When not writing fiction, I run the School of Booze, a drinks events and education consultancy I founded in 2008. I joke that at the School of Booze you never graduate because it involves life-long learning, but you can do your homework in the pub. I live in the UK, love pubs and spend lots of time in them, both professionally and in my private life.
Pubs are a fundamental to social and cultural life in Britain. They perform a role that is more than just a dispenser of drinks. The pub is where we go to meet friends, discuss business, commemorate special occasions, flirt with prospective lovers, gossip, catch-up with the local news, enjoy ourselves, and myriad other reasons. Every British soap opera has a pub – they are the equivalent of the village hall where people meet on neutral territory to socialise.
As soon as I started plotting Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits I knew that a pub had to be central to the activity and be a character in its own right. The Weasel is next door to House of Tanner in a tiny side street that contains only two buildings – the pub and Cordelia’s Italian Renaissance palace – and together they form a perfect world that belongs to Cordelia, Rex, and Oscar. Just around the corner, on the main road is Bonnati’s traditional café, opposite to the newsagent’s which supplies The Weasel with newspapers. Every pub should have a quality newspaper for customers to read!
One of my non-fiction publications is called ‘Pub Scene’, a coffee-table book of pub design around the world. I visited some stunning places including Liverpool’s Philharmonic Dining Room, and Belfast’s Crown Liquor Saloon. My favourite type of pub is one where the designer layered décor upon décor in a never-ending hallucinogenic fantasy. If you want to see a prime example of that, please visit London’s Blackfriar – a mash-up of arts & crafts and art nouveau so detailed that I see something new each time I visit, even though I have been there hundreds of times. When I was designing The Weasel in my head, I knew it had to have a spectacular appearance. This is how I describe it in Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits.
“All eyes were drawn to an ornate pub, The Weasel: its façade covered by polychromatic ceramic tiles and a huge garden behind it, unusual in its scale for a private property in central London.
The Weasel’s nineteenth century makeover had transformed an eighteenth-century coaching inn into a magnificent gin palace with mosaic décor, marble classical columns, glazed windows, brass fittings, carved mahogany bar servery and soft lighting to beckon in passers-by.”
The Weasel is co-owned by Cordelia and Oscar (Cordelia’s ex-husband and still close friend) and I wish it existed in real life because it is my perfect pub with several different sized rooms for a variety of purposes. I do not mention this in the novel but the rooms include a snug with squashy sofas, a large games room with a two-lane bowling alley, bar billiards, Ring the Bull, and Toads (a game imported from Sussex), a private dining salon, and a large saloon bar with an open fire for cold weather which Blanche, being the resident pub dog, spends much time snoozing by when she is not being petted by adoring customers.
It has a dream selection of scrumptious home-cooked food in an all-day menu. The comprehensive drinks list contains real cider & perry, and spirits from independent producers, Sherry, Madeira, an imaginative wine-list, English fizz, and of course, Bonheur champagne which is Rex’s favourite and was already the best-seller before Elodie came into Cordelia’s life. There is also a small on-site brewery so it is self-sufficient in ale. Daisy, the brewer, also brews small batches of Mead from honey that Oscar’s bees (he is an apiarist) produce.
Then there is the Minoan Lair from the days when music hall was the popular entertainment (19th century) and it was not uncommon for pubs to have small theatres attached, many of which today stage operas, dramas, comedy, and musicals. And I have not even mentioned the extensive Pleasure Gardens which are so fabulous I’ll write about them in another blog.
In the 1980s I worked at a company on one of the main roads into the City of London (the original city founded in 47 CE as a Roman fortified settlement called Londinium). We used to go to the local pub, often at lunchtime and every day after-work. It was a late 19th century Victorian boozer built on the site of what had been one the first music halls attached to a grand pub and was renowned enough to have attracted star performers of the day including Marie Lloyd. If me and my colleagues decided that a greasy spoon caff was required at lunchtime, then we had one next door to the pub. That café is now sadly closed, victim to the huge rents demanded for properties in this now gentrified area. When I worked there it was run down, windswept, and definitely not fashionable.
I have such good memories of working in the area, thanks to the great friends I made, the times at the pub, and the bangers & mash at the caff. And I have a souvenir of those times in the guise of hand-made shoes I bought from the shoemaker/cobbler in a tiny shop next door but one to the café. I’ve never seen another pair like them and although no longer worn, they are sculptural ornaments that made me happy to gaze at. When I was picturing where House of Tanner and The Weasel would be situated, I immediately thought of the shoemaker and the pub on that little side street off a busy road in a characterful corner of London.
I am eagerly developing the sequel to Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits and The Weasel will once again be an essential character. The sequel title is Sole Brethren: Left To Their Own Devices. I have no idea when it will be finished and published. If you are interested in receiving updates on the progress of ‘Left To Their Own Devices’ please subscribe to my occasional newsletter by clicking here. Thank you.
B.A. Summer (pen name of Jane Peyton), Brighton, UK