Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Bye Bunter: an ode to the pub

And so it was an era came to an end. Terry Kavanagh rang the bell last Saturday to call time on a fabulous 17 years as landlord of the St Radegund, King Street, Cambridge. The Rad may not have the fireplace, secret garden or pewter pots of Orwellian design, yet there is perfection in this Cantabrigian institution. Its locals are loyal but not jingoistic, often seen in other pubs. Despite a knowing cynicism, a faint whiff of the bear pit (one of Terry's many taglines extolling the virtues of the pub being 'St Radegund...a better class of insult'), its patrons will, and do, stand by each other.

Readers will understand the communal bonds between disparate men and women forged in the best of pubs. The St Radegund is the best of pubs. Several met wives or husbands there for the first time. When I wanted my wife, then girlfriend, to understand what I was about, taking her to the Rad seemed the finest possible shorthand. She is now a regular, too.

As a student, it was the place to intrigue in shady corners. It is still and ever shall be
a place to hail triumphs, see off the day, battle the demons, right public wrongs, castigate bounder politicos, cheer sporting triumph, wallow in defeat and drown immeasurable sorrows.

Of course the beer is good. It stands to reason. And we talk about the beer, chew over it. It's difficult not to when local brewer Richard Naisby of Milton Brewery is in there, supping his own wares and holding forth. And he does hold forth. But we can forgive a man who's brought us the delights of Mammon, the winterly splendidness of Nero and has conjured magic with Hackney's Pembury Tavern. Even if he did go to Oxford.

But the pub itself is also the talking point - so much so there's even a book about its overseas exploits. Steve Haslemere's The Ascent of Mount Hum chronicles a Rad cricket tour to the Croatian island of Vis. Other sports undertaken by Rad regulars include running with the Hash House Harriers ('a drinking club with a running problem'), rowing and conkers.

Those preferring extreme sports should consider the biennial King Street Run, a brutal eight-pint drinking race down a street that used to boast a far greater number of pubs. Don't worry, the good'uns are still there, so competitors double up now. The course record, fact fans, is 14 minutes and was carried out in a monk's costume by a man so skinny you'd assume him abstemious. How wrong you'd be.

Put off by the activity? More a culture vulture? Would the true sackcloth 'drawers of St Radegund' tempt pilgrims? Those of a religious bent ought not to sneer - committed theologians from nearby Westcott House will often drop by to admire the undergarment, parading down King Street holding the bloomers aloft, with Terry ejaculating hastily improvised Latin chants by way of accompaniment.

Perhaps Friday's Vera Lynn Appreciation Society would be more up your alley - listen to the forces sweetheart and indulge yourself with a double G&T aperitif as god intended. On the subject of our 1940s heritage, the Rad has its own homage to the Eagle's famous RAF bar, with names of regulars past and present burned on to the ceiling for posterity. Ex officio of his Blue Flame Club membership (don't ask), jesusjohn is very proud to be up there himself (though, arguably, far less proud to refer to himself in the third person).

The pub is a maelstrom of variety, in no small part courtesy of its patrons. But getting the pub to this point, holding it together, providing the glue, setting the tone, arguing the toss and belligerently ruling the roost has been Terry. He's seen B52s fly over Cambodia. He's done Bali and the Falklands. He's ushered countless students through evenings of unbridled alcoholic vice. And he's pissed in each barrel to make sure it was up to scratch.

He coined the moniker jesusjohn in my very first term as a sign of true belonging. Thanks to him, the St Radegund will always be the pub I go back to.

Cheers Bunter.

The Pubcast video, below, we made a year ago features a long segment on the Radegund and an interview with Terry Kavanagh - watch the whole thing if you've time. If not, scroll to 07:25.

I'd like to take this opportunity also to wish new landlord James Hoskins the very best of luck in taking over the Rad - I'm sure he'll do a cracking job.

The top picture shows jesusjohn in typical Cambridge attire - at the Rad, naturally.

Pubcast #1: Cambridge from The Pubcast on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

He finally will be an erstwhile publican

jesusjohn said...

I know who you are, anonymous. I know who you are...

Paul garrard said...

I've always struggle with Milton ales. Only ever had 1 decent pint and I've tried a few. They have a pub in Norwich which I really must get along to soon.

jesusjohn said...

My take on Milton is this - the strong beers work well. Mammon is 7%, Nero is 5.1%. Also good, when found, is the session bitter Pegasus (session bitter seems to be getting a kicking oot and aboot lately, but I love a good one).

Their best selling ale, the golden-hued Pegasus, is personally my least favourite. Unbalanced hop punch. Icarus, however, is a much more sophisticated golden ale, with floral hops and balanced malt sweetness.

And they run decent pubs. I'm off to the Pembury in Hackney tomorrow and probably won't touch the Milton ales in favour of UK pilsner gem Moravka...

Anonymous said...

Surely more to the point, he will finally be an erstwhile landlord.

But with or without Bunter, drinking is a way of life in Cambridge. No NUS campaign, however sanctimonious,
is going to part me from my nut-brown ale. You can quote me on

I'm not convinced you do know who the first anonymous is...