Ever have that feeling you’re being watched? Well if you’re a publican then you are. Constantly. By dozens of pairs of eyes every day. If you’ve done your job well enough then some will struggle to focus, see two of you or mistake you for the quiz machine, but they’re watching nonetheless.
Your exploits become entertainment and tales; you’re an ice breaker for the unimaginative – an anecdote for their gossip bank. You’re a lauded friend when your pub comes up in dispatches: “… The Manor? Nice pub. We went for a meal with the landlady a while back…”
It may have been five years ago, but people like to associate with the gaffers of their local and most won’t hesitate to drop your name into a conversation in the hope of inflating their perceived social standing.
For most punters this voyeurism extends only as far as the odd glance over their friend’s shoulder as you go about your business, but for some you’re the top billing, their favourite part of the day. Your every move is scrutinised, every comment evaluated and remarked upon by those who misuse the social freedom of the pub for their own ends. They tend to be experts on everything and particularly excel in the field of being a landlord as they tell you how to do your job constantly whilst the ghost you screams back at them: “Tell you what, Gary, how about I come to work with you and tell you how to build fucking walls all day?”
Your mistakes make their day. Pull someone the wrong thing and they’ll chuckle; spill a drink down yourself and they’ll snort and point; drop a glass and they think it’s fucking Christmas. I once slipped over behind the jump and I swear blind that a couple of people had to change their underwear.
Of course this is the nature of serving the general public, and belonging to them for the duration of their visit is something that comes with your tenure, but for all the acceptance of this being ‘part of the game’ it riles me at times that these people are forgiven purely by demographics i.e a certain percentage of the population are wankers.
I wonder if they realise how it makes us feel when their words land? Those nasty jibes dressed up as edgy humour; that dismissal of achievement; that light drizzle of derision that soaks you to your boots.
Of course we have thick skin. But we also have bad days. We worry and care about things that we never admit to. We have a home life and relationships that play out in full view of those that use our pub, and by far the hardest part of being a publican is putting a smile on the front of a head filled with abject dejection. At these times we are not the ring masters but the clowns.
But to admit this is something we never do. We have a duty to create an environment free of sorrow. Many people in the pub are escaping their worry and it is up to us to offer them solace and cheer. If this means taking constant jabs to the soul from those who don’t realise the psychological harm they do or, worse still, punters who revel in your discomfort then so be it. We feign happiness until happiness returns along with the clarity to consider our detractors and why they do what they do. Often they are lonely. Sometimes they have been hurt or abandoned by those they loved. Maybe they can’t help being the way they are so the compassionate human in you pities them, forgives them and wipes the slate clean. Then the publican in you puts the price of their favourite drink up disproportionately and smiles a big, real smile.