The “pub regular” is often lionised as the backbone of the trade, but is he really the ideal customer? I recently wrote about the book A Year in the Drink by Martin Green. In this, he describes pub life in a small Welsh market town where, frankly, there was little else to do but go to the pub. And he makes the point that many of his regular customers were rather sad individuals who had no other social life, not cheery stalwarts.
We all want pubs to succeed, and most of us will have been regulars in some pub or other over the years, whether it is meeting up with mates on a Friday night, reading the paper on Sunday lunchtime or calling in for a couple a few nights a week on the way home from work. When I was at university, a mate and I in the same house would go down to the local (rather crappy) pub two or three nights a week.
But it has to be admitted – and most licensees will know this – that, for some people, being in the pub every night is a symptom of a sad and broken life, and there’s simply nothing else for them to do. Stonch nails it in this blogpost, where a commenter says that “the thought of listening to the bollocks that tsunamis over the bar on an average night for the rest of his life was too much for any half-intelligent person to put up with.” If you think you’re going into the pub trade to be the centre of cheery bonhomie and witty banter, you’re sadly mistaken.
This is, of course, not to say that pub companionship and conviviality isn’t generally a very good thing but, as with many other things, once it becomes your sole focus in life, it has its dark side. You do see this rather less now – the foodification of many pubs, the smoking ban, and the ever-rising price of on-trade beer must be factors. But you wonder how many of the former barstool raconteurs are now sitting at home with a packet of Bensons and a four-pack of Special Brew swearing at the telly.
I once remember overhearing a conversation in a remote pub in the Yorkshire Dales about a character called Rodney who ran a chip van on Blubberhouses Moor. When not doing this, he spent every night in the pub. Whether or not he was married I do not know. Someone once asked him “Rodney, have you ever tried staying in just for one night?” “Aye,” he replied. “It were ten year ago. Didn’t like it.” Funny, yes, but at the same time rather sad.