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Whilst my work for the Irish and German authorities* on the reopening of drinking establishments has kept me busy during lockdown, our own government has announced that pubs are allowed to reopen on the 4th July.

Many opinions and stances have emerged from this and will continue to do so for the next week and a half. Due to my lengthy post about how pubs may look back in April, including some ideas that a few establishments may be implementing, I was going to opt out of offering more conjecture to matters.

But I then clicked on a set of polls on Twitter formed by the Hopinions podcast and, as usual, reading through the replies left me itchy to respond. As I am too verbose to form these thoughts on that platform, I have decided to answer each question here, considering some of the thoughts of others.

(The Hopinions polls are still open at time of writing – add your own answers there if you wish.)

The suggestions appear to be that pubs will require names and addresses from visiting customers to ensure that tracking and tracing can be successfully carried out. As with most collections of data, people feel slightly uneasy about it.

Of course, there is the option to give a fake name and address that many will take up. Then there is the more obvious response that we should be doing everything we can to help bring the virus under control. If this system is a necessity then it would be acceptable.

The wording of the question, however, makes one aspect key to me personally – “local.” If I do return to pubs in the coming weeks, I will only be returning to the places that are my local or regular haunts. As somebody still actively avoiding public transport, I will not be going anywhere that cannot be reached either by foot or via a quick lift. Handing my information over to the people in those institutions would hardly be necessary, with most of the staff knowing my name and where I live anyway.

I can also look at the way I can be traced anyway through my own excursions. It isn’t as though I have spent my life preparing for an episode of Hunted. I post frequently on social media accounts about my whereabouts, check in beers to Untappd with location on and pay via debit card wherever I can, confirming to my bank manager that 90% of my transactions happen across the bar. If I am prepared to make myself visible so easily, then why would I object to giving this information over to further ensure public safety?

(Eagle eyed readers will notice I voted 'No' on the poll originally, as I clicked before I'd really thought about it. I've had a rethink on most of my answers.)

The joy of the pub comes from its extemporary usage, as stated in my lockdown post a few months ago "Sometimes...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

Booking removes that aspect of socialising, but that is only one facet. Whilst it isn’t how we always choose to use the pub, it is how we sometimes do. *Open Whatsapp Group with local pals.* “Anyone fancy a pint Friday night at the Grapes? Brilliant. I’ll book us in for 6pm. See you there.” It doesn’t sound too ridiculous.

“But it takes away the spontaneity of going to the pub.” Yes but it has also taken 475,000+ lives worldwide. You meant the virus, right? You remember that any of these limitations are due to the global pandemic, right?

As somebody who has tried to approach the pandemic changes of the daily routine with embrace, to control my own mental state, I find the idea of this little altered quirk rather appealing. It would bring a change of pace and excitement to quarantine proceedings to be Tweeting “Booked in at the local for 3pm Sunday for some pints of cask – cannot wait.” These changes are not forever; embrace this time whilst you can.

This is a very different question and one that will mean something else to each person.

As somebody who often goes to the pub for a solitary pint and is happy enough keeping to myself (although usually on a bar stool blocking all the pump clips) I would have no issue with people being required to keep some distance from me, though 1mtr isn’t that much when you really consider it.

What worries me is the application to many venues, especially narrow pubs with some narrow corridors. It doesn’t seem likely.

The attitudes of others has been apparent all too often during this pandemic. Personally I haven’t ventured much further than my garden gate since I began to work from home in early April and my infrequent trips to supermarkets have been a little afflicting. Whilst there are a few shoppers that, like myself, are willing to pause and wait whilst somebody checks the shelves for the tin of specific chickpeas they require, there are far too many still stretching over and grabbing their shopping first. I have found myself making lists for the supermarket, split into aisle sections so I can be in and out as quickly as possible, holding my breath as I walk around. Other humans cannot be trusted.

And as @therealbriman responded on Twitter – you can’t trust people in Supermarkets to follow massive arrows on the floor, no way can you police a 1m rule in a pub.

This one is the easiest to answer and brings me the only narcissistic joy when I read opposing views.

As somebody who, as previously stated, predominantly prefers to prop up the bar in pubs, I have no qualms when it comes to table service. The continental style may not be considered the norm in the United Kingdom but why that is an issue for others is beyond me. I consider the number of times I have expressed my joy and appreciation at a venue – and I’m sure many others have too – along the lines of “It was so great in there. They came and collected our glasses and asked if we wanted another one without us even signalling. Terrific service.”

