The Friend Zone

I think that most publicans are avid people watchers; habitual voyeurs. We see the little things that people do. We see the tics, the nuances and idiosyncrasies. We hear the repeated words and phrases that people utter unwittingly. We know who needs an ego massage and who can handle the piss-taking. We eek chatter from the meek nursing their mild and demure to the taproom thespian quoting pseudo Shakespeare at you to order a drink: “Why, yes, my good fellow. A pint of frothing ale would be a splendid thing on this fine morrow” (at this point it’s generally considered good business not to stab them in the throat with the lemon knife in spite of extreme temptation and any inner feelings of duty toward the order of natural selection).

In some ways we know our locals better than they know themselves. We know where they will sit, when they’ll be in (and when they won’t). We know when they’re about to reach their drinking limit and the best way to deal with them when they do. We know what topics to bring up and, more importantly, which subjects to avoid. This is all part of our job and we should be good at observing and reacting appropriately, but what has always interested me is how the punters also do this and look after each other accordingly.

Rarely does a publican have to calm down an irate regular as there’s a fistful of friends willing to help; those who’ve had too many are ushered into taxis or shouldered home; the sick are cared for and their well being asked after by people with no common interest other than their choice of pub, and the regular pub-goer always has a decent throng at their funeral.

Regular interaction breeds goodwill and affection, and nowhere is this more pertinent than the local pub. The one word that crops up consistently when people lament the loss of a traditional local is ‘community’. The pub is not just beneficial for a community, it is a community and I was delighted to read that pubs were considered a healthy addition to a town when a recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) ranked Britain’s healthiest high streets.

The RSPH reasoned that pubs are “centres for social interaction”. While I cringe a little at this clinical and rather bleached description of pubs, I also want to run naked into the street, screaming “At last! You’re finally fucking getting it!”.
After decades of vilification and mechanical judgement from the middle-England tutters and head-shakers, and miles of newspaper column highlighting the dangers to health and the antisocial facets of drinking, a health organisation has actually acknowledged what landlords and punters alike have known for decades: pubs can be good for you.

Oh, I know that there’s been very few sober fights in the queue of a kebab shop and that people are more prone to an argument with a drink in them, but they’re also much more prone to laughter, hugs, and singing and dancing than confrontation.
Where else can you go in a stranger and come out a friend? Where else is always open when you need it? Somewhere you don’t need a plan for; a place that you don’t need to book or put in your diary?

And who has ever said to their partner “there’s nothing on the box tonight so I’m just nipping to Starbucks to see who’s in”.
Nobody.
Ever.

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