Thursday, 30 December 2021

A taste of freedom – Part 3

This year, I have made 80 posts on my Closed Pubs blog, the highest figure since the early days of “shooting fish in a barrel” and in fact more than I did on my main blog. I have been helped by prolific suggestions from Kyle Reed in West and South Yorkshire, and Dan Bishop in and around Burton-on-Trent. I have never met either of these gentleman, but a pint will certainly be theirs if I ever get the chance. Some of the images extracted from StreetView are surprisingly picturesque, such as the one above of the Bridge Tavern in Southampton which really conjures up the feeling of a bright Spring day.

My total of Twitter followers has gone up during the year from 5,600 to just over 5,900, so obviously plenty of people find my mixture of serious and more lighthearted stuff interesting. Meanwhile, Toady, who says the things about lockdowns and Covid totalitarianism that Mudgie doesn’t, has passed the 4,000 mark. A recurring problem with Twitter is that, no sooner do you add new followers than they purge another bunch for overstepping the mark in some way. After a change in control, they even suspended their own founder Jack Dorsey, although his account seems to have been reinstated now.

The march of the dreaded posing tables in pubs seems to continue unabated. This year, the handsome Cat & Lion at Stretton, just south of Warrington reopened following a takeover and refurbishment by Holt’s. Much of it is given over to dining, but the main bar area is pretty much full of the things, as shown above. And when you walk into Joule’s impressive new Crown Wharf in Stone, Staffordshire, you are immediately confronted with a forest of them, although there are some more comfortable seats elsewhere. If pubs didn’t have any posing tables, would anyone really bemoan their absence?

In his October Budget, Rishi Sunak announced a thoroughgoing reform of the alcohol duty system. Although the absolute level of duty remains much higher than most comparable European countries, this was a sensible move that recast the system on a much more rational basis and eliminated the many inconsistencies and anomalies of the old structure. Inevitably there were complaints from some special interest groups, as there will always be losers as well as winners, and it remains to be seen to what extent these will be heeded. One aspect that hopefully will be changed is setting the minimum container size for the lower duty rate for draught beer at 40 litres, which excluded both the 4½-gallon pins that are increasingly used for cask ale, and the 30-litre kegs that are popular for craft beers.

There was sad news in August with the death just before his 65th birthday of longstanding local CAMRA member Stuart Ballantyne. Stuart was always good company, but unfortunately had to contend throughout much of his life with a couple of serious non-alcohol-related health issues. In the early 2000s he was instrumental in leading a campaign to stop Marston’s replacing their own bitter with Banks’s in their pubs in South Manchester. In 2001 I spent several weeks in hospital with a badly broken ankle and will always remember that Stuart made the effort to come and visit me.

Conscious that I had gone through the whole of 2020 without setting eyes on the sea, I made a point of visiting the nearest expanse, at New Brighton, once I was able. It was a bright sunny day and I had a walk along the promenade, but it still wasn’t possible to go in any of the pubs. I managed to have the holiday in Norfolk that I had cancelled last year, although I wasn’t able to take maximum advantage due to suffering from the dreaded post-Covid cold. You don’t actually see much sea along the North Norfolk Coast, as it tends to be a mile away across salt marshes, so the only actual sight I got was looking west over the Wash at Hunstanton. I took the striking image shown above of the King’s Lynn Conservancy Board building illuminated by the setting sun, with a couple of windows of the Crown & Mitre pub included on the right.

Once everything had opened up again, I was able to get out and visit a number of the historic tourist attractions, although nowhere significant I hadn’t visited before, albeit in some cases over forty years earlier. Probably the most noteworthy was Boscobel House in Shropshire, where Charles II hid in the Royal Oak following his defeat by the Parliamentarians at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. It’s not particularly distinguished architecturally, but it was one place where staff dressed in costume and explaining the story really managed to bring the history to life.

As last year, it’s easy to say that lockdown gives plenty of opportunity to catch up on reading, but it never quite works out like that. But one book I did enjoy was Lessons from History by Alex Deane. This is basically a compendium of short historical anecdotes which are variously inspiring, amusing, poignant, heartwarming or simply jawdropping. It’s presented in easily digestible chunks and so would be ideal for keeping at your bedside and reading two or three chapters before dropping off. It’s a bit late now, but it would make a good stocking-filler for someone with an interest in history.

