Saturday, 24 August 2013

A "Quiet" Drink at Dartford Working Men's Club

This post was supposed to be about last weekend’s visit to Dartford Working Men’s Club (DWMC), and to a large extent it is, but before detailing the excellent range of beers on sale there, I want to pick up on a fairly recent post by Curmudgeon, titled “Pint Size”. The post was about poorly behaved children in pubs, but many readers seemed to take it as being “anti-child”, rather than “anti-badly behaved child”. It attracted a large number of comments and also a fair amount of criticism, from a coalition of “yummy mummies”, and so-called “progressive thinkers” (trendy liberal types), with people accusing the writer of living in the past and being a miserable old git. Now, having witnessed at first hand the disruption these badly-behaved little treasures/little horrors and their parents can cause, I fully sympathise with Curmudgeon’s view that children have their places, but a pub isn’t one of them.

For pub, also read club, as our visit to DWMC last Saturday was certainly marred, although not completely spoiled by a group of uncaring parents/carers letting one of their “little darlings/out of control brats” run riot, seemingly not bothered by the effect their off-spring was having on the rest of the drinkers in the club. Before going any further, I’m not exactly sure where the law stands with regard to children in clubs. Clubs are after all, private establishments with entry restricted to members and their guests, so the restrictions which apply to children in pubs may not be appropriate for clubs. 

From the beer lover’s point of view, DWMC is well worth a visit as it is a former CAMRA Club of the Year Winner. Beer-wise it is easy to see why the club won this award. I’m not quite certain how many different ales were on tap when we called in, but those I noticed, which were the ones we tried, were in tip-top form. The bar staff were knowledgeable and friendly and offered tastings to those of us who were unfamiliar with a particular brew. I enjoyed both the 3.9% Art Nouveau from Art Brew, plus Magic Rock’s Rapture, a 4.6% Red Hop Ale. A couple of my companions also enjoyed Shepherd Neame’s retro-style India Pale Ale, which I wrote about here, but I wasn’t aware the brewery had made it available on draught.

No complaints with the beer then, but before we go any further I have a confession to make. I don’t like clubs; never have and from what I am still seeing, I never will. To me they are a quintessential Northern thing, full of ex-miners and brass band members totally out of place down here in the “soft south”. Like glorified airport departure lounges, superficially comfortable but completely lacking atmosphere, character and soul! Give me a pub any day!

To return to the main point of the post,  last weekend’s visit was marred by an obnoxious brat charging up and down between the tables, screeching at the top of his voice, whilst his chav-like parents/ carers (not much caring going on there!), carried on with their socialising/swigging lager and alco-pops out of bottles. Ironically, just behind where we were sitting, there was prominent notice displayed on the wall asking parents to keep their children under control. The notice went on to warn that failure to comply with this request would result in the said offenders being asked to leave the club, and may even lead to their being barred.

Well we saw precious evidence of this perfectly reasonable ruling being enforced. In fact we saw none at all! My friends and I were guests in the club and as such felt it inappropriate to complain about what was going on. Instead we were hoping that other members present might say something, but so far as we noticed, not a word was said. When I say “guests” I mean it in the loosest sense of the word, as upon our arrival, and subsequent ringing of the doorbell, we were let straight in without being asked to sign the guest book, show our CAMRA membership cards or any other from of identification/qualification that should, if rules were to be followed correctly, permit us entry. We are obviously unfamiliar with the way DWMC operates, but if it allows unrestricted admission to complete strangers like us, presumably they are not unduly strict with any other Tom, Dick or Harry who wants to wander in off the streets for a cut-price pint! I would therefore question as to whether the group causing all the hassle were even members or not?

Before going any further I would like to say that it is not the child’s fault for behaving in this way. Children need to let off steam, especially if they are hyped up on a diet of junk food and fizzy drinks. Letting this “little darling” run round the local park would have been a more sensible, and productive way, to spend a Saturday afternoon. It would also have allowed those of us present in the club to enjoy our drinks in peace. However, when dealing with selfish and basically ignorant people who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, and who seem totally oblivious to the effect their behaviour might have on others, what does one expect?

Finally, I am surprised as to how the club manages to shift all this cask ale and keep in tip top condition. I say this because apart from ourselves, I didn’t really notice anyone else drinking the real ales. In fact, whilst at the bar, a group of three blokes, probably ten or so years older than me, were ordering pints of Foster’s Top! I really do despair at times at the taste (or lack of it) of the great British public!


