But it is at those other times, lunchtimes and early doors in the evening, that pub life has often been at its most interesting and vibrant. There was a mix of customers, visiting the pub for a variety of reasons, coming and going throughout the session.
There were the determined topers, there from opening time to sit at the bar, the regular drinkers, just in for a couple of pints and a chat, guys from local factories and workshops playing pool and throwing a few arrows, regular diners from nearby offices, shoppers wanting a bite to eat, people from solicitors or estate agents doing a bit of business over a pint, even the occasional tourist.
One of the best expressions of this kind of atmosphere was always in market towns where all these various purposes came together. I particularly remember having some lunch in the Vaults overlooking the market place in Uppingham, Rutland (pictured) about ten years ago which really seemed to hit the spot.
Some may accuse me of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, and I freely admit that there have always been dull, empty and unwelcoming pubs. But that distinctive lunchtime and early doors pub buzz was a real phenomenon across many thousands of pubs, and sadly is much diminished now. You still sometimes come across it, but it is so rare that it is worth remarking on. I go in some pubs that once at lunchtimes were at least nicely ticking over, but are now so deserted as to make the occasional customer feel embarrassed.
Where pubs are still busy, so often it is a monoculture of diners, football fans or beer enthusiasts rather than “all human life is here”. And, in towns, this kind of mixed-use pubgoing is now all too often diluted in the echoing, character-free vastness of the local Wetherspoon outlet.