This illustrates how, even at a very low level, pubs can contribute to providing a social outlet and alleviating loneliness. Last Monday was World Mental Health Day. I’m not sure whether the two were connected, but Matthew Lawrenson wrote very perceptively about how his trips to the pub help him cope with life:
By this point, I'm sure you're wondering "Then why does he go out at all?" Fairly easy to answer. If you have recurrent mental health problems, being stuck in the middle of the same walls, seeing the same things and listening to the same sounds over and over and over again, well, it does your head in, basically. If you stay in your house too long, it's well documented that mood gradually lowers and you become isolated and less able to function in the world when it confronts you.And RedNev added:
I live alone and if I don't leave the house for two consecutive days, I feel hemmed in. I was declared surplus from my last job and was retired early, so I don't even have the social interaction of the workplace during weekdays. Isolation isn't good for anyone.Until various illnesses put it beyond him, my late dad used to go out for a pint or two at lunchtime a couple of days a week. My mum would ask “what’s the point of that if you never talk to anyone?” but that is missing the point. If nothing more, it provides a change of scenery, a bit of mental stimulation and something to look forward to. Sometimes you exchange a bit of conversation, other times all you do its talk to the bar staff, but anything’s better than nothing.
Pubs are the only institutions that I can think of where you can walk in off the street, buy a drink and be entitled to sit there as long as you like, with the option of talking to strangers or not, as you prefer. Try talking to strangers in a café or restaurant and see what reaction you get. Actually, just try lingering too long in a café over one coffee without speaking to anyone and you may get suspicious looks, perhaps even be told to move on. This doesn't usually happen in a pub.
Things could be improved if Tim Martin changed the design of his pubs somewhat so that they were more compartmentalised, and the chairs faced into the centre of each area, providing more of an opportunity for customers to interact with each other. And you can see this in Sam Smith’s Boar’s Head in Stockport, where from opening time each lunchtime there will be a fair number of customers, mostly older men who are retired or on disability, who clearly see it as a kind of social club and engage in various kinds of inconsequential banter. On weekday lunchtimes, the two Sam Smith’s pubs and the Wetherspoons will probably contain far more customers than all the rest of the pubs in the town centre combined.
The smoking ban dealt this kind of trade a substantial blow, as the bloke who saw enjoying a smoke as an essential part of relaxing in the pub may have stopped going, and his non-smoking friend who enjoyed his company may then have been deterred too. And it’s not something that pub-owners really want to encourage, hence the trend for wall-to-wall dining or replacing benches with posing tables that are a challenge for creaky joints.
But the importance of pubs in giving people some kind of social outlet, however limited, cannot be underestimated. Yes, old blokes sitting on their own in the pub may seem sad. But it’s helping to alleviate a greater sadness.