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As the third pint poured and the time ticked past 5, the guilt began to set in. The familiar spot on the bar represented a tainted area, surrounded by metaphorical barrier tape marking out the required quarantine. This one was to be the last. Or maybe the next one. Maybe they’ll be time for one more after that. But then it should be time to do the right thing.

Then the decision was made for everybody anyway.

In one announcement, the social diary was wiped away, like a cloth to a whiteboard. The decision as to whether to have a pint after work. The decision as to where to meet a friend on a Thursday evening. The decision as to how to spend a weekend. Gone. Taken for us.

The reasoning was sensible and the decision the correct one, but whilst the supermarket shelves emptied the hollowness set in. As people cried solidarity the walls began to soften.

There were comments near criticising anybody saddened by the turn of events – “you can go a few weeks without the pub, unless you have a problem” – showing the ignorance and aggression widely associated with social media.

It is missed and it is irreplaceable; for those who crave sociability or for those of us who live life as the latter stages of a game of Jenga, frail and prone to fall with each block removed.

First they took the sport; the bastion of banal conversation. Then the prospect of work closing began; the routine and the forced geniality. At the sound of the last orders bell, the one piece left holding the tower was being removed. Where do you go when the day at work has been tough or you need to cool down after an argument or you just want that warming sense of familiarity, both in beer form and in the habitat? Why were these closures so devastating?  

Often the solitude is enough; the environment brings the joy. It can be a solitary drink with a book, or a laptop or just a browse through the day’s social media. The weight of a thousand sorrows and burdens feels lifted when the bar stool takes it and the first beer is in front of you.

The familiar faces that come and go don’t even need to strike up conversation, just provide a courteous nod. There is comfort in familiarity even if it doesn’t burgeon into lifelong friendships.

Though that can occur too; the people you don’t text to meet up with but are often just there, waiting, hoping that you’ll stick your head in too, like my good friend lost last year. Others have formed their groups too; the lost souls who have garnered quite a friendship circle.

There are even the faces you look forward to seeing, hoping that they’ll be in today. Little, daily, unspoken jolts of excitement that lift the darkest of moods. 

And often it need be none of those things. It just needs to be there, waiting as an option that you can ignore. Not today thanks but it was nice to know that, should the tide turn or an opportunity arise, it is waiting, like a room of requirement ready to morph into the quiet office space or cooling down chamber or social backdrop that you need.

This is friendship or socialising of a different ilk. This is a unique place. It can’t be replicated over a laptop screen, or a bar stool in the garden shed or on the sofa with Game of Thrones on.

Every business trying to survive the weeks or months ahead with a different strategy deserves credit and respect. Within the bubbles, however, it can be easy to forget the important existence of places that can offer no such alternative; the sanctuaries ignored by those that want takeaway fridges full of choice or sixteen handpumps. With no alternative, their route to survival is limited. The people that frequented them are equally as important.

There are landlords/managers trying to keep in contact with their vulnerable regulars, even from pubs that they don’t work in any more. Whilst people praise an online beer community, the real world citizens are coming together to keep people in check.

And you don’t just need to appear be infirm or frail to be at risk by these changes. There are many who use those public spaces to keep the tower standing upright. Without it, the isolation takes hold that little more, beyond boredom or wanderlust.

There is deserved respect using modern technology to continue a community. Metaphorical hats tipped and glasses clinked to all. That positivity will hopefully fill the void, even for those that cannot find the true replacement. Everybody is indeed in it together but, for some, the isolation feels that little stronger. When your tower is built on three supporting columns torn away in a matter of days, it is likely to fall.

Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay loving.


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