Saturday, 20 January 2018

Social phobia

Matthew Lawrenson of Seeing the Lizards has recently done a couple of very honest blogposts on the subject of autism and pubgoing – here and here. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and finds that going to the pub poses a range of social challenges that most people simply do not appreciate.

He’s said on Twitter that he perhaps expected more of a response in the comments, but to be honest it’s a subject of which most people have little experience and feel they have nothing to contribute. Too often, ASD people are simply dismissed as being a bit weird and geeky, without any recognition that they have social needs and feelings too. And, as I said, there seems to be a widespread view that, if they can't express their feelings “appropriately” and stick to the unwritten rules, it's probably best for them to keep quiet and not embarrass themselves and others.

I’ve never been diagnosed with anything of this kind and don’t propose to launch into confessional mode, but I have to admit I have considerable sympathy with what Matthew says. I’m a fairly reserved and self-contained person, who for much of the time is content with his own company and, while I value and enjoy social interaction, it does take a certain amount of effort that many others won’t appreciate. After a while, I feel the need to withdraw for a bit to recharge my batteries, which is something that pub closing time often signals.

I’ve written before how pubs can provide a unique social opportunity for shy and reserved people, as you can control just to what extent you interact with others. The simple act of getting out of the house and being in the company of others, even if you don’t converse with them, can in itself be very valuable. I can’t think of any other situation where that is possible.

However, you can only do that in the traditional “drink and chat” environment. The enforced intimacy of many micropubs militates against it, as does, at the other extreme, the pub where “there’s always something going on.” Very often, for the ASD person, just sitting there with a pint, reading the paper or browsing the Internet, and maybe exchanging the odd word with other customers, is all the social interaction they want or need. It may not seem much but, for them, it’s far better than nothing.

By coincidence, in the same week, the government announced the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness. I couldn’t help being reminded of Ronald Reagan’s famous saying that “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.”

Possibly someone in government might make the connection between an increase in loneliness and social isolation, and the closure of thousands of pubs and clubs over the past ten years as a direct result of government policy. But I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

As Grandad says in this post, “Britain has a Minister for Loneliness in the midst of God knows how many other ministries who all combine to be the Ministry for Isolation.”

22 comments:

  1. Like you I am relatively reserved and I like to go into a pub and read a book, or sit and think or just sit. But I must take issue with you about micropubs. I frequent a number of micropubs and have never found any of the the forced intimacy that you complain about.
    In fact I find it more often in old fashioned pubs where been seen reading a book frequently invokes the query "What are you reading".

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    1. Obviously all micropubs are not the same, but those with high stools around a central communal table offer scant opportunity to keep yourself to yourself. Or comfort, for that matter.

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    2. Well done for bringing this subject up, especially as all of us are probably somewhere on that spectrum !
      A work colleague, who I get on with very well, has autism to the extent that it’s recognised as a disability for which significant adjustments are made. She occasionally uses the two Wetherspoon venues in town and that might be because there’s little social intercourse therein and that’s easier to cope with than a ‘friendly’ Proper Pub and is better than a micropub which would be too much of a confined space, and that’s probably roughly what you meant by ‘forced intimacy’.

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    3. The very size of some micros means there is no escape from enforced intimacy sometimes. Also the lack of music means when it's quiet you can't really have a private conversation without whispering.
      I've always been a bit put off when micros, in their promotional material, quote 'conversation' or 'banter' as one of their selling points. Seems a bit of a silly claim.

      Disclaimer: I am the co-owner of two micropubs that don't have music and somewhere in our promotional material is probably an invitation to converse (not written by me).

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    4. Having been in the Blue Boar, I'd say its design cues are more those of a small conventional pub, and it certainly doesn't have the rather spartan feel of many micropubs.

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  2. This is a delightful unexpected crossover of cartoon artists and bloggers for me.

    When the bigger pubs are lost, the fact they're generally half empty is seen as justification for closure, bit that's definitely a boon for those seeking out a quiet corner, as I find in the Shady Oak.

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    1. I don't mind pubs being busy so long as I can get a seat. In fact, pubs can be so empty as to be ambarrassing, and sometimes if there are only a handful in it makes it more likely someone will try to start a conversation. There can be anonymity in crowds.

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    2. The real nightmare is going into a pub where there is just one customer who insists on talking to you. And turns out to be even more right wing than 'mudge, though much less well informed. :-)

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  3. Theme pubs is the answer. Family pubs for folk with noisy kids. Trendy pubs for the yooth. Dumpy old man pubs for you lot. Micropubs for CAMRA beardies. Everyones happy, apart from odd balls. How about odd ball pubs for odd balls?

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    Replies
    1. Rather than several types of Theme Pubs, which would only emphasise the divisions in post-Thatcher Britain, what we need is a return to multi-roomed Proper Pubs which, with a choice between quieter or busier rooms, suited just about everybody when I were a lad.

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin21 January 2018 at 19:09

      Post-Thatcher Britain ?
      You sound like Wolfie Smith.
      Thatcher stepped down as PM 27 years ago.
      In other news - Mafeking has been relieved.

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    3. This will always be Thatchers Britain for we will never let it be otherwise.

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    4. It is a measure of her achievement that she is still triggering Lefties more than 27 years after leaving office ;-)

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  4. Does anyone else see a pretty staggering hypocrisy in a government that stigmatises alcohol, drives out smokers, and generally does everything possible to squash pubs under its thumb, then turning round and appointing a Minister for Loneliness?!

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    1. It is actually possible to combat loneliness without ether smoking or drinking alcohol

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    2. But having a pub that hasn't closed down helps...

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    3. Most of the really lonely people that I meet in my "volunteering" work are lonely because they are housebound for medical reasons. An open pub is no use to them if there is no one to transport them to it. And most of them are too impoverished to be able to frequent a pub for long. They generally prefer cups of tea and a chat at the local drop in centre.

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    4. The other Mudgie !24 January 2018 at 20:39

      I've recently had reduced mobility and so know how depressing being housebound can be, even if there are a few decent Bottle Conditioned Beers on the shelf, but I doubt if the Grim Reaper would be as bad as a cup of tea at the local drop in centre.

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  5. I think Matthew's posts and yours are important because the geeky obsessives probably have quite a few people with Asperger's among them. Some who know and some who don't realise. This has come along with a documentary I really liked by Chris Packham - Asperger's & Me - that might still be on Iplayer.
    When I used to do the Bermondsey beer mile, I always found it difficult as it got busier and more renowned but was always struck with how many were there by themselves just keeping it between them and their phone/magazine. With regards to socialisation, there are chatty days and bugger off days with me - it often influences which threshold I'll cross in St Albans. There's one pub I go into just to write by myself on this computer.

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  6. Professor Pie-Tin21 January 2018 at 19:14

    It puts into perspective the problems faced by the non-binary transgender craft beer industry worker complaining how tough life is that was featured in another beer blog.
    Unfortunately the authors disapproved of my mild joke concerning his/her views on growlers and deleted it.
    There are some sensitive souls out there on social media.

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    Replies
    1. "There are some sensitive souls out there on social media."

      Good Lord! That's akin to saying the sky is blue, or water is wet. :)

      Cheers

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin22 January 2018 at 11:14

      Jordan B Peterson.
      Now there's a Canadian managing to ruffle a few feathers over transgender issues.
      I'm sure he'd have an opinion on growlers !

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