Old Pub Goers Don’t Die…

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…they just vacate their bar stools!

Sitting down at the bar in a pub recently, I couldn’t help but notice the elderly gentleman at the other end, staring at me a touch reproachfully.

After a little while of being made to feel ever so slightly uncomfortable about sipping my beer, I asked if everything was okay. “That’s Bill’s seat,” he said quietly. “You’re sitting in Bill’s seat and he’s been sitting there since he was fourteen years old.”

We all know the type. I even have a couple who still use my pub who are similar. The gentlemen who you can set your watch by, who sit in the same seat and who drink, regardless of price or alternative options, the same beer, day after day. These are the guys who keep you going through the winter, the guys who can make you smile and frustrate you at the same time.

These are the Waldorf and Statlers of the pub world.

Apologising, I got up to move, knowing just how important these set seats and personal pint glasses are, but the barmaid stopped me. Poor old Bill had passed away, the other chap simply wasn’t ready to see somebody else using his friend’s seat just yet.

Sitting, talking with the barmaid and the other gentlemen, I couldn’t help thinking how things are changing in pubs all the time. We face so many hurdles every day, from taxes and increased competition to the omnipresent smoking ban, yet another problem is slowly facing us too – especially the smaller village locals: the older generation, the epitomist pub goers, are slowly passing on to the barstool in the sky.

And nobody is being taught to sit in their place.

Bill had been going to that pub since he was fourteen years old. Most of us are, or know of, the type of people who can recall their first pints in a small local somewhere, long before we were legally allowed to do so. You wouldn’t think of doing it now, such is the vehement opposition to alcohol in many quarters, and the punishments are so strict that bar staff, landlords, and even the drinkers themselves are at risk of heavy fines and the possible loss of their livelihoods.

But as we grow older, we’re not teaching the next generation of drinkers to appreciate the Great British Pub for what it is. The younger generation, the next set of drinkers, aren’t as bothered about the smoking ban as we are – they’re growing up with the public opposition to smoking whereas most of us grew up with stale smoke hanging in the air all around us – and the cost of a pint can’t be too much of a concern to them either (I’ll come back to that).

The FaceSpace Generation, however, find it more fun to spend their time (and their beer money) on their computers and their Microsoft PlayStations, chatting with their friends via Internet social networking pages rather than over a well-poured pint of good old British bitter.

And when they do choose to go out into the great wide world for a beer, they move swiftly from the cheapness of the supermarket to the expense of the nightclub, where a pint can set you back over £4 and a jug of Vodka Red Bull will literally empty your wallet. The pub, that integral part of social networking, that after-work meeting place or the first (second, third, fourth) stop on a night of enjoyable socialising, doesn’t seem to get as much of a look in any more.

When they drink, they drink copiously, swallowing gallons of lager like it’s lemonade and then stepping outside to punch a taxi driver before vomiting all over the shoes of a passing police officer. Or so certain members of the media would have us believe, anyway.

They aren’t being taught to sup their pint in a nice pub while having a chat and a laugh with their mates. They aren’t being taught how to handle alcohol or how to meet real people in real places. Instead, they’re being left to socialise in the virtual world in front of a screen that is keeping opticians in business, and then going out and drinking uncontrollably on a Saturday night.

If we want pubs to survive, perhaps the older of us should start teaching the younger the ways of the pub. Say yes, Yoda…

– – – –

Amazingly, this is my first opportunity to write about The Publican Awards – it’s incredible to think that, already, two weeks have past since that fantastic night. My wife and I had a great time, and it was wonderful to meet up with other members of The Publican team, fellow bloggers such as Chris Maclean, and other landlords and ladies, many of which were up for an award or two.

The one thing that stood out for me, however, was the level of positivity that surrounded everybody. Our trade gets a huge amount of negative press at the moment, is blamed (often erroneously) for encouraging binge drinking, and suffers at the mercy of stories touting supermarkets and the smoking ban as harbingers of death for the Public House.

Yet here were people making it work in a time of difficulty. The hard work and dedication of these people made me proud to be part of the industry, and it also made me realise that if we can keep it up then in nine years time, when my eldest son becomes legally old enough to drink alcohol in public, there’ll still be pubs (as well as my own) for me to take him to and teach him how to socialise properly.

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