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The Flying Swan - a proper pub from the pen of Robert Rankin

The Flying Swan is a pub featuring in the works of Robert Rankin set in Brentford. The regular bitter is called “Large”. Due to assonance, location and general description, it is my assumption this is inspired by “Pride” – in full, London Pride - as brewed by Fuller, Smith and Turner of Chiswick: just a sprout’s throw from Brentford.

As with Orwell’s The Moon Under Water, his writings show a deep understanding of what makes a British Pub (as well as being somewhat funnier) and should be considered part of the canon of Pub Literature.

The Swan appears regularly throughout the Brentford Trilogy as a location and favoured haunt of the protagonists. It has survived through brewery makeovers (avoided through fast-talking), an exploding BBQ installed (Cowboy Night being another bad idea from the brewery with disastrous consequences) and Neville the part-time barman expanding to giant size.

Apart from the many mentions (do pick up a Rankin and read for yourself), there is one longer passage that is worth quoting in full as the description of a near-perfect pub:

--oo— The Flying Swan --oo--

Not one hundred yards due north of Norman’s shop, as fair flies the griffin, there stands a public house which is the very hub of the Brentonian universe. Solidly constructed of old London stocks and fondly embellished with all the Victorian twiddly bits, the Flying Swan gallantly withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous brewery management. Its patrons have never known the horrors of fizzy beer or pub grub that comes ‘à-la-basket’.

The Swan had grown old gracefully. The etched glass windows, tinted with nicotine and the exhalations of a million beery breaths, sustained that quality of light exclusive to elderly pubs. The burnished brass of the beer engines shone like old gold and the bar top glowed with a deep patina. The heady perfumes of Brasso and beeswax blended with those of hops and barley, grape and grain to produce an enchanting fragrance all its own. Only a man born without a soul would not pause a moment upon entering the Swan for the first time, breathe in the air, savour the atmosphere and say, ‘This is a pub.’

But of course, for all its ambience, redolence and Ridley Scottery, a pub is only as good as the beer it serves. And here it must be said that those on offer were of such a toothsome relish, so satisfying in body and flavour as might reasonably elicit bouts of incredulous head-shaking and murmurs of disbelief from the reader.

Nevertheless the eight hand-drawn ales available were of a quality capable of raising eulogies from seasoned drinkers, their bar-side converse long hag-ridden by clichés of how much better beer tasted in the good old days.

(c) Robert Rankin
from The Sprouts of Wrath
the fourth book in the legendary Brentford Trilogy