Sunday, 13 December 2020

Fed Up and Fearful

 If you are in Tier 3 of the Government's somewhat arbitrary restrictions for both people and pubs, this has been a long tiring drag.  Reflecting with E the other day - and as an aside she is missing pubs too, as she is a sociable kind of gal - I remarked that it was likely last March when I stood at the bar with pals putting the world to rights with a pint in our hands.  Little did we know then that nine months later we'd still be suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous legislation and a feeling of miserable gloom that only increases with each day.  Lacking that human contact - the lovely E excluded - reminds me that human contact denied, means just being alive, not really living.

You see we actually follow the rules. We have self-isolated, and really are, apart from the odd walk - more in E's case - but she hasn't got a bad knee - in the house most of the time. It has been bad for mental health and while I may not be entirely hail- fellow- well met, I'm no misanthrope and do enjoy the company of others and in this little town, know enough people to pass pub time amicably.  I miss that and the impromptu. "Fancy a pint then?" after shopping and whatnot.

Ever since I started drinking beer, I have had a local pub. Or, Liverpool apart, more than one.  It cements a sense of belonging to go to a place where you are known by and in return, know everyone else. I have felt that absence strongly and while I overcome it - not by getting pissed at home - but by somehow passing time, reading, doing household tasks and watching television, all the time I am acutely aware that this horrible virus has nicked the best part of a year from me.  No holidays, trips to Scotland and all the while, glancing over my shoulder at the Grim Reaper, checking his watch and nodding in my general direction.

This kind of culminated in a get it off my chest post yesterday, which as I write has attracted an astonishing - as I write -  45,000 60,035 people have looked at it. Seems I am not alone in missing the pub.

 It isn't a lot to ask and I could go over again the reasons why and moan about pubs being singled out for unevidenced mistreatment, by those, almost certainly, who rarely set foot in one and certainly not one where beer is the main attraction, rather than Sunday Lunch. But of course, the general distaste of our "betters" for the oiks standing at the bar doesn't need to be detailed here. It is clear from the actions of the government.  I would also point out this has been a gift to the anti alcohol brigade who will no doubt, having got a wedge in the door, take great delight in pushing us even further down the slippery slope we are already on. Given that many pubs will never re-open, that victory from the prohibitionists is already, sadly under their belt.

I caught too, most of an interview with the Welsh Health Minister in television yesterday morning. It seems to me that he fears - though he didn't quite admit as much - that a whacking great lockdown will come in January following the five days off they are giving everyone in the UK - his colleague Health Ministers are complicit in this, but I suspect nobody has asked the virus.  I tweeted that "We've let the cat out of the bag on the basis that it will sit near the bag and continue in-bag behaviour." Fat chance and of course the pubs will pay a big price for this largesse as we rejoice in haste and repent at leisure in January with another whacking lockdown.

Of course many of us in Manchester are hoping that we will be back into Tier 2 next week, our Covid rates having tumbled. I wouldn't bet on it, but of course will have to suffer the impertinent table meal restriction to get a beer. So browbeaten are we that we will be grateful for it, but I urge you to read this piece which the Pub Curmudgeon directed me to. It clearly sets out the way that the Governments - whatever colour - look at eating and drinking in pubs. To sum up, if done poshly enough, crisps can be a substantial meal. More broadly, as the author points out "that this process of identifying “table meals” is not just about the food itself or the table it is eaten at, but – in common with other areas of licensing decision-making – works alongside broader considerations about the “nature” of the establishment and its clientele. As argued by Yeomans in his seminal work on alcohol licensing and moral regulation, even the deregulatory approaches of the current Licensing Act 2003 are imbued with many of the same hangovers” from Victorian temperance attitudes". So please don't relax and think they'll never get us all. They are certainly trying to.

On the same depressing note, a landlady has clearly illustrated her precarious financial and emotional position  in this very powerful self-filmed piece. Clearly if this is typical, the end is nigh for many independent pubs if this goes on much longer. And please don't get me started on the fact that the Chief Medical Officer* has admitted that he has no evidence whatever to keep pubs closed, though he has a kind of feeling. Very scientific. If he wants to have a look at this article in Der Spiegel, which suggests school children are driving the virus, then he might want to think again, but I suspect that he already knows, or I know he already suspects, but political decisions always over -rule science. 

Of course the loss of revenue, jobs and businesses are very a paramount concern, but there has been a dreadful toll on individuals too who are missing friends and routines.  It isn't just a load of old soaks that miss the bonhomie and feeling of content that a good pub gives, but normal ordinary people who have had their lives diminished, while at the same time driving drinking away from the controlled pub environment - even more stupidly - into drinking at home with mates. As an aside and I am sure this is shared by most of us, the only place where I have had my movements tracked is the pub and it is grimly annoying that the efforts to make them as safe as possible have been dismissed by the Government as counting for little in the balance. It is even more than galling to note uncontrolled and crowded shops, supermarkets and London shopping streets. I suspect though I am preaching to the converted here.

So while I look forward to better times, I fear for the future. Taking pubs for granted - like anything really - has always been a poor idea. We must use them when they re-open, but for many, it may be too late and the future of wet-led pubs in particular gives this writer a particular cause for concern, for it is these that epitomise the very essence of the pub as most of us imagine it.

I am glad too, that we live in a big enough house to be able to keep out of the other's way on occasion and having two televisions, has I am sure, stopped us wanting to do each other in. 

