Thursday, 21 June 2018

A rare outbreak of normality

Over the weekend, I was in one of the dwindling number of pubs in my local area of a broadly traditional character. I saw what I assumed was a middle-aged couple come in (although they seemed a little ill-matched) and sit down with drinks. They were joined a few minutes later by a couple of younger blokes of around 20, who may have been the son of one or both of them and his mate.

Nothing unusual about that, you may think. But how often nowadays do you see that kind of mixed-sex, mixed-age family group in a pub, who are just having a drink and a chat and not eating? It was once commonplace; it isn’t now. This is the pub functioning as it should, as a “third space” for social interaction away from the baggage of home and work.

There was sport on the TV, by the way, but it was just one of the more obscure World Cup matches. And they asked the barman to change it over to the cricket anyway, although I don’t think that was their main reason for being there.

21 comments:

  1. Over the weekend, I was in one of the increasing number of micro pubs in my local area of a broadly craft beer geek character. I saw differing middle aged men dressed in millets outdoor clothes come in and drink halves of various hand pulled beers. They sniffed it, held it up to the light and wrote in little note books. Some acknowledged the presence of others and held short conversations about microbreweries and what ales where on in other establishments in the locale.

    Nothing unusual about that, you may think. But how often nowadays do you see that kind of educated customer beer geekery? This is the pub functioning as it should, as a place for beer geek odd balls, to keep them safely away from wider society.

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    1. That's good, Cookie. Golf clubs serve a similar function too IMHO.

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    2. But that's what you see every day in micropubs. What I saw was increasingly unusual for normal pubs.

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  2. Why on earth should any family with a decent home regard it as "baggage" and feel the the need to get away from it for social interaction? Interaction with my family takes place at one of our homes. We may go to the pub but only because we fancy a drink, not because our homes are bleak and uninviting places. Perhaps the increasing comfort of the average home is one of the reasons for the decline of pub going.

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    1. This is a really good point. What do pubs provide that people can't get a) at home, b) somewhere else? I've just popped into Wetherby after the gym (1130am). The numerous coffee shops are heaving, the trad pubs are quiet with 'the usual suspects', the forward looking 'we can provide you with everything in one place' pubs are busy though. Although I am a staunch supporter of pubs, I think we have to realise that only the very good ones will survive and often these are those in the hands of independent operators with no pubco tie. A lot of pubs will go to the wall yet, unless they start to appeal to a wider, more progressive audience.

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  3. I like to meet up with my parents or sister in the pub. There's another benefit too - often different parts of a family don't really feel like visiting or hosting at home for purely mundane normal reasons. Meeting in the pub can be much more relaxing. It's a bite-sized meet up easily metabolized.

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    1. Yes, the pub provides an environment where there's an expectation of sociability. I've mentioned before that the best conversations I ever had with my late father were in the pub.

      Also it's a convenient, neutral spot to meet up for people who live in different locations.

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    2. It's also easier to leave a pub than your own house (and easier to leave others than throw them out of your house).

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    3. Mudge? Are you sure that the quality of the conversations with your father wasn't more to do with the amount of drink taken rather than the location at which it was taken :-)

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    4. No more than two pints were consumed on either side on any such occasion. You really don't get why people go to pubs, do you?

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  4. I'm with Mudgie, and also Richard (in that the good pubs, free of tie) are the most likely survivors. I can't define *what* is different, but it is different. I have a home I like very much, but a pub is just more sociable- even if I go with my wife (and as we don't have kids, we're not escaping them...).

    We could drink at home- there's nearly always beer and wine in the house- but there's something about pub space that's different, expecially if there's an abscence of a TV, and in the case of the example above, maybe it's a convenient spot for both parties?

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    1. I can define the difference very accurately: price! Twice as much for beer, three times as much for wine, five times as much for spirits, almost infinitely more for soft drinks.

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    2. But a pub is not just an alcohol shop. And just the same is true of cafés and restaurants - indeed, even more so, as there's no VAT on food bought from shops and cooked at home.

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    3. How often nowadays do you see [that]? Asks the author.

      Well, in my experience it depends where you go. If you visit a small-town or country pub, favoured by working people, whose young often don't move to the city for careers, then these pubs, to this day, easily become shared living rooms, for several generations of local families. On the other hand, if you go to a large-city centre pub, then that will usually have similar-age groups meeting up for peer-related engagements.

      But it's a fair point on which to reflect. Indeed, and to remind ourselves of what is normal. "Ordinary, but not in a bad way", as someone once said. Maybe ordinary doesn't always mean commonplace these days though.

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    4. That may happen in a handful of villages and small towns, but it certainly doesn't happen much in Greater Manchester and its environs. And what I'm describing is totally different from "half the village goes down to the local for the last hour on Friday and Saturday nights."

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    5. Well, I'm lucky enough to have a reasonable enough income so I don't have to worry about a few quid here and there. Yes, I can drink a decent ale from my local brewery at home for about £1.70 for almost a pint (against about 3 quid in the pub), and my better half can buy a bottle of wine for about £6 (against about £4 in the pub), but Mudgie's nailed it: a pub is not just a shop. You can't just reduce everything down to a monetary cost, much as some think that's the way to do it. I *like* pubs. I like to sit in a pub- with friends or on my own, because it's a place to relax and sometimes socialise after a week of work.

      I'm also lucky enough to have 4 pubs within 10 minutes walk of my house, and the price for a pint of cask varies in them from £2.80 - £3.25. I don't consider the differing cost when choosing where to go; it just doesn't even register. I go where I want to (which will depend on time, expected noise level, and whether I'm picking up a curry!). All 4 are surviving in today's difficult market, despite there being several off-licences nearby where you could comfortably get almost a pint of something for under a quid.

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    6. Of course a pub isn't a shop - shop would never get away with the terrible service offered by most pubs - but, if you are on a tight budget you are forced to reduce every thing down to a monetary cost. If I had only a fiver in my pocket I would probably spend it on a bottle of wine from the offy, rather than on a single glass in the pub. No matter how much one likes pubs, how muchvalue they add the drink, if you are poor they are a great luxury.

      Like you I have a decent income and don't worry much about the cost of a pint. But ale is a special case: it is something that you can only buy in pubs. And even I cavil at the massive mark ups applied to wine and spirits

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  5. As Mudgie says, it's very rare. As it happens, I had an excellent evening with Paul Bailey and his son and a mate in Tonbridge recently, and was struck by how infrequently you get generations of drinkers going down the pub, talking normal stuff that's not about beer.

    Martin

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    1. Martin, if you go to any smallish settlement in the North (where I spend much of my time), and if it's lucky enough to have a pub or pubs, then that's exactly what you find.

      Tonbridge is probably large enough to fall into the other category that I mention in my comment above.

      Glad you had a nice evening!

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  6. The Stafford Mudgie22 June 2018 at 13:20

    No matter how nice a home and family I have, and how good a job I've had, I've always needed, even if weekly rather than daily, that “third space” for social interaction away from the baggage of home and work.
    I doubt how many of those younger than myself have that attitude.

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