Tuesday 31 July 2007

Pubs lose a packet

This investigation in the Sunday Mirror certainly gives the lie to all the claims that the smoking ban wouldn’t affect trade:

…Pub takings are down by as much as 40 per cent as smokers choose to drink at home, say landlords...

…Simon Olley, landlord of Beacon Court Tavern in Gillingham, Kent, said: "We've had a slide of about 10 to 20 per cent. I'd like to know where the nonsmokers that were supposed to be coming into pubs when the ban was introduced are. I haven't seen any"…

…Lesley Webster, manageress at the Black Boy pub, in Sidcup, Kent, said: "The place is like a mortuary during the day, and even at weekends there's been times when we've only had two or three people in the pub…

…in Scotland, where the ban was introduced in March last year, beer sales are down seven per cent and 34 per cent of pubs have laid off staff…

Monday 30 July 2007

Hoist with his own petard

I enjoyed a good dose of schadenfreude while reading this report of a pub in Wigan that had introduced its own smoking ban in February and was then forced to close a couple of weeks after the nationwide ban came in. Any previously non-smoking pub will now have lost its unique selling proposition and be left with nothing to distinguish it from all the rest.

Sunday 29 July 2007

What’s Biased?

Yet again we see the CAMRA newsletter What’s Brewing puffing the smoking ban. August’s issue has a headline Smoking ban boost for pubs and real ale across England – yet the article goes on to say there has been a noticeable downturn in trade, but it is impossible to tell to what extent it has been caused by the bad weather or the ban. Misleading reporting or what?

One of the few pieces of evidence advanced in favour of the headline was a survey by Greene King which found that 48% of people said they would go to pubs more often after the ban. Presumably, then, 52% won’t – not exactly very convincing. It is also generally recognised that in opinion surveys people will tend to say what sounds good rather than what they really think. And one pub in Oxford claiming to have had their busiest Sunday for months on 1 July can hardly be said to be representative of a general trend.

Regrettably those responsible for What’s Brewing continue to have their heads firmly jammed up their backsides and fail to recognise that the war against tobacco and the war against alcohol are two sides of the same coin.

Saturday 28 July 2007

Junk TV

According to this article, the loss of revenue from so-called "junk food" ads is seriously hitting the quality of children's TV. You can't even advertise cheese nowadays as it comes under the category of foods high in fat, salt or sugar. What a classic example of the unintended consequences of political correctness Twisted Evil

Friday 27 July 2007

Hearts of Oak

After twenty-five years of steadily running down the Navy (something of which both main parties are guilty), it was good to see the government finally investing some serious money in improving its capabilities and ordering two new proper aircraft carriers. However, what’s the betting that the ships will turn out to be years late in entering service, vastly over budget and plagued with technical glitches?

And, while Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales are established names in the Royal Navy and do not specifically reflect current members of the royal family, might it not have been better to use some traditional battleship names such as Dreadnought, Rodney or Valiant? Indeed, why not honour our greatest naval commander of the 20th century, Admiral Andrew Cunningham?

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Doubting Thomas

According to this report, St Thomas’s Hospital in London has recorded a threefold increase in alcohol-related admissions since the introduction of the new licensing laws in 2005. This has been used by anti-drink campaigners as a stick to beat the chimaera of “24-hour drinking”.

But St Thomas’s is in the City of Westminster, where no new licences for drinking after 11 pm have been issued at all, so it must be highly questionable how this rise has occurred, and whether it is not just some statistical blip. It would certainly be dangerous to influence policy on the basis of one isolated figure without establishing whether it is mirrored across the country.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Who’s going to eat all the pies?

Putting more emphasis on food has been widely recommended as the way for pubs to respond to the smoking ban. Yet food has been touted as “the future of the pub” for thirty years, and we must be fast approaching the point where the market is saturated. You can stay in the pub for one drink or many, but you’re never going to eat more than one meal at a sitting.

The idea that small urban locals that currently serve no food at all and do 80% of their business after 9 pm can suddenly turn themselves into dining establishments is absurd. Indeed, many pubs in secondary locations that once made an attempt to serve meals and appeal to outsiders have dropped the food, gone evenings-only and essentially cater only for locals and regulars.

Also it has to be said that the vast majority of pub food ranges between the merely adequate and the utterly dire. There are a few honourable exceptions, but, in general, if you want a good meal rather than something just to fill a gap, you will go to a restaurant, not a pub.

