Friday, 31 March 2017

Giving ground

A point I have often made on here in the past is that a key reason for the decline in pubgoing is changing attitudes to alcohol. Whereas once it was seen as normal for moderate drinking to be woven into the fabric of everyday life, we have become increasingly censorious about it, and it is now coming to be seen as something that has to be ringfenced from all responsible activity.

Many of the drinkers who used to be in pubs, and are no longer, especially at lunchtimes and early evenings, would be going on to do something else later. It was part of their routine. They weren’t kicking back once all cares could be set aside.

This change in attitudes is often reflected in remarks made by beer writers, and in comments left on blogs. For example, on one blog, someone recently wrote “I study part-time outside of work so most weekdays I have to delay my evening drink until concentration is no longer required” and was rather aggrieved when I suggested that such attitudes were contributing to the decline in pubs. I’m sure in the past many people have successfully studied at home with a glass at hand, but obviously this person doesn’t feel comfortable with it.

You frequently read people making comments such as:

  • “One pint at lunchtime and I’m good for nothing all afternoon”.
  • “I never drink at lunchtimes”.
  • “I really can’t concentrate if I’ve had a drink.”
  • “I never touch a drop if I’m driving.”
  • “I never drink on a school night.”
Now, I would strongly defend everyone’s right to make their own decisions as to how to live their lives and not be browbeaten by others. Nobody should be urged to have a drink if they don’t feel happy about it. And I can’t claim personally to make a huge contribution to the success of pubs – for example, over the past seven days, I have drunk precisely seven pints in pubs.

But I can’t help finding it a touch ironic that the same people who are lamenting the decline of pubs are at the same time exhibiting the attitudes and lifestyle traits that have contributed to bringing it about.

26 comments:

  1. Pubs have been pretty bad at adapting to the new consumer base that wants soft drinks, coffee's & tend to be behind the curve and playing catch up on trends.

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    1. Maybe but do the people who drink coffee (skimmed milk and no apostrophe for me, I’m on a diet) want to drink it in a pub? Alcohol is being de-normalised by the public health brigade so visiting a pub even for coffee might be frowned upon by some. Then, there is the danger that going in that direction may alienate their traditional customers.

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    2. Yet the coffee shops sell wine

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    3. I thought they'd tried that but abandoned the experiment, at least in the UK.

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  2. The Blocked Dwarf31 March 2017 at 17:04

    I can’t help finding it a touch ironic that the same people

    about as ironic as anti-smoker politicians bewailing the death of the British Pub.

    But as I have said before, I live on the main-ish ,medieval, street of a small market town. In my street there were at least 5 pubs (or 4 pubs and a gin palace) all of which closed long before the smoking ban.

    I have often wondered why. Obviously lack of custom is the simple answer, but what caused that lack of custom? Lack of money? Unlikely as it has, at least since the time of Cobbett, always been damn near 'free' to brew beer at home. A change in attitudes towards drinking? Perhaps, certainly within the last 20 years that is the case, as you say. But what about those pubs which closed long before people got so uptight about how many calories in a pint and was it brewed from Genetically modified malt?
    Personally I think it might have been the Rise Of Free Time. Great Granddaddy Dwarf came back from the Water Mill every day having spent the time 'from sun to sun' lugging sacks of flour up stairs (ie ladders) that would make a modern health and safety inspector condemn the entire village as 'unfit'. Beyond eating his evening meal, beating his wife and the dog, the only thing he had any energy for of an evening would have been to go down the pub to top up on the bottled, porcelain stoppered, beer that his wife had gotten from the pub that afternoon so he could wash down his Cabbage & Sugar Beet Turnover. A few pints before bed time except on Friday evenings when he would have drunk enough to face the thought of creating another mouth to feed later that night (or maybe perhaps drinking so much so that he couldn't? Beer -the French Letter of the Rural Poor!).

    Then something called 'Free Time', coupled with 'spare money' happened. The allotment ceased to be a survival question and became a hobby. Great Granddad started to enjoy listening to them there toffs blathering away on them Nuuuu Fangled Wireless thingys of an evening, or reading a book from the Public Library. Granddad started to find he had enough energy, cash and time to do things of an evening besides getting mildly sloshed (ale-the ibuprofen of the Rural Poor).
    As anyone knows who has suddenly gone from working 12 hour shifts to 8 , it totally changes your day and outlook....as it did in my case going from 12 to 16 hour shifts.
    There are simply 'better things to do' than having a jar with your mates of an evening.

