I LIKE pubs. I always have, even as a child.
It’s not the drinking as such, more the feel of a place and the game of chance you play in your time there.
That sense of anticipation has been lost through the various lockdowns and tier restrictions, but in reality it has long been eroded as the big breweries have taken over the industry.
The days when you burst through the doors of a pub with no idea what to expect on the inside started to disappear when the large companies saw the pound signs involved in making places family friendly and introducing measures that made the bloke who just wanted six pints and a go on the fruit machine feel a touch uncomfortable.
I recall in my early 20s going on a pub crawl in Keighley and coming home with a decent story from each one (the childish/laddish aim at the time was to drink 20 pints — I managed 19, my mate 21), going into a pub in Stoke with a couple of mates and being asked to leave because we weren’t local and the consequences of not complying had been spelled out pretty clearly.
A group of us once crashed through the doors of a massive establishment in Wembley prior to watching the Happy Mondays to find that every other person in there appeared to be of West Indian descent or origin and all were playing dominoes with varying degrees of escalating aggression. We could hardly turn round and leave, so bought a pint with the aim of hastily despatching it and moving on, but then thought that would look obvious so stayed for a few to show the situation didn’t bother us in the slightest.
I went in Baird’s Bar in Glasgow, in which a band was on “stage” playing Irish rebel/IRA songs, drug-dealing was rife, the police were in every ten minutes and we were assigned a “bodyguard” for being English. The place featured in Danny Dyer’s Toughest Pubs in Britain series and was eventually closed down.
A pub I attended in Exeter used to allow the then National Front to hold its meetings in there and on entering we were immediately singled out as not likely to be looking to join the party and impolitely asked to leave.
A pub in the docks in Plymouth used to have topless barmaids serving before the football — and that wasn’t too many years ago. There are lots of other examples; a visit to an Amsterdam bar that turned out to be run by the Mafia being one.
I’m not saying that any of these are necessarily good things to have in a bar but the homogenising of what was something that distinguished us from other countries, good or bad, is part of the watering down of character in life.
Go to a pub now — there are some honourable exceptions in Rotherham — and you are likely to be given a table number and a menu, even without lockdown, and expected to be quiet. You’ll be lucky, or unlucky — that was part of the element of surprise — to find someone standing on their own, six to eight pints in, just wanting a session and some occasional company in their day to block out their problems and possibly cause themselves some more.
Hopefully, the rise of the micro-brewery and the independently-run pub could mean a return to the good old-fashioned boozer, but people’s reluctance to step over the imaginary line that keeps us on the straight and narrow may just see us all permanently in the characterless family enclosure.