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Monday, 6 July 2020

Death of the pub?

I gave up pubs eight years ago along with the drink. I used to love them. I've been in a few, sober, during that time. I feel uncomfortable in most of them. I feel uncomfortable amongst drunk people who feel it is their right to say and do what they wouldn't say or do without alcohol. I was not innocent in using that crutch, myself.

But I really do miss good pubs, and the great craic, I had in quite a few. 
{In a pub nr Stirling circa 1994/5}

Pubs are rooms that have a small, dangerous, amount of people who are self medicating trauma and abuse, whether that be personal or societal. They can be awful places. Wetherspoons is the most recent phenomena that has taken advantage of people who are self medicating. I've been in a few of those both drinking and sober, and I've found them to be the opposite of the intimate, friendly places pubs used to be. There are a few, here in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, that retain the atmosphere of a welcoming place for  interesting chat. A few. 
{Pubs were part of my life from an early age...} 

One of my favourite writers about pubs, is Jeffrey Barnard. His love for his local, The Coach and Horses, was legendary, to the point were after a couple of failed moves out of London, he settled in a flat close to his favourite place. But then, his drinking pals were Tom Baker, Frances Bacon, Brendan Behan, John Le Mesurier amongst others (and amongst interesting, damaged in many ways, people who were far from famous). The craic, as we used to say after a good night's drinking and chat and tears and  laughter was, "90."
{Impressing the girls in a pub in Gran Canaria, circa 1987}

The pubs I liked, as a young person, really were the places of craic and the acceptance of a huge range of difference. People might think that is odd coming from someone who was brought up and lived in segregated Northern Ireland ... But there were many pubs like that there. The whole "golden mile" in Belfast was like that. Even some pubs in my mid ulster Town were like that. Pubs and clubs were melting pots of unionist, Loyalist, nationalist and republican (though they had their exclusionary premises too). And I pub crawled all over Ireland, throughout Europe (one such crawl was over a period of a month, through eleven countries, culminating on a beach in Corfu...), and throughout Scotland and parts of England. My adventures in pubs rarely met with violence anywhere I went (except one time in the mid - late eighties when a "friend" initiated a street riot in San Antonio, Ibiza and I was punched to the ground by an English "squaddie," busting my nose...), and a few times when I've defended girlfriends, girl friends and once poured my pint over a friend because he kept sipping from it. I have had the resulting souvenir broken tooth, unfixed, ever since. But I have never left the house for the pub or club relishing the thought of a fight. Ever. 
{Whistle Binkies, circa 1993/4}

Some English pubs are about an odd national identity. Drinking culture in most of England really was and probably still is, quite different from Irish drinking culture. A lot of it  is exclusionary. In the eighties, I visited London a lot... I found brilliant, and inclusive pubs there (including a visit to The Coach and Horses, in order to experience the "grumpiest Landlord in London"). And in Wiltshire, when I lived there, I found great ones there (I remember a brilliant one, The Bell, in Westbury, where the landlords had superb tales of a year long search across North America for a then reclusive Leonard Cohen). Outside those places, I find English pubs bedecked in Union flags, like some of those here in Scotland that reside near to orange lodges. Exclusionary, suspicious places. Places of machismo and threat. 
{Pubs that built character...} 

I think the only pubs you can feel safe in nowadays are those who have extortionate prices. Class exclusionary. So, I feel that this speaks to the abuse the working classes have undergone in the past thirty - forty years, and to the death of the old, fun, comfortable pub.

This weekend, England, Tim Martin (owner of the pub chain Wetherspoons, a chain a friend describes as "Macdonalds for alcoholics"), Boris Johnston etc, did more to kill off the pub than the coronavirus did.

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