Thursday, 8 November 2018

At the sign of the Good Companions

I’ve discussed in the past the key role pubs can play in alleviating loneliness and social isolation, especially amongst older men. This is a theme that has now been taken by a research project carried out by Bristol University, which reinforces what I have said:
A key finding was men's reasons for going to the pub were much broader than just drinking alcohol.

It found they wanted to interact with other people, get out of the house and break their daily routine (for those living on their own), to enjoy live music with others, and as a reward in the working week.

The changing nature of pubs was also outlined, with higher prices, fewer social activities and louder music making it harder for older men to access pubs. Men felt it was no longer acceptable to 'nurse a pint' if you were unable to afford multiple drinks.

Landlords and pub owners were identified as having an important role to play in creating a social space where people felt welcome. The men's group felt that it was the role of the landlord to get to know their frequent customers and provide a point of regular social interaction, particularly for pub-goers who may be experiencing loneliness.

It also highlighted how large pubcos can be damaging, as they can result in "frequent changes of staff who do not know their clientele on first name basis".

The changing nature of pubs is an important factor that erodes the way they can fulfil this function. To the aspects listed I would add the smoking ban, uncomfortable seating, dim lighting, abandonment of lunchtime opening and the feeling in many food-oriented pubs that customers who just want a drink and a chat aren’t really welcome.

As the report recognises, very often social interaction takes a very inconsequential form. For many people, it is the simple act of getting out of the house, going into a different environment and saying hello to another human being that makes all the difference. It certainly doesn’t require any kind of organised activities, which indeed in themselves can be offputting to many people. This kind of thing is brilliantly summed up in this vignette from “Stanley Blenkinsop” in the comments on my blog:

My moments of peak frisson usually occur when I walk into rather plain pubs, often in market towns that are a little rough at the edges and find myself in a proper no-nonsense boozer. Just after midday is a favourite time. If Radio 2 is on the wireless I know I've hit the motherlode. The landlord is often overweight and a bit pasty, wheezing from the half packet of John Player Blue that has got him through a late breakfast after last night's heavy session, shifting some barrels in the cellar and sending the missus off to the cash and carry for the nuts and crisps.

His hand is a little unsteady holding the glass underneath the local best bitter tap as my pint goes in but I cut him some slack as I reach for the unread newspaper on the bar. It's always the Daily Mail. He and I care little for conversation but that's fine by me. If I want a chat about inconsequential bollocks I'll start on the second person coming into the bar. He's always an old feller with a scraggy dog. He always smokes roll-ups.

I can while away a couple of hours watching this theatre of mediocre normality. The players arrive at their usual times and go through their usual performance - joshing the landlord, complaining of their aches and pains or some slight from a neighbour. Anything that justifies them getting out of the house and socialising with fellow humans. I know the same thing is happening in pubs up and down the land at that time. It makes me feel comfortable. And I really don't want much more than that at my stage of life.

The photo above shows a group of codgers enjoying a pint in the Old Blue Bell in Hull. I’d bet most of them probably don’t have any contact with each other beyond their regular meet-ups in the pub to share a bit of banter. One of them cheerfully said to his companions “If it wasn’t for all these medical treatments they have today, we’d all be dead!”

Some people have responded to this by saying “Well, it’s not just older men, is it? Loneliness can affect everyone. What about women? What about younger folks?” And that’s certainly true. But it doesn’t affect every category of society in the same way, and it’s important to recognise that different groups have varying experiences. Pubs have a particular relevance for older men as they are often the first place they look to for companionship.

People often speak of pubs in misty-eyed terms as hubs of the community and centres of warmth and sociability. At their best, this is still true. But there are fewer and fewer of them around where you can just walk in, order a pint, sit yourself down on a bench or a bar stool, and exchange a few words about the weather with a total stranger. The reality is often very different from the rose-tinted idyll.

38 comments:

  1. My friends at my local are a generation older than I. They joke about their nook being God's waiting room. They're right - many have gone in the nine years I've been going there.
    The influx of children and babies, the incessant background musak and the prices drive the living away. The nook is usually empty.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The above research findings and comments are pretty spot on, I don't think of myself as an older man but I guess in truth I am well on the way. I drink far more than my doctor would have me believe I should but that is far from the only reason I visit pubs, just a component. I write this as I am sat in The Nags Head in Reading, it beats daytime tv.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm 30. To someone who is 18 that's well old.

      But I get the point - pubs are genuine focal points of many communities. In some places, the local will be replaced by a micro, but obviously that won't do for some of them.

      Delete
  3. Pop in Spoons in Bognor or Grantham or Hemel Hempstead to see exactly the sort of Old Boy meet ups you describe. They'll always be a little enclave of socialisers in a Spoons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The design of Spoons interiors often deliberately militates against such interactions, but the Old Boys generally find a way round it, sometimes involving rearranging the furniture.

      Delete
  4. The Stafford Mudgie8 November 2018 at 14:13

    What about women?
    I'm not suggesting we're typical but my wife spends about the same amount of time on the phone each week as I do in the pub.
    What about younger folks?”
    They spend all day on those mobile gadget things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It makes you wonder if the correlation between reduced alcohol consumption and increased suicide rates in younger people is really more about lacking the companionship of the pub

      Delete
    2. What about those with learning and socialisation disabilties? They often feel excluded from the pub. If they're not making a noise, I always get the impression that I'm slightly out of place, more an adjunct than anything else. People of my kind are more likely to socialise online in any case.

      Delete
  5. "Radio Two on the wireless".

    And why not?

    Nat King Cole might not be your choice, but it's unlikely to drive you up the wall - or out of the pub. The same cannot be said of various strands of more recent charts music.