Curmudgeon said...

To be precise, the post you refer to was actually a reproduction of an article by Keith Wildeman which originally appeared in Doghouse magazine, although I don't dissent from his conclusions.

In the past, the law governing children in clubs was a lot looser than that for pubs.

Paul Bailey said...

Sorry for the confusion; I didn't read the introduction to your post properly, this time around, although I remember it now from when I originally read it.

I imagine the law regarding children in clubs hasn't changed, and that it's still pretty lax compared to pubs. No excuse for this sort of mis-behaviour though.

Martin, Cambridge said...

I've generally been disappointed by the beer quality in many clubs in the Beer Guide (which the DWMC isn't as yet), reflecting a preference for lager and JS smooth despite the evangelism of the club steward. Art Brew and Magic rock are rare in Kent, never mind Dartford.

I share your and Curmudgeon's perspective on uncontrolled children in pubs, but I very rarely see them in my many pub visits (Crown Carveries aside). Children in clubs, apart from a few sports clubs like the excellent Whitchurch one, have been very rare.

Nice blog, by the way

RedNev said...

Licensed premises are suitable for children only for a meal or for a brief visit. They get bored after a while and it's very selfish of parents not to leave before that happens: selfish to their children and to other customers.

Curmudgeon said...

Couldn't agree more, Nev, but say that to some people and you find yourself accused of being the moral equivalent of the Childcatcher, as we saw in the comments to that blogpost.

Chris Emma said...

Clubs are definitely not ONLY a northern thing. I had one as my local for years when I lived in Billericay. Also, there was another I frequented while I was working in Basildon for a good few years. It all depends on the community they are situated in and how well supported they are... if they are well used then I don't see why they shouldn't be commercially successful.

If there are signs which say that parents who don't control their children will be asked to leave then you should take the problem up with the staff (not the parents), who are being PAID to deal with such issues. If you don't give staff the opportunity to take action then you don't really have grounds to whine about it no action being taken. Even if you are only a 'guest' you are still a paying customer and once you've been admitted on to the premises then you have every right to ask them to uphold their rules/guidelines. Same goes for the poorly behaved customers (the adults, not the kids), whether they are members or not has nothing to do with how they are expected to behave.

Why did you think you would need to show your CAMRA cards to gain entry to a members club? Winning a CAMRA award doesn't turn a pub or club into a CAMRA-owned/managed pub or club, does it? Generally you would expect to be signed in by an existing member of the club. However, it wouldn't surprise me that clubs allow people in off the streets without being signed in because they probably want to custom and are happy to take their money no matter who they are.

The bottom line is, as always, it is not children per se who should be banned from pubs or clubs. It is adults who do not behave appropriately (i.e. in making sure their kids behave/keeping their kids entertained instead of just abandoning responsibility for them). Blame should be directed where it is deserved - at antisocial adults.

Paul Bailey said...

Martin – Thank you for your kind comment about my blog. I know exactly what you mean by “The evangelism of the club steward”, and whilst I wish all power to their collective elbows, the praiseworthy enthusiasm of club stewards for decent beer, is often not matched by that of the members who drink there. (As witnessed by the requests for “Fosters Tops”!)
Like you, I don’t often come across troublesome children in pubs; the exception being my local JDW. Fortunately it is a fairly large establishment, and thus easy to escape to somewhere a bit quieter.

Nev – Even the best-behaved children get bored in licensed premises, and I fully agree the fault lies with the parents in expecting them to sit there, for hours on end, whilst they socialise with their friends. I have seen this happen quite a lot, particularly in restaurants where, unlike in a pub, there is much less opportunity to move away to another part of the building. I would also say, it is the more well-heeled “yummy mummy” types and their “modern man” partners who are the main culprits here, rather than the people at the opposite end of the social spectrum we encountered last weekend,

Curmudgeon – I’m still waiting for the backlash from the “righteous”- mustn’t criticise the “childreen” must we?

