Amid the flatulent gusts of racism, homophobia and sciolistic Little-Englander wretchedness predictably stinking out the vox-pop interviews in The Guardian’s latest piece about the forthcoming Newark by-election, I was interested to note a particularly gaseous eructation issuing from the gastro-oesophageal junction of one David Donegan, proprietor of the Saracen’s Head Hotel in Nottinghamshire’s pretty minster town of Southwell. Having first favoured us with his sophisticated hypothesis that “Ukip are leading a peasants’ revolt” which will “shake up the Westminster establishment”, Mr Donegan, who entertained Ukip leader Nigel Farage at his pub on Saturday lunchtime, goes on to say:
“Civil partnership is absolutely fine, but gay marriage is appalling nonsense. The next thing they will be saying is we should be marrying pigs.”
I’m no longer a local, but as it happens, I grew up not far from Southwell. We used to go swimming at the public baths there. The Saracen’s Head, with its period features, its brace of reputed ghosts, and its proud claim to have played host to Charles I on his last night of freedom in 1646, was, I suppose, one of the very first pubs that I ever visited. Sadly, it is now the very last pub that I would ever dream of visiting – at least until Mr Donegan either disowns his interesting opinion about homosexuals and pigs, or else chooses to go and affront some other hostelry with it.
In fairness to Mr Donegan, it would be misleading of me to suggest that, before I came across his porcine pontification this morning, I was in any great hurry to return to his pub. The last time I popped into the Saracen’s Head, while revisiting old haunts with a friend a few years ago, I’m sorry to say that we had a thoroughly unpleasant lunch. The carpets were dirty, the service indifferent, and the menu harked back to the early 1970s, which was also when most of the vegetables had been brought to the boil. The aroma of yesterday’s cabbage hung heavy in the air. As if to add to the noxious whiff, a nearby table was playing host to a gaggle of diners rocking an array of blazers, waistcoats and cravats colourful enough to make the eyes bleed, and braying forth at maximum volume their familiar views on the litany of topics which traditionally preoccupy tipsy Telegraph readers over a pub lunch: immigrants, single mothers, fox-hunting, immigrants, the welfare system, modern art, and immigrants. So plentiful and so illuminating were the aphorisms and aperçus which foghorned their way across the dining room that day, that my companion and I began to jot them down. Here are some of our favourites – and I solemnly swear that everything you’re about to read is genuine:
“Living on benefits is a lifestyle choice. It’s as simple as that.”
“The trouble with the Eastern European is that he doesn’t really understand how we do things over here.”
“It’s a well-known fact that Labour invited all these immigrants over, because immigrants vote Labour.”
“She was living on benefits and she had three children. I mean, hello? The rest of us have children too, you know.”
“When did you last go to Yeovil? It’s full of Germans.”
“You can get a degree in anything these days. They’ll even give you a degree in the history of art, whatever that is.”
Food for thought, I’m sure you’ll agree. So, between the carpets, the cabbage and the clientele, I can’t pretend that I was planning on troubling the Saracen’s Head with a return visit any time soon. Nonetheless, today feels like a melancholy moment of transition. It gives me no pleasure at all to reflect that a pub which I happened to consider a bit naff has now become a pub which I am compelled to boycott, because it is owned by a man who considers it acceptable to suggest, out loud and in public, that gay people should be no more entitled to the rights he enjoys than should the pigs whose flesh, for all I know, might occasionally be found in his sausages.
Farewell, then, Saracen’s Head. Can’t say I’ll miss you. I’ve yet to meet a pig whose inarticulate grunts are a fraction as unpleasant as those of your proprietor. Mind you, if we’re talking about pigs and equality, then it’s verging on the ironic that the obvious quotation which springs to mind comes from a man who is idolised, and resoundingly misunderstood, by every Ukip supporter in the land – a man who would have held Ukip, and everything that it stands for, in the utmost contempt:
“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
– Winston Churchill