Thursday, 20 August 2020

Blame it on the boozer

Last week, it was announced that the British economy had contracted by no less than 20.4% between April and June this year, one of the worst figures of any major economy. That’s a fifth of the entire economy temporarily destroyed. However, much of the criticism of this performance was blunted by the fact that those making it had previously demanded an even stricter lockdown and a slower easing of restrictions, which comes across as an exercise in complete hypocrisy. As Kate Andrews says in this article:
...the decision to live in lockdown longer than other European countries, and with far tighter rules, has left us with our worst recession on record and the sharpest economic contraction since the Great Frost of 1709.
Given this, you might think that the media would be looking into ways of how to stimulate the economy and remove restrictions holding businesses back. But Sky News were having none of this, and decided to carry out an exposé on one sector that that only just been allowed to reopen and was still struggling to recover, namely pubs. They claim to have found that nine out of ten pubs were not asking for customer details, although it has to be said this completely contradicts my own experience, and in any case it is only a guideline, not a legal requirement. Several other bloggers have described finding very few pubs not taking the issue seriously on their own pub visits. And a survey by the Morning Advertiser found that 85% of respondents considered that pubs were meeting or exceeding the requirements.

It’s been widely observed that the Covid pandemic has encouraged every joyless Puritan and bansturbator to advance their own pet hobby-horses, and pubs are, not surprisingly, often in the firing line. Yet, while they’re often viewed as something that is frivolous and not really necessary, in reality they are only a part of the wider hospitality sector, which is the third largest segment of the economy and essential to our wider prosperity. Yes, it might be possible to distinguish drinking from other forms of eat-in catering, and in the Irish Republic you are still unable to just have a drink in a pub or bar although you have been able to eat a meal for nearly two months. But to do that would in practice be hard to define and would be a seriously retrograde step. Plus pubs sell more meals overall than either restaurants or cafés.

The government have given some demonstrable and welcome support for the hospitality sector with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which is currently generating a fair amount of business that they wouldn’t otherwise get at all. But other parts of officialdom aren’t so sympathetic. There has been the long-running suggestion of shutting pubs to open schools, which are two things with only a tenuous connection. Council bosses have demanded more powers to shut non-compliant pubs. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? And the egregious, constantly whining mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has said that pubs may need to shut if contact tracing can’t be sorted out. So not exactly a great deal of love there. Pubs are always singled out as a scapegoat.

Several parts of England, including Greater Manchester, have implemented partial local lockdowns, although they haven’t included the general closure of pubs, much as some council leaders might want to have done that. The opening of pubs in Leicester was delayed due to a surge in infections which had been caused by inadequately regulated sweatshops and, by definition, as they hadn’t been open in the first place, was nothing to do with pubs. The basis for these lockdowns often appears very flimsy and seems to arise from nothing more than an increase in testing leading to an increase in the absolute number of cases.

In Scotland, in contrast, a local lockdown requiring the closure of all hospitality businesses was imposed in Aberdeen, and indeed remains in force today. This was then followed by turning the various guidelines on social distancing and contract tracing into legal requirements, and making pubs operate table service only, turn off all piped music, and mute any televisions, thus producing a pretty grim and joyless experience. No doubt the notorious Puritan John Knox would be pleased, although he might not be so happy that it had been imposed by a “monstrous regiment of women”.

As I’ve mentioned before, many people who claim to be beer and pub enthusiasts seem to have been distinctly lukewarm about the pubs actually reopening, as it means that they have to mingle with the dreaded hoi polloi again rather than sampling craft beers in the safety of their own homes. “After a couple of weeks we went into a beer garden, but we didn’t dare venture inside. And we thought some other customers were getting scarily close to each other and talking quite loudly.” Meanwhile, CAMRA has seemed keener on calling for financial support and staging cringey virtual events than actually kicking against the anti-pub climate and the possibility of further restrictions being imposed. But, as we know, they are always a complete paper tiger when it comes to confronting the public health lobby.

As Kate Andrews states in the article linked above, the government currently seems to be yo-yoing between wanting to stimulate the economy and being paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights by fear of a second wave. And worries about further lockdowns and travel restrictions is holding back people’s willingness to spend and make commitments.

