It’s fair to say that this is a watershed era for pubs.
Their heyday lies way back in the shoulder-pad of the eighties when you could be woken by the rattling of bottles on the back of a milk float and sauce bottles were the right way up.
I lived above the pub that my parents ran back then and although my recollections may be gold-filtered by the halcyon memory of my youth, it seemed a much simpler time.
I remember the queues waiting for the bolt to slide on the front door at noon on a Sunday. Back then, on the Sabbath, most pubs were only permitted to open until 2pm and reopen an eternity later at 7. This led to a concerted and methodical mass lunchtime binge and is possibly the root of our much maligned British drinking culture, and also of our once popular pastime of falling asleep in the armchair after Sunday lunch.
These raucous, empty-bellied, early sessions are now stuff of legend, replaced by Sunday afternoons in beer gardens or watching the football.
Lunch first, binge later.
In those days pubs were more numerous, less salubrious and, most importantly, busier.
Staff wages were less as pubs operated for fewer hours (around 58 as opposed to todays norm of 80+) yet pubs still sold similar quantities of beer.
Now there are fewer pubs, but the ones that remain are generally well kept, modern, bright and clean; yet they still struggle to pull in the crowds that used to flock to a scarcely mopped local thirty years ago
So why are things different now?
I have this conversation often with punters and fellow landlords and operators, and usually the first to cop the flack for the decline of the local are the supermarkets.
Not entirely, but it’s so easy to sit back and blame the superstores for their cut-price deals on booze.
It’s a fact that it’s always been cheaper to buy booze from Tesco or Asda or even the local off-licence. Of course it is; their margins are less because their overheads are less. Punters come in buy it and leave. In pubs they come in, get served a pint in a glass that has to be washed, by a glass washing machine that has to be paid for, filled with non-free water and detergent; use the toilets that have to be cleaned and maintained; soak up the increasingly expensive heating (when was the last time you saw a barmaid in a Saisburys style fleece?), and scratch their name into your newly bought table.
Although the market trend appears to back the argument that the supermarket is killing pubs, I believe that shop bought alcohol is merely a symptom of the real problem: people are just more boring these days.
Back then the average 25 year old would meet up with his mates for a beer. They wouldn’t call each other even though the miracle of the telephone had been around for decades.
They wouldn’t fax each other. Nobody ever did that if truth be told.
No. They would just pop into the pub and see who was in there. It was lovely.
Now you can’t possibly contemplate a Saturday night out without about sixty notifications on Facebook messenger, Snapchat or whatever intrusive and needy phone app is in vogue for your circle of friends. Suggestions, excuses, time changes, apologies and arguments are the general pre cursor to a night out when all you’re doing is meeting up for a beer.
And even that is rare and generally only at weekends.
“Not on a schoolnight”
You don’t go to school. You’re a fucking postman!
And so it is that people can no longer contemplate either going out in a group smaller than a coach trip or having a drink after 9pm on a Tuesday.
On top of this there’s those companies that pray on the dull and the inert.
Netflix, Sky, Amazon and a whole host of internet based gambling companies vie for the pound coin of this new breed of hermit. Jesus! You can now lose a wedge of cash in your bedroom playing a fruit machine on your phone. Think about that for a minute. Picture it then do as I do and whack your head against the nearest wall. It helps.
And when you’ve lost that game of poker to that twelve year old Japanese kid, you go to the fridge and pull out your can of Lidl cider, put on Game of Thrones and go on Facebook to tell everyone how brilliant it is and how fucking happy you are.
But sometimes, somewhere there’s someone that doesn’t see this cry for appeasement of your boring life because they’re too busy getting pissed and having a laugh in a pub with their mates.