    Licensees need to broaden their musical outlooks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Stafford Mudgie8 November 2018 at 15:58

      I would rather no radio or Radio 4 but what annoys me most are commercial radio stations with the adverts voiced so quickly that any sense of relaxation is lost.

      Delete
    2. The Stafford Mudgie8 November 2018 at 15:59

      - interspersed with 'local' people phoning in talking absolute bollocks.

      Delete
    3. Actually nowadays the music played on Radio 2 is more likely to be REM or the Stone Roses than Nat King Cole.

      While nowhere near as bad as (c)rap or (c)hip-(s)hop, I do find pubs playing 1950s lounge-type music a touch annoying as that won't be the favoured style of most of their customers either. The people now reaching retirement age were 15 in the Summer of Love.

      Delete
    4. Well, I was thinking of R2 at the time to which the writer referred.

      And I meant that genre too, which is timeless and generally well-received, even now.

      I was writing of musical styles, rather than of broadcasting.

      Delete
    5. I think the writer was referring to the present day, not a past era.

      Delete
    6. Yes, he was now I re-read it. Perhaps it was the use of the word "wireless", rather than "radio" - to rhyme with "daddy-oh" - that threw me. You don't that often hear it in pubs these days per se either.

      But I'm sure you get what I mean.

      Delete
    7. Would listening to BBC local radio suit?

      Delete
  6. As my usual haunt is frequented primarily by older men on their own, every word of this rings true and I see evidence every time I visit of the social benefit that a welcoming environment and committed, sociable bar staff brings to them. The pub also serves Draught Bass as their house ale and always in perfect condition, so presumably also achieves the 'Proper Pub' seal of approval (And was what drew me in in the first place).

    Though as very much a young man, and dedicated pub man, myself, I can also say that the same points can apply to my ilk as well, when in the face of a breakup from a long term relationship a while ago, in a town I'd only fairly recently moved to and knew few people it was sometimes the pub that kept me from clawing at the same four walls at home, with just a modicum of social interaction that I knew I could dip in and out of according to my mood.

    Of course I'm now shacked up with the manager of said pub, so gained a great deal more than just occasional social interaction.

    Message sent by a young man from his mobile gadget thingy. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Stafford Mudgie8 November 2018 at 19:36

      Ah, yes, nothing wrong with a great deal more than just occasional social interaction after a couple of pints of Draught Bass.
      And it's just as well that you didn't spend so much time on your mobile gadget thingy that you didn't even notice the manager of said pub.

      Delete
    2. Yes my approach to social interaction is still very much analogue rather than digital: I'd much rather a conversation with real people, or in quiet moments a good book. I save the mobile gadget thingy for the really important stuff like occasional comments on beer blogs. ;-)

      Delete
    3. What is it with the pints of Draught Bass? It must be a blog in-joke somewhere.

      Delete
    4. Part circular reference that's transcended a few beer/pub blogs, but more championing of an unsung hero that remains an excellent pint despite seemingly concerted efforts by the brand owners to ignore it's very existence.

      Delete
    5. If there is any in the central Lancashire area I shall be sure to check it out!

      Delete
    6. Take a look at Ian Thurman's Bass Directory, although there are only 3 outlets in Lancashire. The blogpost also gives a pretty comprehensive summary of why this beer is special.

      Delete
    7. Is the rendition of Bass at the Saddle in Blackpool any cop? I might go have a look.

      Delete
    8. Never been there personally, but I've heard good reports about it. Otherwise you could try the Unicorn in central Manchester, which is a great down-to-earth proper boozer.

      Delete
    9. I can definitely second the Unicorn. Great pub.

      Delete
  7. I had the Boars Head in Stockport in my mind as I read that, as you probably did too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I suspect that "no nonsense" would exclude the use of expressions such as "moments of peak frisson" in such pubs. Stanley seems to be far too articulate, to be properly welcomed in the pubs he so rosily caricatures. It's a nice enough, colourful tale to read all the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, he's something of a spectator of the pub scene, as am I and pretty much everyone else who writes about pubs. But it's no different from a middle-class person going to a football match and writing about it. If you're in an environment where you personally feel relaxed and "at home", that's what matters.

      I doubt whether I would like a pub full of people like me.

      Delete
    2. The Stafford Mudgie9 November 2018 at 17:34

      T'other Mudgie,
      I don't think I've ever met anyone like you so couldn't possibly imagine a pub full of people like you.
      ( I've just got home from Draught Bass in the Railway )

      Delete
    3. Hmm, not sure if that's a compliment or not...

      Delete
    4. The Stafford Mudgie9 November 2018 at 19:07

      Yes, it is !

      Delete
    5. I wouldn't know whar we're all like in real life. What on Earth would we talk about, for starters? Th'ale?

      Delete
    6. I've known my Stafford namesake "in real life" for a couple of years, and can assure you we never run short of topics of conversation which go well beyond the realm of beer :-)

      Delete
  9. In my experience elderly men prefer the lounge to the bar, and they enjoy the company of ladies. He sounds to me to be describing a bar, where, more likely than not, they wouldn't be able to hear themselves speak, for foul-mouthed shouty types of dubious personal presentation these days. I suppose Stanley would not have "struck the motherlode" in those places though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a lot of pubs left with a separate lounge and bar, and I don't think the older blokes who congregate in Spoons and Sam's pubs are exactly Leslie Phillips.

      Delete

All comments currently require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, if you want to make more than the occasional unregistered comment, if I don't already know you, you will need to tell me something about yourself - my e-mail address is in the sidebar.