As well as clarity, people also need confidence to start spending again: the reassurance both that they’re relatively safe from contracting the virus, and also that a sledgehammer won’t be taken to their lifestyle again.
The future of pubs is intimately tied up with that of the wider economy. Without a healthy economy, there won’t be a healthy hospitality trade. And indeed not only will it be a beneficiary of economic recovery, but one of the main drivers of it.

31 comments:

  1. talking quite loudly - that will never do, time to get hoi poloi under control again

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  2. It's everything combined. What's really missing are people's twice a month £500 weekends - girls on shopping, lunch, cocktails, hotels and dresses. Blokes on football, beer, kebabs, hotels and slot machines.

    But no-one wants to wear a mask for more than five minutes so aren't going on public transport or into shops apart from for the necessities.

    Get rid of masks and distancing and the pubs will thrive once more.

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  3. Professor Pie-Tin20 August 2020 at 16:24

    I love my local nearly as much as I love my wife.Lady Pie-Tin understands this.She comes from a family of heroic Irish topers and married a lifelong pisshead who owned an Irish pub for three years.Fortunately she loves it too.
    It's a one-bar split into two rooms, dark and wooden sort of pub with a log-burner in the corner making it a warm and welcoming local.There's a trad session once a week and it's a big rugby house - the telly only goes on for the big matches and is switched off immediately upon the final whistle unless Ireland has beaten England and then every gory moment is enjoyed to bring me, the only Tan in the bar, maximum discomfort.I don't mind as I give as good as I get and it's done with humour and reasonably good grace.It's a drinkers pub but well-curated and oafishnes is neither tolerated or encouraged.
    Last week, after being closed since March 15th, it re-opened after a tie-up with a local takeaway to meet food requirements necessary to serve pints.It lasted four days before the guvnor closed it again.
    The social-distancing, time-limited, pizza-eating, staff mask-wearing, police-inspecting dreariness of it all sapped his and most of his regulars' joy at its re-opening.We all agreed we'd rather not drink in a place where enjoyment is discouraged and ordering €9 worth of fast food you don't want is a requirement.
    Life, even without contracting Covid-19, is too short.
    And what are the chances of coming down with the dreaded lurgy ?
    As I write there are only 16 people in the entire country in hospital with it and only 6 of those serious enough to be in ICU.Out of a population of six million.
    Yet today's newspapers report that NPHET - Ireland's equivalent of SAGE - is threatening a return to a full lockdown even though the recent spike in infections is almost entirely due to a couple of meat processing factories employing migrant labour and an increase in testing.
    Logic,reason and commonsense appear to have fallen victim to hysteria and pitchfork-waving fear in a country that has the most draconian travel and lockdown measures in Europe yet now has a worse infection rate than many countries including the dreaded UK.
    The head of Tourism Ireland was forced out of his job within hours of news breaking he'd had the temerity to take a perfectly legal foreign holiday in a country on Ireland's green list.
    The slightest infringement of regulations - which have no legal force whatsoever - is met with Salem Witch Trial levels of demands for punishment and public humiliation.
    And the bastard politicians in the self-loathing coalition that runs this shitshow of a government hide behind their medical advisors.
    Keeping the pubs closed is simply a convenient way of hiding their own miserable failures.
    I really dread to think of what will happen when the social and economic costs of them become apparent.Not least because Sinn Fein, which is still ruthlessly run by the IRA's Army Council, bide their time like vultures in the wings.They only just missed out on power in the election earlier this year.
    Christ I'm getting angry just writing about it.

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    1. Professor Pie-Tin21 August 2020 at 11:49

