Will Self, the posh novelist and professionally bewildered Shooting Stars contestant, tackles the JD Wetherspoon pub chain in his latest Real Meals column for the New Statesman magazine*. A crunching, over-the-top, studs-showing, unfair tackle the article is; it’s worthy of a yellow card, if not a sending off.
My theory is that Self was late; late with his copy as he arrived at Victoria Station one day. Getting slightly desperate and happy to settle for an easy target (I know the feeling) he glanced around the concourse: Burger King, Upper Crust, Delice de France and then up at the Wetherspoon’s on the balcony. Perfect.
Victoria is never going to be the best example of a Wetherspoons pub. Self does not mention it, but he would have found it busy, as it invariably is, with people waiting for delayed trains, people meeting up, and people nipping in for a swift half of something interesting.
It is a business at continuous full-stretch with little time for hospitality and its frills, a purely functional pub that does the job. It’s not what you would call a ‘destination venue’. All Wetherspoons are a little like that, actually. It is their unfussy functionality, as well as their good value, that makes the pub chain so popular. Though not with Self who regards them as: “… shit, brown dollops of establishments smeared incontinently across our cities. Actually, ‘shit’ is a little strong for Wetherspoon – a bit too gamey; they’re more ‘shit-lite’.”
This is good writing. It’s funny, it’s clever, and I like it. But in delivering entertaining copy Self is not just laying into Wetherspoon, he is attacking the hundreds of thousands of people who use it, people who obviously haven’t got Self’s high standards.
One of them is me. True, if there is a nicer, cosier pub nearby that serves a decent pint I wouldn’t give the ‘Spoons a second glance. But quite often when I’m in an unfamiliar town I’m grateful to spot the ‘W’ sign that tells me there’s a place I can go that will give me cask beer in good condition, free Wi-Fi and something okay to eat if I’m hungry and can’t find a curry house.
Self should recognise this practical appeal that has made JD Wetherspoon and its creator, Tim Martin, so successful. He should also recognise that ‘Spoons is giving all those people he must have noticed at Victoria something they need; but the article is all about his personal distaste for a concept he blames on “a man named Tim”.
The problem with this review is that it’s written by a man named Self.
*Read it if you must, here: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/food-and-drink/2013/02/pub-chain-named-after-object-resentment-codtraditional-its-fish-and-c