Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Motorway pubs could prove the saviour of a Lancashire motoring landmark

SHERLOCK Holmes might have called it a two pipe problem. For me, a clash between two of my favourite things – real cars and real ale – is a two pint problem.

Until very recently I could enjoy both, but knowing the clear boundary between them. Most of my motoring life, particularly on still, summer evenings like the ones we’ve been having lately, involved a classic car of some sort, a quiet pub in the West Lancashire countryside and a refreshing, but legal, shandy. Similarly, if I wanted to be happy in the haze of a drunken hour, Merseyrail’s finest and a plethora of town centre pubs were my oyster.

That’s why new plans by JD Wetherspoon to start opening pubs at motorway service stations didn’t leave me angry or overjoyed. The idea, like a hangover, hurts my head slightly. On the one hand you can take the view of an old mate of mine who argued vociferously that allowing any pub, anywhere, to have a car park is encouraging driving while smashed.

Motorway service stations are essentially big car parks, albeit ones with overpriced coffee shops attached. What’s more, unlike even the quietest of country pubs they cannot be reached by public transport (National Express coaches don’t count).

The Daily Mail reader in me, therefore, thinks motorway service stations are a menace that’ll fuel a drink-driving epidemic. But then I remembered all those visits to Forton Services on the M6, gazed at the Gerry Anderson-esque architecture of the old restaurant tower and wondered which idiot it was who decided Britain’s motorists would no longer benefit from it. It’s a wonderful bit of Sixties architecture – and, on account of it being a listed building, it seems the powers that be agree with me – and I always feel slightly sad when I see it lingering above the Lancashire countryside, unloved and unused.

The idea of it being a family-friendly pub/restaurant job, albeit one festooned with signs warning the designated drivers not to fill up on John Smiths as well as unleaded, appeals more than seeing it not being used at all.

Last year, I put it to JD Wetherspoon that if they’re serious about opening a pub in Ormskirk, they should name it The Harold Wilson (and if they do, you heard it here first). Now I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that if they’re going to throw caution to the wind and start opening pubs on the motorway, they might as well bring a Lancastrian landmark familiar to drivers across the North West back to life.

Well, the idea made sense at the pub anyway.

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