      I'm reluctant to make this a From Your Irish Correspondent section but I thought you might be interested in the latest developments from across the Irish Sea.
      Since late June, indoor gatherings have been restricted to 50 people under the Government’s Covid-19 health controls.Further restrictions announced this week identified only weddings and artistic and cultural events as being allowed to have groups of up to 50.
      Regulations also say tables in restaurants should not exceed six people from no more than three households.
      That didn't stop the Irish Parliamentary Golf Socety holding their 10-to-a-table annual dinner earlier this week attended by 80 people in a Galway hotel including politicians from government parties,judges,journalists and an Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.
      Fortunately one newspaper had the balls to publish the story - this morning the Irish Agriculture Minister who attended has resigned ( he's the third Ag Minister in two months with the previous one being sacked for not disclosing a drink-drive conviction ).
      No-one here has yet thought to ask if the EU Commissioner followed the two-week self-isolation rule on his return from Brussels before attending the dinner.
      You can imagine the anger of people being lectured to by these same politicians for months about personal sacrifice and keeping pubs closed for what looks to be an indefinite period.
      Sadly nothing will come of it.Irish politicians have been taking the piss out of Joe O'Public since the time of PM Charles Haughey who owned an island,yacht,racehorses and a grand country house all on a politician's meagre salary.After his death it turns out he was buying up agricultural land, getting it re-zoned for housing then flogging it at a vast profit.
      Then there was another former PM Bertie Ahern who, at a public inquiry, claimed the reason why he kept a large amount of unsourced cash in a safe while he was the country's Finance Minister was because he didn't have a bank account.Think about it.
      And spare a thought the next time you think Boris and Co are useless.

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  4. This blog post represents the pinnacle of the pub curmudgeon’s art, with a perfect balance of evidence, observation and opinion – it deserves to be in the national press! It brings to front of mind my frustration that the art of critical thinking and resultant sense of proportion (particularly amongst those in positions of influence and/or power) seem to have been yet further eroded during the course of the pandemic. I fear that yet more questionable decisions will be made which affect our lifestyles and culture, and the long term costs will far exceed any perceived or actual benefits.

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    1. Thank you, Sir! A pint will be yours should we ever meet again :-)

      (Last time IIRC was Uttoxeter last year, which was a splendid day out of drinking Bass and Pedigree)

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    2. It'll have to be a virtual pint (well, tiny can of craft) with Jon. Frome is MUCH too dangerous to leave your house at the moment, I believe they had an actual case there in July. Stay safe, lock yourself in the loft and await further guidance.

      Yes, a typically excellent Mudgie piece.

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    3. Haha, well I made it out of Frome yesterday for a brief trip to Manchester, which included a couple of pints in The Angel and some strange coloured craft stuff in Port Street. Definitely need another proper day out when it becomes feasible.

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    4. Can't see any more Proper Days Out happening until the mask rule on trains is scrapped, tbh.

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    5. Why Mudge? Much as I dislike wearing a mask, I could put up with it if there was the right town at the end of the journey, with a selection of fine pubs and good company to share the enjoyment with.

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    6. The Stafford Mudgie25 August 2020 at 19:38

      "Why Mudge?"
      Must be one of the Mudgies in Uttoxeter last year drinking Bass and Pedigree all day long.

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  5. It was reported today that, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, there were zero deaths caused by Covid in English hospitals. The continued level of restrictions and official fearmongering really is totally disproportionate to the actual scale of the current risk.

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  6. Excellent post Mudgie 👍🍻 I'd get jukeboxes back in, volume back up on the TV and communal singing in the bar.
    It would be top notch and in no way increase covid as I can't see noise being a reason for infection!

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  7. The main stream media are obsessed with Covid, and have been trawling the internet for months in order to run stories with only the most tenuous links to Coronavirus.

    Unfortunately, this has a drip-drip effect, and when it comes to pubs, even people who are normally level-headed regarding such matters, start believing that if they so much as walk past an open pub door, they'll be stricken down with this "deadly plague."

    This really now is all about control of the population, and it has to stop. Mind you, the situation in Ireland sounds even worse, as PPT explains.

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  8. An excellent post,however some pub operators are not helping by requiring customers to pre book and then not allowing walk in customers to enter even though the place is almost empty due to non shows and insisting on the only means of payment being via an ap which allows the customers personal data to be harvested

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    1. Well, bookings only will keep the Covid zealots happy, although it's completely inappropriate for people just wanting a drink. It's also being "strong recommended" in Scotland.

      Some pubs have adopted an over-zealous interpretation of the guidelines which is distinctly offputting.

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    2. Small village pub near Launceston last week had unwelcoming sign at door "Bookings only. Including drinkers".

      Phoned Landlord at opening time who made me book a 12.10 slot while I stood in the rain. Got my half at 12.15, out by 12.20.

      Landlady spent that 5 minutes berating Londoners spreading it at the beach and in the sea. Horrified by thought of folk enjoying themselves safely.

