Sunday, 10 January 2010

Missing the point

Charles Clover has an article in today’s Sunday Times entitled Save the pub or let it die? It’s your shout. At least he recognises that there are other reasons for the relative decline of the pub trade beyond the simplistic one of cheap supermarket prices:

Our vicar tells me there were six pubs in the village in 1917. Why is it that we lost only one pub between 1917 and 1997 but have lost three since then? That, we must assume, is caused by recent trends, chief of them drinking at home. We choose to take home our cheap supermarket booze and drink it watching a DVD. Then there are the drink-driving laws and more recently the laws on smoking (which inadvertently put a pub’s least attractive clientele out on the street in front of you in most weathers, a good reason to drive by).
However, I doubt whether smokers will be happy to be described as “a pub’s least attractive clientele”. And his prescription for revival seems distinctly wishy-washy:
Our family went on an impromptu pub crawl with friends just after the new year, partly to introduce our teenagers to each other, partly to sample the local pubs while they were still there. What began as nostalgic recreation of our student days and a bit of bravado made a strong impression on the teenagers. They met local people of different ages whom they would not otherwise have met. They were fascinated by the different atmospheres and architecture, even of the naff ones. We all drank responsibly.

The adults vowed to go out for a pint more often.

As a nation, we have the choice. A crackdown on supermarkets advertising cheap alcohol, coupled with lower tax for weaker beer — favoured by both the health select committee and Camra, the real ale campaign — could even now turn back the clock and draw people to more civilised drinking, down the pub.

I hardly think a few well-meaning middle class people going to the pub slightly more often (a resolution that is unlikely to last beyond Easter anyway) is going to make a ha’p’orth of difference when, as I have posted before, the decline of pubs has been driven by widespread trends in society, of which relative price is by no means the most significant. Making off-trade alcohol more expensive won’t give people a single extra penny to spend in pubs.

And the weaker beers he is referring to are not those of ordinary bitter strength of 3.5 – 4.0% ABV, but those below 2.8% ABV, for which realistically there is no demand. You could sell it for 50p a pint and it wouldn’t save a single pub.


  1. You may be right that this persons grasp of the situation is a bit niave, however, I think you're being overly harsh as they do recognize there is an issue and have tried to suggest a solution, albiet a small one. Encouraging 'well-meaninging middle class people' to get out and enjoy the pub is the first step to increasing trade. In the grand scheme it might not even create a blip, but its a start and to dismiss it flippantly does more harm than good.

  2. I think middle-class people could actually make a difference. It seemed to work for football. Who knows it might even raise standards.

    "I doubt whether smokers will be happy to be described as “a pub’s least attractive clientele” "- sometimes the truth hurts!

  3. No. I'll tell you what hurts. It hurts when you have a grandfather whom you loved and respected and whom loved you back and fulfilled all the promises a loving hero ever could lives a normal, happy and meaningful life for well over 100 years with hardly any physical ailments and dies of entirely natural causes of old age and whom happened to be someone who smoked and drank for all those years from about mid-teens on up - and to now be told by society that somehow this man whom I respected and loved me was nothing but a "filthy smoker" and worthy of everyone's derision.

    What hurts is knowing that the largest second-hand-smoking studies ever done have shown there is no correlation or cause and effect relationship measured between exposure to tobacco smoke and death of nonsmokers and yet have that truth be buried by a regime that only permits one-side of the story to be spoken in all the propaganda outlets influenced by it - and as a result to have a minority group of anti-smokers with hate in their hearts and bile in their voices criticize, chide, deride and bad-mouth not only current generations but the ones who came before, like my grandfather, into the position of being scums of the earth - when in fact they were not.

    Also what hurts is a political party such as Labour that for generations represented the wants, desires, struggles, hopes and prosperities of the working classes jump ship and go right into the hands of the ruling upper classes in assuming the most authoritarian type of governorship we haven't had since the time from before the last major world-war - and turn around and propaganda hateful bait-mongering to bad-mouth and denigrate the very same working class people, such as my grandfather, vilifying the very people who made such political party possible and powerful in the first place.

    It is like a stab in the back essentially - and yes, "the truth hurts" - only it doesn't necessarily hurt for the reasons most contemporary one-sided thinking smoke-haters seem to take into consideration, having been raised with a disconnect from their past and the past of some of us who still remember it at least.

    That, to me, is what hurts most.

  4. The landlord of a pub in Hertfordshire put it (I forget which one, sadly)...

    "If all the [600] people who signed the petition to keep the pub open actually came in it from time to time there'd be no danger of it closing."

  5. To anon @ 22.44 0n 10th of Jan.
    Very eloquently put ,Sir. My regards to you

  6. Brian you are so right. So many people are full of hot air, I'll do this I'll do that, but what really counts is how many people vote with their feet and actually go to pubs. I've gone over this several times on this and my blog yes customers need to get off their arses but more importantly pubs need to do more 'enticing'.

    Note to 'Anonymous': I bet you are a bundle of laughs to go out with!

  7. Paul Garrard, how exactly are smokers unattractive and is this a timeless truth, just a passing fashion, or just your not so humble opinion? By any objective measure, it is a difficult claim to justify. Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, generally regarded as two of the most beautiful women who ever lived, were both smokers: as was James Dean, Marlon Brando, or if you prefer brains to beauty, Albert Einstein; as is President Obama. I think I'd prefer the company of Anonymous to yours. Personality-wise, you seem about as attractive as a red headed step kid (Sounds cruel, I know, but nastiness is all the rage these days, isn't it?).

  8. Anonymous, interestingly whilst not a red head I have some red in amongst the other colours of my hair (Scottish blood in there) so probably a fair point. Don't share your idea of beauty re Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor - I'm more of a Doris Day & Valerie Singleton kind of guy. In my experience smokers smell, but then so do many other people. Only my opinion of course.

  9. Paul Gerrard
    Dear Paul,
    Sorry to hear about your deep felt
    hatreds and dislikes ,obviously
    stemming from some ingrained
    inability to form normal relationships with your fellow beings,but why blame smokers is
    beyond all reasonable comprehension.Obviously a paper shuffler who probably dresses down in the evening.

    Red eyed Foundry worker

  10. I'm not bothered by smokers but I have to admit my trips to the pub are better now. On the other hand I remember the days of the smoking and non-smoking sections in pubs (only just I admit and that is a childhood memory), it strikes me they are another option. That way people have a choice.

    Having said that, some of the smoker's areas I have seen are quite nice, many a landlord put them in a sheltered area out of the wind and they have a heater usually. I assume they are nice for the users too, as they are full with people drinking and chatting it's just inside the pub you don't see many people.

  11. Red eyed Foundry worker you are spot on. Most uncanny!


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