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    1. By gin palace I thought you meant the large ornate Victorian type of pub with mirrors and etched glass but I checked anyway on Wikipedia: it mentioned Baker's Vaults in Stockport as a fine example. Is that still true after its refurbishment?

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    2. The Blocked Dwarf31 March 2017 at 18:50

      @KJP No idea about that place in 'Stockport'. As a proud Englishman I never have any call to go Geordie Land ('Geordie Land' being anywhere north of Watford Gap ). Did those geordies of that place betwixt Scotland and England ever discover the sweet spirit of genièvre ? Did they ever realize one might use Juniper berries for something more than procuring abortions in whippets?

      I've only seen very old photos of the outside of the Gin Palace in my street, as this is Norfolk I doubt it would have had ornate mirrors, Norfolk complexions not being something traditionally regarded as something one might want to gaze at... you can only see so many flat foreheads and dribbling open mouths.

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    3. The Baker's Vaults still has a high ceiling, but unfortunately after its refurbishment for some reason has very few seats. I wouldn't say it ever really qualified as a "gin palace".

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    4. TBD - I wrote this piece about It was clear well before July 2007 that the British pub was already in a long-term structural decline. But the modern peak of the pub trade was in 1979, which is well after ordinary people gained plenty of leisure time. I blame Fatcher.

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    5. My comment was really an invitation for Curmudgeon to reply. Having seen the exterior on What?ub I think I have to agree. Gin palace was rather a misnomer as the gin period had passed and was sold in rather mean establishments anyway.
      I must commend the people who do the write-ups in that area; they are far more comprehensive than those I’ve seen for other areas.
      As for Norfolk, my grandfather came from South Creek. Must go there - some wonderful family names: Rosanna, Ephraim Jubilee, Orpah (Oprah Winfrey’s actual name) and Hagar (a woman not a Viking man). Pretty Old Testament stuff.

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    6. KJP - thanks for the kind words. The chap who does it certainly takes the job seriously.

      I'd say in the North-West somewhere like the Vines in Liverpool is a better example of the classic "gin palace" - very ornate décor both inside and out, extensive use of mirrors, etc.

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  3. Another problematic attitude could be a refusal to adapt to a changed reality and a narrow fixation on a fading nostalgia.

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    1. Really not sure what you're on about there. The changed reality is that people, as a whole, go to pubs less often, and on fewer types of occasion. Pubs have adapted to that by closing en masse. No idea how individuals are supposed to adapt.

      All I'm saying is that people who write and comment about pubs are not immune from the general social trends that have led to their decline.

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  4. Interesting one, this. I know from experience that I can get stuff done perfectly well after a pint at lunchtime, even two if I don't need to be at peak performance levels. But I almost never do - because nobody does; I wouldn't just be going for a drink at lunchtime, I'd be sloping off for a drink on my own, and it would carry a distinct suggestion of needing a drink.

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    1. Well, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If nobody else is doing it then you don't do it either.

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  5. I read an article by Martyn Cornell that said pubs had been shutting since 1900 at various and sometimes quite high rates. Asquith in maybe1908 put this down to just “too many pubs”: and this is the basic problem. Too many pubs for the volume of demand. Other things came along to replace them as places where you wanted to spend your free time: pubs are quite resilient to recessions actually. First it was the wireless, then TV, then ITV and more comfortable homes too. Now there is the internet: so young people, who don’t seem to want to drink anyway, can meet up online. Pubs are not so important for the younger generation and yes, smokers like me go less often and stay for less time.

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  6. Surely the increasing availability of alcohol outside pubs and at much lower prices must be a significant factor. In my village there are five or six pubs but also two off-licences, a convenience store selling booze and now both the newsagent and the post office are selling beer and wine. But, curiously, you can't get a stamp or a newspaper at either of the offies.

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    1. Availability reflects demand; it doesn't create it. And off-trade alcohol sales have flatlined in recent years anyway.

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    2. The Blocked Dwarf1 April 2017 at 11:47

      Town where I used to live had two Offies, now it has none...both closed since 07. Yet the large (by Norfolk standards) almost-out-of-town supermarkets have both been selling cheap alcohol for years, as does the smaller one in town. I sometimes wonder if the Smoking ban also caused the decline in the Offy...if only because Offies tended to sell a lot of cigarettes. Maybe the smoking ban meant that those smokers who stop going to pubs as much simply got all their booze from Tesco for convenience/price.
      All I know is that since 07 it gets harder to find either an Offy or a pub and cafes seem to change hands at an almost alarming rate. The cafe next door having had 4 sets of owners in the 4 years we've been here.
      Legiron (and Frank D) ruminated on the more subtle effects, unintended consequences, of the smoking ban on the high street and they may be right.