The episode that made most impression on me, maybe because I had never heard about it before, was Bert Sutcliffe and Bob Blair’s cricketing heroics for New Zealand against South Africa in 1953. Sutcliffe had been hospitalised after being injured by ferocious fast bowling, and Blair’s fiancée had been killed mid-match in the worst train crash in New Zealand history. The rules certainly wouldn’t allow that now!

So we are currently in a situation where pubs in England have been allowed to remain open at least until New Year’s Eve, although there is no guarantee that further restrictions will not be imposed in the New Year, and the general loss of confidence continues to severely depress trade. However, there are plenty of signs that the Omicron variant is nowhere near as severe as many predictions, and more and more politicians and commentators are waking up to the reality of lockdown harms and calling for a more balanced view. So it’s hard to tell which way things will go, but I just hope I’m not here in a year’s time still talking about lockdowns and restrictions on what remains of the hospitality industry.

Follow these links for Part 1 and Part 2 of this review.


  1. Hi Mudge, I’ve enjoyed reading your three-part, “Taste of Freedom” series of posts and have been meaning to comment, prior to this final one. That said, the points I am about to make could apply equally across all three of them, so here goes.

    UK government were surprised by the almost total acquiescence of the public in accepting the lock-down measures, almost without question. They had expected some degree of resistance, and when you think about it logically, it’s surprising that people were so compliant in their compliance.

    That our long-held, and long-cherished rights and freedoms, could be removed, at the stroke of a politician’s pen, was deeply disturbing, and whilst I haven’t yet read Laura Dodsworth’s book (I probably will in the fullness of time), this is an obvious demonstration of how fear can be used to control a population.

    The restriction that I found most concerning, was the removal of “free association.” Citizens were no longer able to meet with or interact with people outside of their immediate family or home environment. They were not allowed to mix with others, who were not part of their immediate family, even in the comfort of their own homes.

    This curtailment of an ancient and “inalienable” right, was particularly abhorrent, and is the sort of thing we might expect from a failed state, such as North Korea. It is not the behaviour normally associated with a modern, western democracy. Even at the height of the Blitz, the population was not placed under such stringent restrictions.

    Some overzealous chief constables even extended this draconian ban to meeting people in an outside environment. The ludicrous prosecution of the two women who met for a coffee, at a Derbyshire beauty spot, demonstrates the absurdity of these rules, and whist proceedings were eventually dropped, it took a public outcry for it to happen.

    Encouraging people to snitch on their neighbours - as advocated by the vile Home Secretary, a woman accused of hectoring and bullying her own staff, doesn’t surprise me, but these were the tactics used by the Gestapo and their Stasi successors, in communist East Germany.

    The right to travel and roam freely was also removed. People were discouraged from using public transport, to travel out into the countryside for exercise, and even that activity was limited by the equally obnoxious, Health Secretary, to just one hour per day.

    Who are these people? Weren’t they supposed to be our elected representatives, dedicated to making our lives better, rather than controlling our every movement? Why did we put up with it? Were we really that scared of a virus that was dangerous to less than one percent of the population?

    I am tempted to explore some of these issues further, on my own blog, but in the meantime, I’d like to wish you all the best for the New Year, and I look forward to meeting up again, for a few beers, unhindered by these unnecessary restrictions.

    1. Thanks Paul, and a happy New year to you and your family too :-)

      I'm sure you'd find the book very stimulating. I'd never really heard of Laura Dodsworth before, but it's significant that she approaches the issues from the standpoint of the feminist Left.

      She explains how the public acquiescence was achieved through using the techniques of behavioural psychology.

    2. Couldn't agree more

  2. During 2020 when the public believed that it was threatened by an epidemic which was perceived as life threatening people complied voluntarily with measures which took away freedoms on the understanding that the freedoms would be restored once the danger had passed following the reduction of risks. Similar levels of voluntary compliance have been seen in the past,for example in wars. Such compliance on the part of the public should not have come as a surprise to the government and its 'experts' but as Laura Dodsworth rightly states it did,with the result that the generation of fear was used to ensure compliance when it was un-necessary. The public are generally capable,when properly informed of assessing risk,and in the case of the government in London,but not in the case of regional governments,there are the beginnings of a recognition of this,I hope this trend continues.
    I wish everybody a happy and free New Year.