Suddenly the real time application of that potentially causes terror to many. “That isn’t what a pub should be like.” Nah mate, it should be about becoming increasingly irritated by underpaid overworked staff having to remember every single face shouting at the bar, allowing you to write a shitty social media post about how you despise bar staff that use the phrase “Who’s next?” That’s about right isn’t it? Sit down – in fact sit down at your table and your beer will be with you shortly.

Yes I will miss propping up the bar for the time being but – as I cannot stress enough – this is not forever. Embrace the novelty. Enjoy being waited on. And if you hate it so much, look forward to the day when normal service is resumed and you are elbowing me in the face to glance an eye at every pump clip ever produced.

The placement for the beers so that the staff can maintain social distancing will have to be considered. Employees should not have to risk breaking boundaries to place drinks directly in front of people. I'd also much rather hand washing and sanitising was observed frequently rather than staff wearing gloves but individual businesses will make those decisions.

I do but it isn’t as simple as that.

Prior to football being suspended, I was deliberating attending a home match, despite the obvious virus risks, on the coming Saturday. I couldn’t decide whether I should travel. That decision was, 24 hours prior to the game, taken out of my hands and the game was suspended.

In the final week of pubs being open, I was in my regular spot three days out of five. I was sat at the bar at the time that the announcement that pubs were to close occurred. We had previously been advised not to go to the pubs but they hadn’t closed. I knew the risks and yet I was there.

I needed football and pubs to be removed from my social realm of possibility. I needed somebody else to make that decision for me. Whilst my approach and mental will power may be called into question by some, I know that I am far from alone in that. This is why governing bodies exist. This is why we can't be told to apply "common sense" in order to control a virus. 

And so I know that I do not feel that pubs should be reopening. But the option being returned to us challenges my resolve. It may be that I enter and after a couple of sips of my pint realise that social distancing and appropriate cleansing is not taking place. I may feel uncomfortable and remove myself.

As I am writing this, a Manchester United fan friend of mine has just sent me a picture of Old Trafford with entirely empty streets outside just 15 minutes before kick-off. Police wanted the match moved to a neutral venue under security fears that people would gather outside the stadium, whether they were allowed to enter or not. This hasn’t been the case. 

So it may be also true that the pub going public come through and that a sense of camaraderie brings out the best in people trying to find enjoyment in a non- idyllic situation.

Yet my experiences in supermarkets tell me different.

As I search some of the current comments to the Hopinions’ Polls, and other online forums on the subject ,I find commonly used phrases that incomprehensible to me. People seem unable to grasp a basic understanding that pubs will, in the immediate future, be different to what we have experienced previously. “I like to go to the pub off the cuff. I like to do a pub crawl. I like to sit at the bar. I like to chat to strangers.”

These comments are so banal to me as they show such a stubborn lack of understanding of our current predicament. “This is how I ideally want the pub to be” – yet I’ve been speaking to my own mother and passing her essential supplies through an open downstairs window for 3 months. Is it ideal? No. Is it necessary in the current climate? Yes. So whilst pubs may not reopen as you would ideally want them to, the idea that it is either that or… nothing is absolutely ridiculous.

“I wouldn’t go to the pub if they opened like this.” FINE. Stay at home. Stay safe. Keep others safe from your open and honest desire to not adhere to any reformation.

It is the worry, though, that those people will be the first through the doors, complaining to the bar staff, criticising other patrons for asking that they respect social distancing, calling the entire approach to the pandemic an over-reaction. That doesn’t appeal to many, including myself.

This is why I won’t be back on 4th July and will be attributing a John Dorian “Wait-and-See” approach, to gauge how other customers are adapting and in what numbers they are returning. I think many others will be the same. It doesn't feel safe to me personally yet.

It isn't too early to open pubs just for the customers, however, it is the employees in pubs and bars for whom it is far too soon. Many are being asked to confront tipsy folk during a global pandemic with little to no training on how to approach it. Those working in large city centre bars are potentially being "thrown under the bus." 

If I have sounded contradictory due to my frustration at people unwilling to adapt change then know that I am on the side of anybody approaching this ordeal sensibly. Pubs need to adapt as much as their customers need to. That is how we will all stay safe and, hopefully, stay in business. Any attitude taken as an inconvenience to somebody on a personal level is a selfish move that benefits nobody. This will not be forever. Enjoy the uniqueness of the situation. Stay safe.

*May not be true – listen to the hopinions podcast for more details


Pastey said…
And the joy is that customers can still only meet up with members from one other household while inside the pub. And the staff have to police that too.

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