PUBS & CLUBS

Let’s get back to the Boozer

Don’t drink home alone – it’s anti-social behaviour

Responsibly! It’s the new buzz word of advertising. Drink responsibly; gamble responsibly; put your own verb in front but, whatever it is, do it in a sensible manner.

There’s nothing wrong with advertising encouraging us to act in a trustworthy and reasonable way. Indeed, it’s laudable.

But I find it ironic that brewers and bookies seem obliged to include slogans in their ads that are, at face value, very much at odds with their desire for increased profitability. I would bet good money (responsibly, of course) that they would prefer not to have to include such messages.

Drink responsibly, but do drink. Gamble responsibly, but please lose.

So where am I heading with this? Well, at the risk of sounding irresponsible, I want to get you back into your local pub. Drink responsibly when you are there.

But, drink there as opposed to at home (more in a moment). Otherwise, as a society, we face a situation of “use it or lose it”.

Regular visitors to this site will be aware that I deplored the loss of our boozers in an article which concentrated on the Old Kent Road. Every week throughout the UK we are losing 14 pubs, though that is down compared with the rate of 18 a week in 2018.

I don’t have completely up-to-date figures for London. But, overall, it’s not a pretty picture, especially for small pubs with fewer than 10 staff. Between 2001 and 2017 small pubs declined from a high of 3,500 down to 1,680 – less than half, according to research from the GLA. However, during that time the big pubs were getting bigger – up from around 1,500 to 1,850. That’s still a net loss of close to 1,300.

What’s behind this decline? Well, here’s three possible ‘L’s.

1 Less. We are drinking less. Probably no bad thing. But we are buying more alcohol from supermarkets and other outlets and drinking it at home. Stop this – please. It’s killing the social fabric of society. Drinking at home alone is reducing our social interaction. In our contactless payment, Oyster card society we are talking less to others. Shopping online means we don’t speak to shop assistants any more. Sadly, it is possible to pass our days in one of the most densely populated cities in the world without actually talking to anyone. Think on.

2 Levies. Business rates are killing small high street businesses. That’s all of them, not just pubs. These rates can be addressed if there is the political will. Taxes on booze don’t help too much, either. Though Brexit (managed to write 10 paragraphs without mentioning it) may change matters and allow smaller levies to be raised. Landlords hope this might level out some of the differences between what you pay at the jump compared with what you pay at the checkout.

3 Laws. Stricter enforcement of drink-drive laws in recent years. I’m not planning to say anything anti. It needed to be done. My lad and his mates take it in turns to be the designated driver. One night on the diet Coke, but four others where he can drink what he wants (responsibly). If you drink indoors and invite mates around, you risk annoying the neighbours if things get boisterous.

An autonomous vehicle concept from Panasonic includes an AR (augmented reality) cockpit with the travellers facing each other.

As an aside, I wonder how the advent of automated cars will be interpreted in relation to drink-driving in years to come. I’ll elaborate a little. We are headed – several years hence – to a time when, say, four people will be able to travel in a vehicle with no wheel to be steered, no indicators to be flicked, no one driving! I suppose the offence of “drunk in charge” will still exist. But, who can say who is in charge of the vehicle when there is no obvious driver?

Would it be possible for all the travellers in the vehicle to consume alcohol in excess of the current limits without risking prosecution? If the answer turns out to be “yes” could that be the long-term saving of pubs?

Opinions differ wildly about when totally autonomous driving will become the norm. It is not just around the corner, that’s for certain, but it is actively being worked on as I write this.

I wish to make it clear that I am not suggesting for a moment that large corporates are looking to develop autonomous vehicles so people can drink more! But it might be an interesting by-product of their efforts.

However, I digress. Let’s get back to the current plight of our friendly boozers. I use the word “friendly” deliberately. They are places to meet and make friends. If the pubs keep disappearing we will find ourselves going online for just about everything.

Sure, this is a website. We love online, but it doesn’t have to replace everything. It’s bad enough that people gather in pubs then spend ages on their phones rather than talking. But, at least they are keeping their locals alive.

Boarded up – the Hope & Anchor in Mornington Cresent. Picture: derelictlondon.com

Back in 1960 a song came out by Max Bygraves (ask your dad/mum/granddad/grandma) called Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be. It had this line in its lyrics: Once our beer was froffy, but now it’s froffy coffee. It was true back then, but even more so now. In the same period we lost 1,300 pubs we gained 6,000 coffee houses and restaurants.

Meet a mate or mates down the pub. Let’s stop the slow death of a social institution – the local inn. Back to the Boozer!

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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