As I write this it’s Valentine’s day.
All across the country ribbons are being untied, jewellery boxes flipped open and flower vans are doing their rounds delivering love, duty and relief at him not forgetting again.
Tonight the theatres, cinemas and restaurants will be packed with hand-holding smoochers having a night off from leggings and Eastenders to go out on a schoolnight and parade their forever love to the world and forget about the time Kevin snogged that bird from Tescos.
The pubs will probably be quiet. Oh I’m sure that the more established couple will pop in for one before their linguine, and some pubs will probably dim the lights, put candles on the tables and play Lionel Richie all night long by way of creating a romantic atmosphere, but for the most part our punters tonight will be downbeat singletons avoiding the mush and/or Chelsea or Arsenal fans risking the wrath of their partner in the hope of witnessing Europa League glory against a team whose name is written in hieroglyphics.
I understand that “fancy a couple down The Dog?” isn’t the most auspicious way to woo a mate on the 14th of February, and that inflated expectation negates the local boozer as an option for eye-gazing and footsie, but I think it’s a shame. After all it’s where many people met their other halves and it’s a stock venue for first dates – the casual ambience, diversity of clientele and inhibition-loosening effects of alcohol form a perfect environment for the getting-to-know-you stage of relationships.
As with nearly all aspects of life, modern ways have changed the way we do things. Before Tinder, Grinder, eHarmony and others, the pub was the go-to dating site. It was where you met people, where you got to know someone and where you got to like them before plucking up the Dutch courage to ask them out. Nowadays it’s where people arrange to meet up for the first time after swapping messages about their favourite music, films and what they do for a living; they’ve already shared links to their favourite websites, songs and TV programmes, and swapped pictures of their pets, friends, family and genitals.
So now, when I see Tinderella walk in to meet a nervous Prince Swiperight I hope it works out. I hope that this is the start of something beautiful and that they will forever think fondly of my pub; that they will return one day and tell whoever is behind the bar about their first date and maybe even mention the landlord who served them their first drink.
Of course we see the other side of it too, and the flip-side of romance can actually be more profitable. We’re a refuge for the jilted and peddle solace to the cheated-on and broken hearted. We’re a cure for the loneliness of the halfway-flat for the recently single, and tonight we’ll see those that are marginalised by the annual outpouring of affection, we’ll talk to them, get them drunk and say goodbye to them as they head home to cheer themselves up by sending pictures of their penis to strangers.
But at the end of the day pubs deal in pleasure, and some of my deepest pride in being a publican has come from seeing people get together a bar’s width away. Sometimes it’s people you’ve introduced or employed. I’ve known people who’ve met in my pub. Seen them celebrate their engagement, their wedding and the birth of their children.
In a way relationships define pubs and what we offer: we’re here for the singleton needing an ear, the Plenty of Fisher angling for a hook-up and the old couple’s routine stout and sherry. We’re the oldest dating site around and we’re here for life, but maybe not for Valentine’s.