Monday 26 July 2021

Back in the groove

Last Monday at last saw the arrival of the delayed “Freedom Day”, when all formal Covid-related restrictions relating to pubs were lifted. However, in the context of rising numbers of positive tests* and many businesses being crippled by workers self-isolating due to the “pingdemic”, the impact was distinctly muted. The expectation of some kind of bacchanalia being unleashed signally failed to materialise.

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.

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.


  1. For something to be recorded as a “case” surely requires a formal diagnosis.

    A positive PCR test is a diagnosis. It is far more accurate than what a doctor can tell you based on a physical examination.

    1. Are the positive tests reported PCRs or lateral flow? Genuinely asking for info, don't know.

    2. Because of inherent uncertainties associated with the PCR tests, the BMJ has issued advice that "Interpretation of a test result depends not only on the characteristics of the test itself but also on the pre-test probability of disease", i.e. that a (positive or negative) test result should be combined with the possible presence of symptoms before making a formal diagnosis.( This useful advice seems to be widely ignored.

  2. Vaccine passports of some sort may be enevitable, the world is looking at France at the moment, as it is in the process of mandating having the vaccine by stealth. If you are not double jabbed by certain deadlines, your freedoms will be restricted. Those hoping to get around this by providing a negative test, probably won't be as keen when the French authorities start to charge for these later this year. So far the big stick approach looks to be working, with a sceptical nation now rushing to book vaccine injections.

    If this approach is proven to work across the channel, it is very likely to be implemented similarly in other countries.

  3. A rather uncompromising column that will probably provoke strong opinions both ways, but I’d say I agree with most of it. Observations from my village local, plus a trip to Liverpool over the weekend, are the same as yours. Table service and masks non existent. All pubs busier than they have been since last March, perhaps not surprising in a city centre but pleasing to see. Train home was a total free-for-all and made me a little uneasy. But overall felt like a satisfying step back to ‘normality’, whatever that will turn out to be.

  4. it hasnt felt much like freedom day has made it over to the East coast yet, as the only thing that has changed so far that Im aware of seems to be that most (note not even all) have dropped table service, that was clearly where they were feeling the most pain on the restrictions, but there are still pubs insisting you pre book tables, wear masks to walk around, wait patiently at a door to be seated first, track & trace still, theres even one pub I know insisting on proof of double vaccination before allowing entry, and plenty have been hit by the pingdemic.

    So like you the past year or more has destroyed any appeal of pubgoing to me, as the pleasure of just turning up to a pub for a few swift beers in a relaxing environment this certainly isnt still. I cant remember where I read it but someone did say its called the hospitality industry because you are supposed to enjoy the experience and until more of the restrictions some of these pubs, for sure its not all of them, have adopted or double downed on are eased it wont be.

    and its not just me feeling like this, I often pass my countryside pubs whilst cycling around and none of the pubs I passed that were open looked very busy at all.

    1. I have obviously been luckier than you, then. Perhaps rural food-oriented pubs can get away with it more easily, whereas in urban areas it's much easier to simply take your custom elsewhere, and normality has certainly returned in Wetherspoon's.

  5. They will all be shut again by September.

  6. I was in Eastbourne last week. I am pleased to say the Harveys pubs are back to normal. Order at the bar, take cash, and fabulous Harveys Best Bitter.

  7. This is the post I was waiting for; great to read about you getting back to pubs this last week.

    Your experience largely accords with mine; restrictions largely removed, no masks worn by staff or customers, beer holding up pretty well, and a decent atmosphere in the "Proper Pubs". Great to see.

    I'm one of the people still wearing a mask up to the bar as a courtesy to staff, though as I've hardly seen any members of staff doing the same I'm wondering why I bother.

  8. This is spot on and I haven't seen it so eloquently put in any of the mainstream press....

    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

  9. Great to see you back in pubs Mudgie as it lifts the spirits! In my experience all of the pubs are far more relaxed and everyone is in a better place for it.

  10. Meanwhile, north of the border, we still have masks and track & trace in the pubs and Scottish Ministers are disappearing up their own arses in confusion about whether you can order/drink at the bar. And night clubs can open but you have to wear a mask on the dancefloor. You couldn't make it up.


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