Random trans-Atlantic claptrap

An ode to Wetherspoons: The beating heart of Britain

If you’re not British, you may be forgiven for asking: “What is a Wetherspoon?”

It’s a chain of pubs, but it’s also so much more than that. Is McDonald’s just a burger joint? Is Walmart just a retail shop? Is Ikea just a place to buy furniture? No, these places have transcended the world of commerce to become something bigger. They are shops, but they are also symbols.

Yes, Wetherspoons is indeed a chain of pub/restaurants, but it also stands apart as the most British-est institution in the entire country. It is the veritable beating heart, no, the glimmering soul of the United Kingdom. And it’s a place most foreign visitors have never even heard of.

Forget a visit to Buckingham Palace. Disregard going up Big Ben. It may be the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, but you can give The Globe Theatre a miss as well. Shakespeare once wrote: “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale,” and he would surely agree with what I’m about to say:

If you really want to experience Britain in all its sceptr’d glory, its triumphs, tragedies and comedies, get ye to a Wetherspoons. 

Everything about Wetherspoons is more British than a bulldog wearing a bowler hat:

  • Many Wetherspoons are located in grand locations in the centre of town: old disused churches, converted banks, even swimming pools, can all be the location of a ‘spoon. These are where real British people congregate to eat, drink (and occasionally vomit). Like Walmart, if you want to see a cross-section of this country that differs from the beautiful upper classes to be found on the telly, you’ll find them at Wetherspoons. Every age and every race is welcome from breakfast until chucking-out time – you’ll see entire families at Wetherspoons, from babies to grandparents. Just don’t bring your dog. They don’t allow dogs.
  • Food at Wetherspoons is dependably British: deep fried, stodgy, starchy, brown-coloured, unpretentious and inexpensive. One of the main reasons for the chain’s continued popularity is that they keep prices low. You can always afford to eat at Wetherspoons.
  • Wetherspoons is also the place where unusual, but often terribly British things happen. It is, in many ways, the Florida of Britain- the backdrop for a steady stream of slightly surreal but entirely believable news stories. Did you hear the one about the man who chased the burglar out of his house, only to later buy him a pint at a Wetherspoons? Centipedes in your hash browns? That’s at a Wetherspoons. Or how about if you are a flasher, a naked man in a city centre fleeing from pursuing police, your willy flapping about as you run away? Where do you duck into if you want to attempt to escape by blending in? Wetherspoons of course. 

Wetherspoons is Britain at its finest and at its worst, and I recommend any visitor to the UK visit one, at least once during your stay. Even if just for breakfast (they’re famed for their affordable full English).

The first thing you’ll notice as you walk in…

…is the elaborate carpeting. I’ve blogged before about how British people love carpets, and at each and every one of the nearly 1000 Wetherspoons around the UK, every conceivable inch of the establishment is covered in a custom-made, wall to wall carpet of such majesty and size, that they cost upwards of £30,000 each to create.

You might ask yourself, “why would a pub, serving all those drinks, be covered in carpeting? Isn’t that going to make messy stains and odours from spilled drinks and food?” And you would be right – it is, admittedly on the surface of things, a rather inexplicable decor decision for a chain of pubs.

But all those carpets, all around the country are busy, every day and night – soaking up little drops and splashes of spilt ale, red wine and bargain lager.  Eventually, they produce a slightly mouldy smell can’t be swept or vacuumed away. This mingles with the steamy aroma of an endless procession of fried potatoes emerging from all those busy kitchens, to create an unmistakeable and perhaps indestructible fragrance. You’ll smell it, the minute you walk into a Wetherspoons -stale and moist, but not entirely unpleasant.

If somehow, you could find a way to bunch up a sizeable piece of carpet from a Wetherspoons pub …  and you further constructed some mechanism by which you could compress or squeeze the material vise-like…  eventually, I would imagine, you could squeeze out a drop or two of accumulated moisture… If you could do that, then that sweet nectar would be the veritable essence of Blighty itself.

I invite you to drink of it with me. Let us both go, together, to our nearest Wetherspoons for a pint of Britain.


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