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    3. Not always, 'Mudge. The huge increase in wine drinking in the eighties was driven by a combination of determined advertising by the importers and the relaxation of the rules restricting its sale in supermarkets. I certainly don't recall there been a great clamour for more wine being obediently met by the vendors. And the recent vaping surge doesn't seem to have been demand led.

      And my experience in my large village in the Peak District is very different to Dwarf's. The number of off trade outlets has been substantially constant over the thirty odd years I have lived here. The closure of a few corner shops which sold alcohol being matched by other outlets - newsagents, post office - stocking booze.

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  7. Maybe the qurstion should be asked "What is the point of a pub?" with that you might discover whether it has a current relevance or whether it is something of the past.

    I gather for some the point is "It's sells beer we approve of", hence why those businesses that sell beer for home consumption at lower cost are labelled frowned upon/

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    1. Its a place people go to socialise and mingle. In warmer climates, a central square might do the job. In the UK, where it is cold and wet, we need somewhere inside, so we have pubs and cafes - the main difference between the two is the atmosphere: cafes are more reserved, pubs are more convivial.

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  8. Here's a thing, I have said some of the things you quote: I rarely drink on a school night (but I will sometimes), I don't drink at lunchtime unless it's a weekend or day off, and I never drink and drive, but I'd consider myself a regular pub goer: If I have a day off it would be unusual to not find me in the pub at some point- including the weekend. Of course, this would label me as a binge-drinker....

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  9. I am almost certainly one of the bloggers you refer to in your article, Mudge. However, I make no apologies for saying it like it is, because the simple fact is both people and society change. Nothing stands still in life, and things are constantly evolving; not always for the good, I grant you, but nevertheless change is both inevitable and constant – even if the rate at which it occurs is sometimes variable.

    Three and a half decades ago, when I was a happy-go-lucky young chap, it was quite normal for me to enjoy a lunchtime pint, or two. A Friday lunchtime drink was a popular and common occurrence at the company where I worked, and no-one batted an eyelid if you returned with drink on your breath. Back then I was also a regular pub-goer, and you would find me out for a drink most evenings.

    Now as I approach state retirement age, not only have my pub-going habits changed, but I drink less than I did when I began my career, back in the early 1980’s. Starting a family is a massive drain on most couple’s finances; especially when it entail the loss of one income.

    Responsibilities also increase, not just on the domestic front, but also in the workplace. For example, at the start if my career I was a humble technician, with a hands-on approach, with little in the way of financial commitments. I didn’t even own a car back then!

    Now I head up a busy department of four people, and am responsible for ensuring the quality of my company’s products throughout all stages of the supply and manufacturing chains. I am lucky, as my company does not operate a “no drinking” policy at lunchtimes, but as I’m sure I’ve referred to on my blog, anything more than a single pint at lunchtime, does impair 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 moral over this, I certainly don’t want to carry on in this manner either.

    Much as some people would like to see a return to a bucolic vision of Britain in the 1950’s, with a pub on every corner, and working men quenching their thirsts after a day toiling down the pit, or out in the fields, those days are gone.

    Accept things have changed and move on. Certainly don’t try and pin the blame on society’s changing habits on the scribblings of a handful of beer writers and bloggers.

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    1. My, you're in a grumpy and sanctimonious mood today, Paul. Did you get out of bed the wrong side? Or are you still feeling "triggered" over Article 50? ;-)

      Seriously, I have specifically not pointed the finger of blame at individuals. But it has been a repeated theme of this blog that a core reason for the decline of pubs is a fall-off in demand resulting from social change, from which beer writers and bloggers are not immune.

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    2. It wasn’t my intention to come over as grumpy Mudge, and I appreciate you weren’t pointing the finger at anyone. The point I was trying to make, perhaps not very well, was writers, like myself, are merely reflecting on the changed society we live in; a society where going to the pub on a regular basis, is no longer the norm it once was.

      I think we would all be a little too full of our own self-importance if we felt that our writings have contributed to the decline of pub-going, and the closure of many public houses.

      To end on a positive note, what isn’t generally acknowledged, is the increase in the number of alternative outlets, such as bars, beer cafés and micro-pubs. Whilst most are not pubs in the true sense of the word, they do add variety to the local drinking scene and provide a welcome change to a pub model which, in some cases, has become rather staid.

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