Pub Curmudgeon’s site. Mudge, as he is often referred to, was lamenting the decline of the pub; that much-loved, and occasionally maligned gift from these islands to the rest of the world.
Despite having a bit of a pop at beer writers for subconsciously helping to demoralise pub-going, (you need to read Mudge’s post to see what I am getting at), the common theme running through the article was people just don’t go the pub in either the ways or the numbers they once did.
I never was a fan of having a few pints straight after work, on the way home; preferring instead to get indoors, change out my work-clothes and then get tucked into my dinner, before any thoughts of a drink enter my head. The other reason for not stopping for a “swift one” on the way home is, there is no such thing as “a quick pint”, as a single pint often has the habit of turning into several, but the main reason is that I have only once had the luxury of working within walking distance of my home. All other jobs I have held, including my present position, have necessitated me driving there.
|Man of Kent, Tonbridge - scene of many a lunchtime pint, back in the day|
Although I was married with a mortgage, my other commitments weren’t particularly onerous. My then wife earned twice what I did, and I wasn’t exactly underpaid either. We were both regular pub-goers, and most evenings we could be found out for a drink in one of several Maidstone pubs; the town we lived in at the time.
|Harvey's Brewery Shop - Lewes|
Working in Lewes did have a number of attractions, the not least of which was the Harvey’s Brewery Shop. Situated in Cliffe High Street, just in front of the brewery itself, the shop offered several draught beers for customers to take away in their own containers. I found a four pint container to be sufficient and, providing it was kept in a cool place, the contents lasted over a two day period.
I became a regular visitor to the Harvey’s Shop, where I was always addressed quite politely, and properly, as "Mr Bailey"! I even received preferential treatment. I was also treated to sneak previews and tastings of new brews, or special commemorative ales. In short I was treated with that "old-fashioned" politeness and civility which is so sadly missing from much of the retail trade today.
I digress, and there’s obviously been a lot of other changes both in my life and circumstances, as well as with society in general, since those days back in the early 1990’s. Fast forward to 2017 and state retirement age is now just four years away. With our son now in his mid-twenties, and just a couple of years left on the mortgage, my domestic responsibilities are certainly far less onerous, than they once were, but work-wise it’s a different matter.
I am fortunate in so far that my company does not operate a “no drinking” policy at lunchtimes but, as I’m sure I’ve referred to previously on this blog, anything more than a pint at lunchtime, definitely impacts on my work output in the afternoon. I feel sleepy, "post lunchtime walk", at the best of times, so a couple of pints of beer would, more than likely, see me slumped over my desk. This is obviously not the way companies would wish their employees to behave, and without sounding too sanctimonious over this, I certainly don’t want to carry on in this manner either.
Attracting the food trade is of paramount importance, particularly for rural pubs, where the lack of viable public transport links often means people have to drive to these pubs. Whereas people may have once turned a blind eye to “drinking and driving”, today it is socially unacceptable. Country pubs therefore need to offer something more than the opportunity of downing a few pints, in order to stay in business. Some have faced criticism by placing too much emphasis on the food trade, and where a pub starts to resemble a restaurant, and casual drinkers are made to feel unwelcome, this criticism is justified. But there is a happy medium, as many successful country pubs are able to demonstrate.
I appreciate such places serve a purpose, but the preponderance of pubs locally, following this tired old formula is one of the main reasons I rarely go for a drink in Tonbridge these days; despite the improvement in my financial circumstances.
There are other reasons, of course, for the decline in pub-going and in the number of pubs. Curmudgeon and others, keep citing the smoking ban, which is now approaching its 10th anniversary. I have mixed views on the subject, as I feel that rather than an out and out ban, pubs which still had multiple rooms, should have been allowed to set one aside specifically for the use of smokers. This would have worked, especially with the modern and highly efficient smoke extractors which were available at the time.
But keeping things in moderation and trying to strike a balance between enjoyment and staying healthy, has to be the way forward; not just for me but for an increasing number of the population. If this approach has been responsible for the decline of the great British Pub, then I make no apologies for my part in it. Instead I see a healthy future for those pubs which have managed to adapt and which offer something a little different from bland international “brands”, produced on an industrial basis and pumped out by the gallon in characterless and soul-less bars but, as with everything, that’s just my opinion!