  3. Although the situation now isn’t exactly the ‘total normality’ we wanted after the vaccine rollout, I am actually feeling fairly positive. There are signs that the government are spooked by the size of backbench rebellion but also are growing tired of Sage’s wild doomsday predictions. A quick glance across the water to Ireland or France shows how much worse it could have been. All the best for 2022.

    1. But, putting aside backbench rebellions and emotive talk about "wild doomsday predictions", two facts remain. One: that most sectors of industry and commerce are impacted by the loss of workers due to the pandemic. Two: that many people, especially more vulnerable ones, are making their own assessment of the risk and deciding to stay away from hospitality venues.

    2. the current situation of epically high infection rates is temporary- I strongly suspect that the wave of Omicron will fizzle out quickly, as it has in South Africa. That leaves us with a dominant strain that is far milder than those that came before, and very high levels of immunity.

    3. @dcbwhaley - still waiting for you to acknowledge the existence of lockdown harms...

    4. Wait no longer :-)
      Of course the lockdown causes harm; but less harm than it prevents.
      All restrictive measures intended to prevent harm have associated collateral damage.

      I stick to my belief that it would be unwise to allow the NHS to be overwhelmed in order to protect the viability of the hospitality industry.

      And like others I very much appreciate this blog when it sticks to talking of beer and pubs. Less so when you use it to propagate your far right politics. But your gaff ..

    5. "Of course the lockdown causes harm; but less harm than it prevents.
      All restrictive measures intended to prevent harm have associated collateral damage."

      At least you recognise that there is a trade-off between the two :-)

      But, to my mind, the economic, social and health harms resulting from UK lockdowns have greatly outweighed any benefits. Around the world, there is no correlation between the severity of restrictions and the level of Covid deaths. Many European countries are currently recording much higher case numbers than the UK despite having much stricter curbs.

      And Sweden has done considerably better than us in terms of deaths per capita despite never having anything remotely resembling a full lockdown.

      "I stick to my belief that it would be unwise to allow the NHS to be overwhelmed in order to protect the viability of the hospitality industry."

      As I have repeatedly said, you can't have an effective health service without a healthy economy. Hospitality accounts for 11% of employment and 7% of GDP. It contributes £40 billion in taxes every year. It isn't just some little optional icing on the cake, it's a key plank of the economy.

      "And like others I very much appreciate this blog when it sticks to talking of beer and pubs. Less so when you use it to propagate your far right politics. But your gaff..."

      It's not for you to dictate what I write on my blog. It has always been a blog about the politics of lifestyle filtered through a lens of beer and pubs.

      OK, I'm not Pol Pot. But I've said nothing that hasn't also been said by mainstream commentators, so to describe it as "far right" is offensive nonsense. As a stand-alone comment, that would not have been approved.

      Anyway, this particular discussion is now closed.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Professor Pie-Tin3 January 2022 at 11:58

    A happy new year from Ireland where vaccine passport-required,table service-only pubs are already forced to close at 8pm and the Irish Sage demand tougher lockdowns in the face of rising Omicron.
    But in a bid to encourage people to socialise at home instead the Government here has come up with a corker - minimum alcohol pricing comes into effect tomorrow.
    My beloved €13.99 Aldi gin goes up to €20 and those slabs of cooking lager on offer at €18 at Christmas now double in price to €40.
    It's not like they don't know what they're doing - the legislation was passed last year during a previous lockdown with very little fanfare.
    In border areas this will mean just one thing - Irish shoppers will buy their booze in NI.
    I loath the Irish state - although not its wonderful people - with every fibre of my being.
    They are the new Catholic Church.
    Around the time of the next election I intend to fill a bucket with piss and chuck it over any politician who doesn't vacate my property when ordered to.

  5. You are amazing. Thank you! for sharing your work, wealth of knowledge and experiences on this wonderful blog.

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