It's been widely reported that the removal of tobacco smoke from pubs has uncovered a variety of unpleasant aromas such as sweat, stale beer and flatulence that were better left concealed. This must be the ultimate way of dealing with the problem.
I was heartened today when I was sitting in the main lounge area of a pub and a couple came in with a small boy about four years old. The bar staff politely asked them to move to a (very comfortable) separate room towards the front of the pub where children were allowed, which they did without demur.
The unrestricted access of young children to bars must be one of the major turn-offs for adult pubgoers, so it’s good to see a pub enforcing a policy that is fair to everyone.
And I continue to maintain that the most anti-children attitude of all is to want them admitted to all areas of all pubs at all times.
If anyone was still in a state of denial over the fact that the smoking ban is the thin end of the wedge of the campaign against alcohol, see here, where the Welsh Secretary of the BMA, Dr Richard Lewis, says “After smoking, alcohol is the next big public health issue”. You have been warned!
There have been a number of opinion polls such as this one suggesting that people are more likely to visit pubs following the smoking ban. However, you need to discount the inbuilt bias in such polls that some respondents will give the answers they think the pollsters want to hear, rather than what they genuinely feel – hence why polls always understate Conservative support at general elections.
And when you look at the detail it doesn’t necessarily agree with the headline anyway. The number of non-smokers saying they were actually visiting pubs more often was 32%, compared with 47% who said before the ban they would – clearly showing that reality does not always accord with expectation. On the other hand, 45% of smokers said they were going to pubs less post-ban.
These results also take no account of the frequency of visits – if those who went once a month now went twice a month, but those who went four times a week now went twice a week, overall it would lead to a substantial downturn in trade. This reinforces the oft-expressed view that the smoking ban is a means of changing pubs to fit in with the tastes of people who aren’t, and never will be, regular pubgoers.
The evidence is clear on the ground that wet-led pubs have lost trade following the ban, in some cases only marginally, in others very significantly. The only true measure is the hard facts on takings, not the results of opinion polls.
On the Catherine Tate Show, there are a middle-aged, Northern couple who repeatedly express their disgust at what many would now regard as commonplace cuisine in Britain – “and it was served on chee-a-batter bread!!”
Yet it seems this attitude is alive and well in our pubs. We are often told about the “pub food revolution”, yet apart from a tiny handful of gastro-pubs, all too often what you end up with is a long list of dishes from the freezer combined with the traditional chips and veg. Where are the pasta, the rice, the noodles, the couscous, the pizzas? “Oh, sea bass is fashionable, let’s serve it up with mash, carrots and peas!”
The “Mediterranean diet” may be a staple of the colour supplements, but it is conspicuous by its absence in the typical British pub, even those with upmarket aspirations.
I see that Hobson’s Mild from a micro-brewery in Shropshire has been chosen as CAMRA’s 2007 Champion Beer of Britain. It’s not a beer I’ve ever personally tasted, but I have no doubt it’s a worthy winner. But is selecting a representative of a declining and unfashionable beer style, from a small producer who will be unable to take maximum advantage of the award, really the best way of raising the profile of cask beer? Might there be a case for introducing a minimum annual barrelage figure for the competition, to avoid it ending up simply as a celebration of obscurantism?
After an initial dip following the ban in enclosed public places, the level of smoking in Ireland has now returned to pre-ban levels. Yet over 600 of the 8,000-odd pubs outside Dublin have closed down. While it has been promoted as a way of curbing smoking, in the long run might the smoking ban be a far more effective way of attacking pubs?
Now I wouldn’t claim to be the sveltest person in the world, or to eat a particularly healthy diet. But I know very well that the only way to lose weight is to take in fewer calories than you burn up. So you either have to eat less or become more active, or a combination of the two.
Yet working in an office containing a number of women, who seem to be constantly on some form of diet, I am constantly assailed by the hopeful assertions that:
(a) there is some kind of diet that allows you to eat as much as you like of certain foods so long as you cut out others, and
(b) eating supposedly “healthy” food, such as wholemeal rather than white bread, will help with weight loss
Both of which are essentially myths.
It must make for a very miserable life to be constantly repressing your urges to eat appetising, tasty food and yet then never manage to lose any meaningful amount of weight.
Earlier this year, in a rare outbreak of common sense, the European Union decided to give the UK an indefinite derogation to allow imperial measures to be used alongside metric ones on consumer products. It’s interesting that we are now seeing a growing number of canned and bottled beers and ciders – even those of a supposedly “Continental” origin – available in a pint (or 568 ml) size. The very popular Magners cider is a good example of this. Producers are recognising that this size actually means something to drinkers and acts as a positive encouragement to choose that particular product. See this page on the website of the British Weights & Measures Association.
Incidentally, I have never understood why for many years (and still to some extent today), 440 ml was the standard can size for beers and ciders. It’s not a convenient round number in either imperial or metric systems, and leaves you feeling that little bit short of a satisfying drink. I always presumed it was something to do with the limitations of canning machinery.
"The era of big, bossy, state interference, top-down lever pulling is coming to an end." (David Cameron, 2008)
"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all." (H. L. Mencken)
"The final nails have now been hammered into the coffin of the freedom to smoke in enclosed public places. This piece of legislation must be one of the most restrictive, spiteful and socially divisive imposed by any British Government. (Lord Stoddart of Swindon)
"Raising taxes on alcohol to prevent problem drinking is akin to raising the price of gasoline to prevent people from speeding." (Edward Peter Stringham)
"People who deal only in 'craft' beer do not care about some dirty old pub and the dirty old people who are in it and the dirty old community that it holds together." (Boozy Procrastinator)
"There's a saying that, given time, all organisations end up as if they were run by a conspiracy of their foes." (Rhys Jones)
"A Puritan is someone who lives in mortal fear that somewhere, sometime, someone is enjoying himself." (H. L. Mencken)
"Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a Ride!" (Hunter S. Thompson)
"No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare." (Kingsley Amis)
"When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves,
For you will have lost the last of England." (Hilaire Belloc)