This should be about the rich history of one of the oldest extant, continuously licensed pubs in Cambridge; its claims to have been a former “gin palace, opium den and brothel”, its ancient beams, the former brewery, malting house and stables, former publicans and links to a celebrated Cambridge pub sign painter, the pub’s ghosts and residual opium smoke. Instead, it’s dominated by a TV.
Something’s a bit different at the bar. The last time I was in here, admittedly a while ago now, there were a couple of cask Oakham beers rebadged for the pub – an Esox lucius Ale (JHB) and a Biting Bitter (Scarlet Macaw) – Theakston Old Peculier was permanent, and Punk IPA was on keg. This evening there’s disappointingly no sign of any of them, although Oakham Citra is on, along with Woodfordes Nelson’s Revenge and Nethergate Stour Valley Gold, of which I’m about to have a pint when I spot BrewDog Dead Pony Club on keg. “That’ll be £5.35”. I wish I’d gone with the Nethergate. The rest of the bar just has a row of lagers like Peroni where the Punk IPA used to be.
I’m Sat at a table by the window, hoping to enjoy the atmosphere from the ancient interior, with views outside to Magdalene College, illuminated in the winter evenings, and people crossing the Great Bridge over the river. Something’s not quite right. There are plenty of people in but most seem to be speaking suspiciously quietly, if at all. Then I notice the TV in the corner blaring out Unbelievable Moments Caught on Camera. It’s obviously been left on after the rugby finished, and is now killing conversation for the tables within sight or earshot of it. People seem unwilling to break its spell. I look around and everyone’s either staring at the TV or at their phones. One couple finish their drinks and get their coats on to leave, then stand there for 5 minutes transfixed by some wingsuit wearing stuntman landing in a pile of cardboard boxes. Another couple come in and go straight for the two chairs directly under the tv, then sit in silence, arching their necks to watch it. At one point, loud screams attract everyones attention – not the shriek from a customer laying eyes on one of the pub’s ghosts, but from a woman caught in a tornado in Alabama.
I happen to glance to one side and am momentarily confused by seeing a familiar ‘Flame & Grill’ menu. Then it dawns on me – this pub got swallowed up by Greene King when they bought the Spirit Group, which included Taylor Walker who owned the pub. That explains the diminished beer choice.
People are helplessly watching a man helplessly watching his car get swept away by a river of mud. I don’t mind sport being shown in pubs, it tends to animate those watching it rather than silence them; I enjoy watching some football myself, although I’m not a rugby fan so have avoided certain pubs while the 6 Nations is on. Likewise, I sat in a Norfolk village pub where the locals were all celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as they watched the rain-soaked proceedings – it prompted lively conversation rather than killing it. But just rolling, random TV shows? I seem to be the only one irked by it so decide to leave. As I reach the door, a man on the TV is recounting his marriage proposal on a plane: “I was expecting it would annoy and bother and inconvenience people, but everyone was loving it”, he says, echoing my observations.