I once took my niece to the pub.
She was either 1 or 2 years of age. I often looked after her on Saturdays and on one of our weekly walks, for the first time, I stopped by the local pub, mainly because my friend was there with his daughter of similar age.
The two kids got on well together and it was a lovely couple of hours; a perfect showcase of adult friends and their children existing in public houses.
But my sister was furious. She didn’t rant or rave but her lips were purser than a 90s children’s show teacher. It was here that I learned of the effect that our childhood had had upon her. She recalls many an afternoon being bored in the corner of pubs that our Dad had dragged us to, arms folded in the corner with nothing to do, and she doesn’t want the same for her children. The idea of her first born being taken to pubs infuriates her; fearful that they would be subjected to the same unhappy experiences that she was.
I don’t recall those times in the same way as my sister. I remember that we were in pubs frequently but can only think of the fun ones. The type that had big climbing frames and swings in the gardens, those with an adjacent Charlie Chalk play centre, or the local pub that erected a Bouncy Castle on Sunday afternoons.
My sister obviously remembers the places that were just pubs and grew to resent them. I apologised and tried to argue that her daughter had seemed to enjoy herself.
But I never took my niece to the pub again.
I don't know if I ever felt paternal but that moment may be seminal in my decision not to have kids. My dad was never willing to sacrifice his wants and social life for his children; never willing to drive us to the various extra-curricular activities, that could have helped us thrive, over his own pub based plans. I would have been the same. I knew that. I didn't have children so that I wouldn't have to make the sacrifices that he was unwilling to. My dad had 3 children who grew up to resent him for the missed opportunities.
Pubs and their many variants - brewery taprooms and the such - are a space that can be open to all. I'm happy with them to be used by families. When I met my friend's child for the first time last year, the first thing that we did was go to the local taproom with them. However, we paused at the door to ask if they were allowed to come in first. This just seems normal. We're two adults catching up over some beers and never have to wonder whether we are actually eligible to enter somewhere. But it is different this time and so the question is worth asking.
If they had said no then we wouldn't have been outraged. If they had said that they could only be in the ample outside area then it would have felt a reasonable rule. Instead, we were allowed in the main tap area to enjoy our catch up, always checking on the happiness of the mostly sleeping child with us.
I'm not a parent and so my experience is limited. Dogs are certainly not children but the similarity is in my approach to taking them to pubs and taps. "Are dogs okay to come in?" I'll often shout from the doorway towards the bar. "Only if they stay on the non-carpeted area" came the response in a newly refurbished Robinson's local pub recently. A completely fair decision. Sometimes I grow tired of having carpets made up entirely of dog hair too.
I've never heard the "no" so I don't have anecdotal evidence of my actual response if I was to be refused. Would I be surprised? Possibly. Would I go on a social media rant about how all dogs are brilliantly behaved and, anyway, sometimes humans rub their wet bellies and shed their hair all over pub floors too and you should make your space welcome to all and you should have dog toys and biscuits to keep them entertained and my dog has never so much as shit in the house and I just took my eye off them for one minute?
Well no. I'm not a mug.
Then there are the spaces that are dog friendly. They encourage dogs. They love dogs. But they'll mostly still insist that they are kept on their leads and well behaved at all times. At no point have I dismissed this as nanny-stating. "My dog is fine so I'm going to let him wander around leadless and bark at other dogs. I just want my pint and to talk to my friends. They won't do any harm and I will not be governed by the owners of this business implementing polite rules to keep their other customers happy and staff safe."
It doesn't happen. My cheeks at both ends melt into themselves when he so much as barks in a public drinking space. He's my responsibility and it is entirely on me to stop him acting up. Not everybody likes dogs and not everybody wants their afternoon or evening disturbed by extra noise or attention that they didn't come for. I respect that. I'd be a dreadful human being if I didn't.
And so both sides do what they can to enjoy the space in different ways without interference. It is a silent rule but one that helps make society better.
There's no part of me that can't expect respect. It is fundamental to my life. It is Wittgenstein-esque to me when others feel different. You are saying words that I don't understand.
If my favourite pub announced tomorrow that all dogs were banned, citing that repeated respect of the rules were broken, I'd ask why. If it transpired that they were being let of leads, running around the cellar, chewing wires or running amok in the private land of the neighbours then I'd completely understand. Some idiots have ruined it for everybody but entire exclusion would be the last resort choice. It must have been a repetitive occurrence for a place to take this stand and I'd accept that. I would be simply shocked by the selfish behaviour of other adult humans.
Dogs are not children. But, as the internet
works the way that it does, I really need to point out that I’m not actually
talking about dogs.
I've spent a lot of time with friend's kids in pubs, bars, taprooms etc. They've never been any bother. They've enjoyed the time with their parents. Some I have seen grow from toddlers into really social teenagers through this. It can happen and it fills me with joy to see the parental bonds formed. Welcoming children into the adult world isn't a bad thing.
It worked for me as I developed my love of pubs through it. However sometimes I think of the opposite adverse effect that it had on my sister and wonder how much of that is considered by some parents.
But more than anything I wonder why it has to be a topic of conversation at all; one that crops up every other year. It is made possible by those piping up at every one of these discussions to tell you that "adults are much worse behaved than children in my experience" rather than consider the situations that have led us here.
This topic is never parents versus the child-free, no matter how much people try to make it so. As long as we are all willing to take responsibility for those that we should be responsible for then we'd all get along just great. Leads for children are optional.