No change at the Chemic
I’ve written about the fortunes of my local pub, the Chemic Tavern in Woodhouse, Leeds, for years, even though my Chemic writings have frequently seen me dismissed as a fantasist.
Readers of my past Yorkshire Evening Post columns couldn’t accept that I’ve made it my life’s mission to tell the truth and nothing but the truth (with a few obvious exceptions, such as when presenting my CV, trying to sell a house or describing a child’s violin playing).
They didn’t believe that all my Chemic stories could be true, particularly the ones about the barman who, having worked in the darkness of the pub’s cellar, went on to study cosmic radiation in the deepest mine in the world, or the other barman who used his experience pricing drinks and sorting out drunks to becomes an admiral in the British navy.
Then there’s Dibbs, who you could call a pub character, if the phrase ‘pub character’ wasn’t so utterly depressing. In this case, it means the opposite of the grey-haired loon in the corner who thinks he should be applauded for talking gibberish.
Dibbs talks nothing but sense and is the north of England’s leading exponent, of the wailing east European woodwind instrument, the tarogato – and OK, he’s operating in quite a small field but then the Chemic is quite a small pub and to find a Dibbs and a tarogato in the same corner of the smallish front bar makes you think there must be some sort of plan in the world, even though it’s not immediately obvious what it is.
He is also, in between paid-work as a computer expert, a musical instrument maker; he can do you a clarinet from scratch and once rescued a nineteenth-century baby grand piano from being stripped of its innards and turned into a useless feature in a modish bar doomed to close anyway.
Later, because he couldn’t really fit the restored piano into his house, he lent it to the Chemic, where it became immensely popular among people who know what a good piano should sound like.
Then the Chemic changed hands and it was wrongly rumoured (Woodhouse, like all interesting neighbourhoods, being a hotbed of false rumours) that the new tenants would install loud electronic music, wide-screen TVs and pool tables, thus ruining the whole point of the Chemic.
Dibbs reacted by taking his piano home, and the more robust regulars combined to carry the extremely-heavy instrument down the street from the pub to his front room; this being the sort of communal action which Chemic types can’t resist, even when it’s ludicrously unnecessary (the pool-tables nightmare never came true) and carries a risk of strain-injuries.
Now there’s been another change of hands; Rob, Charlie and Kate, who have collectively run the pub for the last four years, have been replaced by friendly and charming twins, aged in their mid-20s, called Anna and Christopher.
This time, there doesn’t seem any need for panic. The twins have no plans to change the nature of the pub; it will still be mainly for talking, behaving and dressing interestingly (though not in an alarming way), quiet contemplation, chips from the next-door shop, friendly dogs and making music.
I have no idea whether this business model will work for Anna and Christopher, given that, like all of us, they have a pressing need to make a decent living, but it will work for me.