Friday, February 05, 2021

Lamb to the slaughter?

Oxford and I had our differences, but we grew closer as the years drew on and if there's one thing guaranteed to make me homesick for the old place, it's the thought of its pubs. At present, the opportunity to be in any boozer at all would be gleefully seized with both hands - let alone to be tucked away in a snug corner of one of the city's many marvellous hostelries on a cold, dark, dismal winter evening.

For that reason, Madeline Odent's recent Twitter thread giving a guided tour of the best establishments was a bittersweet read. On the one hand, it brought back memories of many a good night out - but, on the other, it was a painful reminder of the fact that they're all currently out of bounds.

If I was to quibble with Odent's selection, I'd ditch the Head of the River (poor overpriced drinks selection, trading on its location) and probably also the Turf (largely a honeypot for gormless tourists - if they can find it, that is) and include more of the pubs a short stroll from the city centre (the Gardener's Arms, the Royal Oak and the Bookbinders in Jericho, the Port Mahon on St Clement's Street).

But, setting aside any such minor gripes, the thread alerted me to the news that the future of one of Oxford's institutions - the Lamb & Flag in St Giles - looks to be under serious threat. The pandemic has of course had an enormous impact - but it's hard to believe the claim of its owners, St John's College, that it's "a loss-making business". Perhaps the more telling comment is that the pub "is not part of [the college's] core charitable objectives". Maybe not - but it's certainly one of the jewels in the city's crown when it comes to old-school boozers. Surely a solution can be found to keep it open?

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