The Hunter's Column
In this edition our intrepid hero watches some telly, and then with new found messianic fervour heads to the Black Country for some real culture...
Sex Box, Sex Box...
With apologies to Tom Jones, the one who used to sign on in Pontypridd, not the one whom 18th century novelist Henry Fielding portrayed drinking, amongst other things, in The White Lion Hotel, Upton upon Severn (still a good pint, 300 years later!); although Welsh Tom, taking his name from the lustful, fictional character, is said to have had his moments too. What’s new pussycat? There were other peoples’ intimate moments almost on show in the new, ‘how low can we get’, Channel 4 TV series, Sex Box. If you didn’t see it, let me quote their e-mission statement: “In Sex Box, couples discuss their feelings and sensations about their love life after having sex.” I didn’t know which way to turn! Things have certainly changed since the days when the Victorians used to cover up their table legs “lest they arouse salacious thoughts“. Channel 4’s big idea was for couples to enter a container-type box and, discreetly, out of sight (now that really did surprise me, there’s some hope for modesty on TV yet), then be indiscreet. They even had the audacity to call it the Campaign For Real Sex. Wonder where that idea came from.
It prompted me to imagine what it might have been like tailored more towards the real ale drinker. Couples, they could be the same gender or even total strangers, would enter the box together and neck a few pints, instead of each other. There could be some subtle lighting, bar stools available, even a bar operative, if they didn’t mind being watched. They would probably exit in a similar state to the current ‘contestants’ - slightly flushed, hair on back to front and with a large, self-satisfied smile across their wetted lips. It would all be above board and provide a stronger moral compass, especially for the Festive Season – Get out, Drink on, Turn in. Timothy Leary himself, in all his transcendental wisdom, couldn’t have put it any better
It was a strong moral compass that pointed
the Tewkesbury CAMRA charabanc directly towards the Black Country, for their annual
tour of the Nether(ton) regions; taking in, al-literally, Wednesfield, Willenhall
and Wolverhampton. Unspoilt pubs, unspoilt barmaids and beer “Unspoilt by Progress”
make it a premier league venue (unlike the local football team) for discerning
drinkers. In Willenhall, the clang of the metal studded, work boots of the local
locksmiths could still be heard echoing around the cobbled High Street, with the
premature strains (I use the word very loosely) of Slade’s Noddy Holder, broadcasting
a Merry Christmas to anybody in shouting (I use that word not so loosely) distance.
Isn’t it tannoying! Willenhall was from Elizabethan times the centre for lock
making and an unfortunate consequence of standing over a vice, filing locks and
keys for up to eighteen hours a day was a tendency to physical deformities, including
a humped back.So much so, that the area became known colloquially as ‘Humpshire’
(no, we’re not back to Sex Box again). Some public houses even had holes carved
into the wall behind the wooden benches, to allow locals to sit with their humps
comfortably placed in the hole. The Bell Inn, Market Street, dating back to the
1600’s and currently undergoing major restoration (obviously not so many punters
taking the hump these days) is one such pub. The Bell Inn? What did they call
the room with the concave apertures, Quasimodo’s Corner? You can imagine the long
line of locksmiths outside on a Saturday night, stretching all the way round the
block, waiting for a seat in their favourite drinking ‘hole’; bouncers on the
door, bawling out, as spaces became available, “One lump or two?”.
Rumour has it that The Bell Inn was Father Christmas’ favourite stop off on his yuletide, midnight ramblings. All that lifting and carrying of sacks must have created the same curvature of spine prevalent through the Willenhall workforce and where do you think he got his keys cut to open all of those nocturnal doors, when he couldn’t get down the chimney because they’d left the fire in? It must have been the only place that he could enjoy his pint in comfort. They still talk about him now, sucking on his pipe in the snug and whistling through his teeth, “Well, I Wish It Could Be Humpshire Every Day…”