      I suggested, sarcastically, we close the sea and she agreed.I'll bet many Devonian have been visiting friends and family indoors though.

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    3. My local has a sign on the door saying "wait here to be seated".
      After waiting ten minutes I went home via the off-shop..

      Just reinforces my oft stated opinion that, even in normal times, pubs - especially the traditional landlord run ones - are one of the hardest places to get a drink.

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    4. You've got to wonder whether such people have any interest in remaining in business at all

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    5. they aint gonna be if this nonsense continues.

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    6. @dcbwhaley - did you actually call out "anyone there?"

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  9. Must admit, I was expecting a stampede once pubs re opened but it looks like either people have been scared off by the massive over reaction to covid or people have got used to drinking cheaply at home.Bit of both probably.

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    1. I don't think it's so much people being scared as a lot of the activities that drive pub visits such as football matches, shopping trips and holidays not happening. Plus most city-centre workers are still working from home.

      Plenty of people have been visiting pubs for Eat Out to Help Out, which shows the real problem is a lack of a reason to go.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie25 August 2020 at 19:43

      "Plus most city-centre workers are still working from home" - and that's until they get replaced by much cheaper workers in their Bombay homes.

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  10. Let it never be forgotten that Andy Burnham was the person resposible for the Liverpool Pathway method of killing elderly people.

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    1. Are you sure? The Liverpool Care Pathway was developed in the late 1990s, when Andy Burnham was a researcher, administrator and advisor in his mid to late 20s. He became an MP in the 2001 election and was Health Secretary from June 2009 to May 2010, when criticism of the Pathway was appearing in the press and other media. So to some extent he was responsible for dealing with the fallout, which may be what you mean, but it took three years of the coalition government before the Pathway was gradually phased out. So he was in charge of the health service for less than a year, but we must never forget that he was responsible for killing elderly people?

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  11. Professor Pie-Tin22 August 2020 at 13:28

    I'm going to chance a pub that's re-opened in the city later on this afternoon mainly because it looks like they've put some thought into what food someone might like with a pint where they have to comply with the regulations.
    They have two choices - both for the €9 minimum which is required by law.
    Cheese and Charcuterie box - Durrus cheese, Cashel blue, pârturages Brie, jamón curado, chorizo castellano, cracked black pepper salami, gluten free crackers and quince paste.
    Vegan Platter - Stuffed vine leaves, Italian olives, Hummus, Pickled vegetables, Grilled aubergines, Muhammara, Pita chips.
    And there pints are gorgeous too.
    Funnily enough the company that owns this pub run a collection of the best pubs in the city even in the good times - I can't help thinking that if a landlord was prepared to put a bit of effort in there's no reason why at least an attempt can't be made to re-open again.

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    1. Professor Pie-Tin24 August 2020 at 13:01

      Well it all turned out to be a bit of a disaster eventually.The food came in airline-style boxes out of a fridge and was fine - at least some thought have gone into it.
      But €18 for a couple of snack boxes before we'd even had a pint was a bit off-putting.So was an initial refusal to be served a second pint because " we'd overstayed our 1hr 45mins " time limit.Having pointed out that we'd crossed the threshold not 20 minbutes earlier the young and obviously untrained staff realised they'd mixed us up with another couple - as there were only 10 people in the pub at the time this took some doing.
      Four pints later and a total inaccurate drinks bill that was at least €20 too much we headed home.
      However often we try these perfectly legal attempts to get around the ban on wet-let pubs opening we usually end up disappointed and frustrated.
      Amnd it's clear that if the pub closures continue into 2021 as is being mooted by the Looney Tunes Irish government many will simply go bankrupt.

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    2. It looks as though the continued refusal to allow drinking in pubs is just an exercise in vindictiveness rather than bearing any relatoinship to the genuine level of risk.

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  12. Professor Pie-Tin22 August 2020 at 13:33

    https://www.facebook.com/oval.bar.9/

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  13. I'm generally only visiting pubs that aren't doing bookings and paying by apps or where I know the owners well enough to dodge the systems they've had to put in place and in my first visit to a late night venue since pubs opened any hint of restrictions stayed outside the door. All the stuff about how many people from different households mixing has completely gone out of the window everywhere though.

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