As I have discussed before, my personal appetite for pubgoing was very much reduced over the preceding ten months due to the combined impact of the various restrictions, which largely destroyed the pleasure of the swift pint. If you were visiting pubs on spec you had no idea of what kind of atmosphere to expect. Ironically, I found Wetherspoon’s to be one of the most tolerable, partly because they simply don’t have enough staff to micromanage the behaviour of their customers. But pub atmosphere in Spoons is limited at the best of times, let alone when they are operating table service only.
However, during the past week I have felt able to get out and visit a few more pubs, including a wander round central Stockport on a very hot afternoon. Indeed I have visited more different pubs over the past seven days than I did in the whole of the preceding ten months. Obviously my observations only reflect my own experiences, and with the exception of Wetherspoon’s these were all very much traditional “proper pubs”.
None of the pubs were operating any kind of door control, so there was no problem in gaining entry and walking up to the bar. Only one, for some reason, insisted that I write my details down for track and trace purposes. I only spotted one bar person wearing a mask, in the pub where possibly you might least expect it. One barmaid said to a customer “I bet you don’t recognise me without a mask”. A handful of customers entered in masks, but very much in the minority. One pub had a sign saying “Please wear a mask when moving round the pub”, but nobody, including the landlord, did. No pub apart from Wetherspoon’s was operating table service for drinks. I paid cash everywhere apart from ordering a meal in Wetherspoon’s – I did also buy a pint there with cash and use a CAMRA discount voucher.
In general, the pubs were fairly quiet, although that was probably more a function of visiting them at slack times than an indicator of the overall level of trade. There were clear signs of the normal kind of pub life and interaction returning. The usual crew of codgers were there in the Boar’s Head in Stockport at 11.45 am on the Monday morning as though nothing had happened over the preceding ten months, although I hear that their elderly pub cat Felix has sadly died.
The quality of cask beer was in general pretty good, especially considering the hot weather. I wasn’t served with anything I didn’t want to drink, and the temperature was fine. In fact, the warmest pint I had was in Wetherspoon’s (although still within an acceptable range) - possibly a reflection of slow turnover. In the 1976 heatwave I’m sure many broiling pints would have been served up, which anecdotally was a major factor in the shift to lager drinking during that decade.
I also travelled on a bus for the first time since August of last year, and noted that none of the ten or so passengers, of varying ages, were wearing masks, and neither was the driver.
A few establishments, mostly at the “crafty” end of the spectrum, have stated that they are continuing with the previous restrictions, including wearing face masks. Presumably this is to appeal to excessively risk-averse people who dare not brave the “cesspit” of Wetherspoon’s. Obviously it is their right to do this, just as it is my right not to favour them with my custom.
It should not be forgotten that, under the restrictions that applied previously, few pubs beyond out-and-out dining venues were able to trade profitably. The removal of the restrictions at last gives them the chance to operate as they were intended to, and they will hopefully be able to take advantage of the second half of the summer. Given a clear run through to Christmas, many of those pubs that have survived will be able to re-establish themselves on a firmer footing. There have certainly been many comments on Twitter about both the atmosphere and the trade returning, such as this one from the Olde Cottage in Chester.
However, there will surely be continued pressure from the sociopaths of Public Health for further lockdowns and restrictions. Nobody should be in any doubt, though, that any return to mandatory table service, social distancing and masks would bring about the permanent closure of many pubs that have survived so far. Fortunately though, in the past few days, there has been a sharp decline in the number of positive tests reported, very possibly because of the start of the school holidays. I don’t want to go too far in reading the tealeaves of Covid statistics, but this must give grounds for encouragement.
That is the first time since this shit Storm hit us that that has felt like a proper night, thank you Sarah, £30 raised at the quiz and an extra £10 put in by a mystery customer, so £40 raised in total in the pub and the beer garden was busy. 👍🍺 @CAMRACaSC @BeersInChester— Olde cottage (@CottageOlde) July 21, 2021
My feelings last Monday were certainly not ones of joy or delight, but just profound relief that an important part of my life had been restored to something approaching normality. However, at teatime I felt sick to the stomach on hearing that the government were reintroducing the abhorrent, totalitarian concept of vaccine passports. This despite the fact that vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi had categorically promised earlier in the year not to do this. The government’s relationship with the country seems to be very much that of an abusive partner, giving a little treat in the morning and then delivering a kick in the crotch later in the day, while continually lying about their intentions and making false promises.
It has been stated that vaccine passports would only apply to nightclubs and similar crowded venues, but mission creep is inevitable, and it was certainly floated earlier in the year that they would be extended to pubs and restaurants, something that would cause huge practical problems and be severely destructive of business. Fortunately the idea has attracted a wave of political opposition, but we are certainly far from out of the woods yet, and everything remains to play for.
* Positive tests cannot be equated with cases. For something to be recorded as a “case” surely requires a formal diagnosis.