't the X Factor it's I'd Do Anything, if it's not Britain's Got Talent, it's Any Dream Will Do or that Eurovision thing. All you have to do is pitch up and be not quite as good at singing as the people who are already doing it professionally, and suddenly the world seems to be your oyster, and no one minds if you cry on telly until some snot comes out your nose.

To me, there is something not particularly British about all that. I look at it, and I think this is how Americans go on. It's no coincidence that Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan have been over there picking up tips on how to wind people up to a frenzy of Success neediness.

The message of these programme seems to be that Anyone Can Do Anything. Anyone can be a Success, all they have to do is want it enough, and it will definitely definitely happen, and then they can be elevated from the pit by the divine hand of Cowell (while his other hand is dipping into your back pocket and taking 75 per cent)."

Drinking

"At the end of the day, though, whatever it is that's getting to you, nothing puts it right like the beautiful British pint. I would say that, though, wouldn't I, because that's what I'm selling. Doesn't make it any less true, though, does it? So whatever it is that ails you, the ale will never fail you. Get yourself down to a beautiful British pub (preferably mine, the carvery fund's a bit low at the moment – it's a global trend, though, apparently) and get yourself sorted out."

Copyright: Al Murray 2010

Following the success of last year's triple extended UK tour, Al Murray - The Pub Landlord is back this autumn with a completely new stand-up show, Barrel of Fun. To book or get more info visit www.thepublandlord.com

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