Now I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager there were three main goals in life: getting laid, getting served in a pub and getting good exam results.
In that order.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with the latter or make you nauseous with the former, but I was 16 when I popped my pub cherry.
It was down to a fine bit of forgery involving my birth certificate, a biro, a bottle of Tipp-ex and a photocopier.
It also involved a landlord of a local pub who was happy to turn a blind eye to the fact that his pub was full of school kids on Saturday nights.
It’s much harder these days of course. Authorities are much more stringent, publicans are more fearful, but, probably most notably, kids just aren’t that bothered.
This is a problem for the pub industry as the pub dynamic mirrors our national demographic: punters are getting older.
I don’t deal in statistics so maybe somebody will prove me wrong, but when Old Barney shuffles off his mortal barstool he is not being replaced with Young Levi puffing out his chest, trying to get you to notice the beard he’s been nurturing for a year and praying that you don’t ask to see his driving licence. Levi’s just not bothered.
Oh I’m sure that he’ll take his older brother’s ID for a walk to a nightclub or to a late music bar, but only after he’s sunk half a bottle of vodka at his mate’s house with the rest of his gang.
It’s called pre-loading and is the bain of the town centre night time economy. Groups of teenagers rowdily pour into town centres at midnight trying to get into pubs and clubs to spend no money because they’re already smashed on Happy Shopper schnapps.
Let’s wind the clock back a quarter of a century or so and return to that unscrupulous landlord of the pub that shall not be named here: yes, he was breaking the law; yes, he was profiting from kids whose parents thought they were elsewhere; yes, some of those kids probably got a bit too drunk and I’m sure his toilets bore the brunt of the formative teachings of today’s middle-aged drinkers, but those kids were a hell of a lot better off than today’s pre-loading generation.
They were in a regulated environment – get too drunk and the party was over. Get too gobby and you were out the door. Smoke a joint and you were rolled along. You couldn’t get pissed on a fiver, the bell rang at 11 and you met different people, not just those invited to whoever’s parents’ had made the mistake of going out and leaving a sixteen year-old to look after the house.
I do think that our drinking laws are too rigid. Personally – and at the risk of dropping myself in the shit here – I would rather serve a seventeen year old who was in with his parents than an eighteen year old with his mates, and I have knowingly done so many times in the past. In my opinion if a parent decides that their child is mature enough to handle a beer or two in a pub then who am I to tell them they’re wrong. They’re actually doing what I condone: teaching their child how to drink; teaching their child how how to enjoy drinking and, by letting their child see its parents do likewise, taking away the cool factor of alcohol. They’re also introducing their child to the sedate joys of the local boozer and it lessens the chances of them going out on their eighteenth birthday for their first ever drink, getting smashed and trying to fight bouncers.
In summary, and in my opinion; we need to get back to looking after these young adults. We need to tolerate their mistakes and teach them how to behave in pubs.
Your average late teen will spend nearly all of their time with their peers at school, college, university and in social situations and one of the only places before they start work where they truly get to interact on a level footing with us boring grown ups are pubs. Proper pubs, and we as publicans of these premises have a responsibility to teach them how to do it right, or at least how to have fun whilst doing it wrong.