This is the post I've been writing on and off for the past few days, and like the previous one, it has an element of social media about it. I have a Facebook account which I actually use on a fairly regular basis. The site came into its own earlier this year, when my wife was ill in hospital, as a means of updating family members of her progress, so Facebook does have its good points, if used wisely!
The other day I noticed a string of posts on the CAMRA Unofficial Facebook page, which sparked off a lengthy debate. It started with a pub landlord complaining that despite installing seven real ale pumps, and successfully promoting real ale, the only time he saw CAMRA members was when he offered them a "free session". He went on to say that, "these sessions apart", CAMRA members never visited his pub, or indeed any of the other pubs in the area, to promote or support the sale of cask ales.
Well this was a rather provocative statement and, as you can imagine, it provoked a puzzled, and at times quite angry response from a lot of CAMRA members. Most of these were along the lines of, "How do you know if CAMRA members are visiting your pub or not?", or "I love the assumption that all CAMRA members go around proclaiming their membership". Another correspondent even added, "Guess we should make it mandatory for every CAMRA member to grow a beard and wear socks & sandals".
Most CAMRA members, of course, don't wear a badge or announce they are a member, when they walk into a pub, and why would they? With this in mind it's perhaps not surprising that the comment, "CAMRA never come here," is a fairly common one. But is it justified? And why should licensees expect CAMRA members to identify themselves when they're just ordinary people out for a drink.
CAMRA has nearly 200,000 members, so it's difficult to believe a licensee's claim that his or her pub is the only one in the country they don’t drink in, but if you have decided to install hand pumps and promote real ale, has your business suffered because of it? If it hasn’t, it might seem a bit galling to think that CAMRA are ignoring all the effort and hard work you have put in, if they don’t happen to call in.
But perhaps the local CAMRA contingent do pop by from time to time, because as one contributor to the debate put it, “I love the assumption that all CAMRA members go around proclaiming their membership. I've drunk in lots of pubs and my membership status has never come up in conversation.”
Joking aside, there is a more serious side to my reticence, and that is because on those occasions where I have revealed my identity, there have been times when I’m asked questions like, “What do I have to do to get my pub into the Good Beer Guide?” Worse are those embarrassing moments where a pub has been dropped from the Guide, and I’m expected to provide an explanation.
“Sorry your beer is below par,” doesn’t feel the right thing to say; even if it happens to be true, and as selections for the GBG are made on a group basis, I don’t want to be the person who gets put on the spot by having to justify the exclusion of a pub, following what was a collective decision.
It is understandable for licensees to be upset, and many take it as a personal affront. After all their pub is their home, their livelihood and often their passion as well. Despite my desire to remain in the background, I have become known over the years, to quite a few publicans in the area, and have been made to feel rather uncomfortable under such circumstances.
I’ve even had one landlord message me on WhatsApp, asking why his pub had been dropped from the guide. Even worse though, is having to listen to a landlord blaming the failure of his pub directly on CAMRA’s decision to drop it from the Good Beer Guide. A friend suffered a similar experience with the landlord of another pub. Deflecting the blame for the failure of your business, onto CAMRA may seem an easy option, but did the Campaign make that much of a difference to your beer sales?
Both pubs were dropped from the Guide for the simple reason that their beer quality failed to meet the standard expected. Both had too many pumps on the bar, and there was insufficient trade to ensure an adequate turnover of all these beers.Both pubs have been converted into private dwellings, which would have fetched considerably more then they would have done as pubs, so the real losers here would have been the local community and not the individual licensees. CAMRA was nothing more than a convenient “whipping boy”.
It can be fun being a CAMRA member folks, but it’s also worth remembering it isn’t all beer and skittles, and neither is it all cakes and ale!