Wednesday 18 July 2007


Every local council is now proclaiming that it is “Smokefree” from July 1st. What an appalling piece of weaselly Orwellian Newspeak, putting a positive spin on a prohibition and a restriction of liberty! And what does it remind you of – ah yes, that's right, Judenfrei.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Missing the bus

I was recently browsing the Good Beer Guide and was struck by the entry for the Black Cock at Eaglesfield in Cumbria. Apart from Sundays, its opening hours are 8-11 (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays). But the Guide says “A daytime bus service runs through the village between Cockermouth and Cleator Moor”. That will be really useful for pub visitors, then. And does it even run on Sundays?

While some in CAMRA like to harp on about the opportunities for visiting rural pubs by public transport, the reality is often like Dr Johnson's comments about a dog walking on its hind legs, that the wonder is not that it can be done easily, but that it can be done at all. If people are going to visit pubs by public transport they will naturally choose ones that they can reach conveniently, and very often the journeys proposed will appeal solely to the gricer of obscure bus routes.

It also fails to take account of the fact that most rural bus services only operate during the day, whereas pubs like the Black Cock are increasingly evenings-only businesses.

Sunday 15 July 2007

Report from the front line

This lunchtime I was discussing the impact of the smoking ban with a licensee. While hers is not the kind of pub that will really be threatened by the ban, and even before had been mostly non-smoking, she said that there had been a noticeable drop-off in the “vault trade”.

A customer said he had recently been in a pub in Keighley. He had asked whether there was anywhere to go to have a cigarette. The only place was out in the street, right on a busy road junction. The licensee had said “this place will be shut down in a couple of months”.

Saturday 14 July 2007

When is a pub not a pub?

I see that award-winning pub company Brunning & Price have acquired Sutton Hall near Macclesfield and are currently in the process of refurbishing it.

Now B&P deserve praise for their sensitive renovations, their promotion of real ales from local micro-breweries and the extensive use of fresh local ingredients on their menus. But it has to be said that the ambiance of their establishments is much more that of an upmarket restaurant than a traditional pub. They're hardly the place for the working man to go for a bacon buttie and a few games of darts and doms.

Does anywhere offering a menu including "fennel pesto" and "sweet basil and ginger dressing" and featuring main courses at £14.75 really qualify as a pub? In fact, in our more prosperous rural areas, anything resembling a real pub is fast becoming as rare as hen's teeth.

Friday 13 July 2007

Conservatives commit political suicide?

I hardly think this report, proposing a 7p a pint tax increase on beer (which would probably end up as at least 20p at the bar), is likely to be a vote-winner.

Given that the UK already has some of the highest alcohol taxation in Europe, the causes of our problems surely lie much more in general social attitudes to drinking. Matters are being made worse not by low prices but by the current tendency towards the demonisation of alcohol which deters the regular, moderate drinking which is the key to keeping the "demon drink" in its place.

And it's depressing to see the Conservatives, traditionally the party representing the interests of the licensed trade and pubgoers, coming up with such a damaging proposal. Indeed, in 1959, Conservative Chancellor Derek Heathcoat-Amory cut beer duty for the only time since World War 2.

The plan was strongly condemned by Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph in an article entitled Drink is just a symptom of a broken society - hopefully Cameron will have the sense to ditch it very publicly.

Thursday 12 July 2007

First casualty of the ban?

I see this Southend pub, the only one in the town listed in the Good Beer Guide, has closed, the licensee saying he believed trade would inevitably drop following the smoking ban, and the pub's position inside a shopping centre meant it was impossible to provide an outside area for smokers.

Obviously this wasn't the only factor at work here, but expect it to be the first of many.

A privileged class warrior

What joy to see George Monbiot spitting feathers over how right-wing New Labour's economic policies are.

That's how they've managed to stay in power for ten years without the economy falling over, my friend.


I've often thought that the only pleasure some people get is banning things others enjoy - now someone's coined a word for it:
What do you call it when people want to ban everything?

Language changes, new words are invented all the time. Whether a freshly minted coinage makes it into the lexicon depends upon both luck and whether we actually need it: does it describe something for which we previously did not have a word? If it does then there is a good chance that it will make its appearance in dictionaries, the thesauruses and even columns in serious newspapers.

One candidate is the verb “to bansturbate” (origin, Harry Haddock, who blogs at nationofshopkeepers.wordpress.com). The word – a fusion of “ban” and the term for self-abuse – refers to both the public abuse of the rights of the citizenry as things that some people simply disapprove of are made illegal, and the near-sexual frisson of pleasure gained by those who pass such laws.

Much of the urge to ban is driven, just like Puritanism, by the fear that some people, somewhere, may be enjoying themselves; the rest by the terror of politicians and bureaucrats who fear that if they don’t do something, anything, we might begin to wonder why we pay them.