Saturday, 15 February 2020

Solitary splendour

Martyn Cornell recently wrote a very interesting post on his Zythophile blog In defence of sitting in a pub on your own. This is a subject I have touched on in the past, for example here and here. Some people find any kind of solitude unsettling, but for others, especially those of a quieter and more introverted nature, having a couple of drinks on your own in the pub can provide a valuable opportunity to relax, recharge your batteries and order your thoughts. The idea of the pub being a valued “third space” where you can take refuge, if only for a while, from the concerns and responsibilities of home and work applies just as much to the solo pint as that enjoyed in company, As he says,
I’m entirely happy here in my own head, sitting and thinking, people-watching, enjoying my pint, getting a vicarious buzz from all the social interaction around me, and I will get up after a beer or two and go home having had all the contact with people I need right now.
And, as I said in one of the posts I linked to above,
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.
This is reinforced by another rather poignant comment:
This one hits the point with me. I'm old and now alone, but not lonely, my wife passed away 4 years ago. I use the pubs several times a week just to sit quietly chat, read a book and a change of scenery. Without the pubs I would be lonely but I find I get the necessary interaction with just a brief visit to charge my batteries up for another day or two. Probably seems sad to most people but we all have our own ways of coping with different and difficult situations.
This is especially important for people with Asperger’s syndrome and similar conditions, who may find any kind of social interaction challenging. However, that doesn’t mean that they want to shun all company, more that they prefer to do it in a manner that allows them to control just how much contact there is, and retreat if it becomes too much. 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. Vicarious socialising is still socialising. I can’t think of any other situation other than the pub where that is possible.

Martyn also raise the issue of the “age of invisibility”, especially in relation to women visiting a pub on their own. That is perhaps really a separate subject but, as I said in the comments, it applies to men as well to some extent. Young people are very judgmental of their peers, and when I was younger I would occasionally attract unwelcome attention from people around my own age if I was in a pub on my own. Now I am just another indistinguishable bespectacled late middle-aged bloke, nobody seems remotely bothered.

It also must be said that there are many – probably too many – pubs where the general layout, atmosphere and offer make enjoying that solitary pint well-nigh impossible.


  1. enjoying that solitary pint well-nigh impossible

    Particularly true of micros where the pub bore, who is not welcome anywhere else, takes the opportunity to force his opinions on everyone. There's no quiet corner to hide in, the best option is to leave.

    1. I think one of the posts I linked to mentioned the "enforced intimacy" of micropubs. Even in the smallest traditional pub, like the Circus Tavern in Manchester, your privacy will be respected if you want it to be.

  2. I find a quiet, solitary pint is impossible in any of my regular haunts - mates, acquaintances and the staff all start up a conversation - so if that's what's
    needed I go elsewhere. Ironically, some of the new craft pubs in Newcastle's Ouseburn are ideal as it's like drinking on the London Underground in some of them - no-one will ever speak to a stranger.

  3. Know exactly what you all mean.

    The ability to be who you want is key. In smaller pubs it can often be as difficult to politely join a conversation about weather or football, perched on high tables, as it is to avoid it.

    Our local, the Sun, has a left hand public where you wouldn't have avoided the City ban banter last night. I didn't need that, so I went in the small lounge and briefly chatted to the Landlady about weather over 2 pints of Boltmaker. No one will tell you off for using your phone there, either.

  4. You should start a pub called "The Billy No Mates" where talking to other patrons is banned but staring at your phone encouraged. Kinda the Anti Sam Smiths

    1. All customers are issued with a copy of the "Daily Mail" on entering ;-)

  5. I'm having to post this comment using my phone, as for some reason I am unable to access my Google account on your blog, Mudge.

    Martyn Cornell's thought provoking piece has definitely struck a chord with quite a few people. Boak & Bailey commented on it, and here's my contribution.

    I had to rack my brains for a while to think of a local pub suitable for a spot of quiet contemplation, but then I came up with at least two, should the need arise.

    Fortunately, leaving aside the bliss that comes from sitting down with a decent pint, in a quiet corner of an equally decent pub, I have learned a technique that more or less instantly quietens my mind. This way I can quickly
    silence the inane chatter that's sometimes going on in my head.

    Going for a walk in the country also works, although such an undertaking is not always practical - especially after dark!

  6. Meant to say I can't get my comments published using my desk top.

    Very strange.🤨

  7. Professor Pie-Tin16 February 2020 at 18:28

    There's a pub in Cork city, one of the oldest, next door to the large indoor food market called the Mutton Lane Inn.
    It's wonderfully dark and dingy,lit all year round by candles on the table.It serves a cracking pint of stout and a great range of craft draughts.It always has a superb,eclectic music selection and copies of the Guardian and Irish Times for the punters.
    When Mrs Prof is in the mood for some retail therapy she leaves me in there for a couple of hours while she melts plastic.
    And I'm like a pig in the proverbial.
    Propped up by the window, reading the wailing and moaning of the Remainer Guardianistas and generally watching the world go by.
    After four or five pints Mrs Prof comes to drive me home.
    I love the place and the solitude it provides.

  8. One of the things I expected to see, but didn't, in the comments was the fact that sitting alone in a pub separates one from the all-too-obvious jobs at home that you should be doing. Sometimes one needs to escape all that and a quiet reflective drink in the pub alone helps to settle the brain. That is my excuse!


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