Chris Emma – I stand by what I said about clubs. Perhaps you have been lucky with the ones you found in Essex, but in this part of Kent clubs seem to be dying on their feet. Two, quite substantial clubs have closed here in Tonbridge within the last decade, and even the Royal British Legion Club is struggling to attract new members.
The only reason my friends and I thought CAMRA cards would gain us entry to the club was that most clubs which feature in the Good Beer Guide, and I accept here that DWMC isn’t one of them, have the words “For entry, show CAMRA membership card, or a copy of this Guide”, somewhere in the description of the establishment. We are certainly not conceited enough to think that being CAMRA members affords us some kind of special treatment!
As for complaining; well I’m afraid it’s that old British thing of not liking to make a fuss. Yes, I have moaned about the event afterwards, on this blog no less, but as I said in the post, we weren’t really certain where we stood here.
Finally, I of course agree with your summing up that it’s the parents who are to blame, and not the children, and I did try to put that point across myself in the post.

Curmudgeon said...

If you start complaining about the behaviour of other customers, it's far more likely to be you that's chucked out than them.

If you don't like it, you just have to vote with your feet.

Paul Bailey said...

Curmudgeon - Precisely!

Cooking Lager said...

I don’t think anyone was defending badly behaved children, only stating that a publican is running a business where he can appeal to and accept the custom he wishes. I have never seen kids in a pub after 8pm, but this bank holiday Monday I expect many families will enjoy family friendly pubs for an informal reasonably priced lunch. There are also pubs which do not let kids in. Your choice is to frequent the pubs you wish to, knowing their offer and clientele. Asking that pubs be the sole preserve of yourselves and people like you, and asking for families to be unwelcome is an unreasonable request. Asking for this on the basis of one poorly managed working mans club is bizarre. Find a place you like, avoid the ones you don’t.

Curmudgeon said...

Clearly it's entirely reasonable for children to be admitted to "family dining" pubs which are restaurants in all but name anyway. And, in general, you don't tend to find children in wet-led boozers even when they are not officially barred.

The conflict comes when pubs are trying to combine the two roles. In my experience it is a particular problem in Wetherspoon's, which also tend to be pretty open-plan.

To my mind, even under the current legislation, pubs could and should make more effort to have separate areas where children are welcome, and which are adults-only.

To its credit, one dining pub I know has a split down the middle and under-11s are only admitted to one half.

And, as I said in the original thread, why isn't there the same clamour to admit children to betting shops?

RedNev said...

I like children and I have absolutely no objection to them being in pubs. However, if a child is badly behaved, it is usually because he or she is bored. If you love your children, why would you keep them for lengthy periods of time in a place where they are bored silly? If you do that, it's you who are being unfair to the children, not other customers who object to the disturbance. Yes, by all means take your children to pubs that allow them in, but as soon as their behaviour shows they've had enough, it's time to go.

Now that's not so hard, is it?

Chris Emma said...

If you're planning on voting with your feet anyway, then what's to lose by asking the staff to uphold their side of the bargain and take the action they promise?

Voting with your feet and then complaining about it to other people afterwards is passive and will never make any progress toward addressing the issue.

I'm a big fan of voting with my feet too. But I'm also a fan of communication and of getting my money's worth. If management claim they will take action against parents who let their kids run riot, then hold them to it. If they fob you off then you can still vote with your feet AND slam them for it afterwards (using whatever medium you see fit) fully justified in doing so - since you gave them the opportunity to resolve the problem.


Paul Bailey said...

"If you're planning on voting with your feet anyway, then what's to lose by asking the staff to uphold their side of the bargain?"

Basically Emma, the potential for a load of unpleasantness which I really don't want at any time, let alone on what in the main was an enjoyable day out. (We had been to the Caveman Brewery at Swanscombe, prior to calling in at the DWMC).

You are right in what you say, and I will grant you the morale high-ground on this issue, but in these sort of situations, especially as I've no intention of visiting the club again, discretion really is the better part of valour!

Nick Byram said...

such a shame you have made such sweeping comments on 1 brief visit. As you said in your article you dont like clubs and although you have tried to be level in your opinions, it does appear biased. I am only sorry i wasnt there on the day of your visit, because im sure your you would of left with a totally different view. I and the club do not allow bad behaviour from children or adults.
I have spent the last 30 years building up this club from an almost bankrupt with debts of over £50,000 to the club it is today. Totally refurbished, full disabled facilities, waiting list for membership, 15 real ales on at all times, and with a current account with over £250000 in it. so all in all it cant be that bad. Such a shame your isolated visit has created such web traffic.
yours sincerely
Nick Byram