I can also, having endured it now for a long time, confirm that drinking at home is a poor second best to the pub. But you all know that. Right?

We do go shopping at the quiet times of course, but Mr Waitrose has also been useful. It makes the neighbours jealous, which is a bonus. 

* I am advised Tyson that it was the other one. The Chief Scientist.Worse then.


Curmudgeon said...

Yes, very well said. And one of the biggest problems is having no idea when it is all going to end. There was a brief window of hope back in July and August, but that was then extinguished.

Clearly this is an unprecedented threat and it's understandable that governments are at a loss how to deal with it. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that much of their response stems from a feeling that "something must be done", and is often motivated more by prejudice than rational analysis.

Tyson said...

Good piece, old bean. Absolutely spot on. I think you mean the Chief Scientific Adviser, though. It was Patrick Vallance who finally admitted there was no scientific evidence to justify targeting pubs.

Tandleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandleman said...

Cheers Alex. Will amend accordingly.

Phil said...

I hate lockdown (and Tier 3 might just as well be lockdown AFAIC) - I know it hasn't been good for my physical or mental health. I miss pubs. The support both workers and businesses have received from the government has been woefully inadequate and uneven (and I dread to think what will happen when the current support package ends) - and the government's response to the pandemic generally has betrayed some very unattractive prejudices and stereotypical assumptions, including favouring restaurants over pubs and the South over the North.

I agree with all of that.

And yet.

The trouble is, Covid has a tendency to spread; if we leave it alone the figures will go up (again). If the figures are going up - or even holding steady - we need to do more to drive them down; and if they're going down, we need to keep on doing whatever we're doing until they bump into zero (and even then we need to avoid doing anything stupid, like paying people to go out and socialise). Relaxing what we're doing now - with deaths still coming down nationally but hospital admissions rising steadily - would be disastrous.

Why pubs? Out of offices, shops, schools, cinemas, restaurants and pubs, the first three may be doing a lot more to spread the virus than the last three, but they're also more essential. We have to do something to stop people gathering together indoors, and closing pubs is something. I'd have more sympathy with the 'why pubs?' argument if people were saying that restaurants should be closed for dining as well, not that pubs should reopen. Or that pubs should reopen but schools should close, or everyone should be instructed to work from home, like we were during the first lockdown. (Well, everyone except bar staff.)

Nobody's saying pubs are expendable. The trouble is, nothing's expendable - anything that large numbers of people were regularly doing in February would be missed if those people couldn't do it any more. So something needs to be put on hold, just until vaccination starts taking effect and the figures are low for good. The problem to my mind is the woefully inadequate support available, not only for businesses forced to close but for those effectively being forced to trade at a loss.

Phil said...

(Apologies for the woefully inadequate variety of my vocabulary...!)

Fred said...

I cannot help thinking that a small number of incidents in which pubs have ignored social distancing are driving the government's current policies. They have been widely reported in the media and are easy for the policy-makers to point at. Hence, 0.1 per cent of publicans and punters have ruined things for the careful 99.9 per cent.

The problem is that the government seem determined to decide their policies and then to find some statistics, however random, to support them. The government's use of statistics is like the drunk's use of a lamppost - more for support than illumination.

Given that many pubs are dead in January anyway, I suspect that many publicans might favour a lockdown early in the New Year if it could be guaranteed that restrictions would be lifted well before the start of Spring. The problem is that we are likely to have a lockdown and then have to endure further restrictions thereafter. And the latter will have all of the inconsistencies and frustrations of the current tier system.

Paul Bailey said...

An excellent piece TM, and for all who have concerns for the future of our pubs, a very poignant one. Here, in the far south-eastern corner of the kingdom, we in Kent are also in Tier 3, after having gone into the November lockdown in Tier 1.

I’m not going to rehash the arguments over what has gone wrong, or the suspicion that other, less salubrious parts of the county have dragged us down. Unfortunately, we’re in this together, and we feel the pain of the good folk of Greater Manchester – an area I have fond memories of, from my student days.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to have kept working throughout the pandemic, so I haven’t suffered the feelings of loneliness and isolation that so many others have. I never thought I’d feel as grateful as I have, at just turning up at the factory entrance, Monday to Friday and enjoying the company and of my fellow human beings and the interaction that takes place in virtually all workplaces, across the globe.

Us humans are very much social creatures; a fact these po-faced epidemiologists fail to take into account. By concentrating purely on infection levels, R-rates and hospital capacity, they are missing the bigger picture, and failing to see the mental health and poverty issues that will undoubtedly increase, as a result of their handling of the pandemic.

As you so rightly put it TM, this is just being alive, rather than really living. For me, their closure of the entire hospitality sector in Tier 3 areas, has sucked all the joy and excitement out of life. My work colleagues feel the same, where once the talk had been of, “What are you up to at the weekend?” or “How was your weekend?” now it’s of TV sporting events, solo walks in the country – too wet for them at the moment, or “Which takeaway beers did you manage to track down?”

My colleagues and I have it easy though, our order book is full and we’re working flat out. It’s the pubs, restaurants and hotels I really feel for, particularly at what should be the busiest time of the year for them. To learn that politics plays a roll here, rather than science, is doubly disturbing, especially when it turns out schools are far responsible for spreading the virus, than HMG would have us believe.

An interesting piece on that from Der Spiegel, and a powerful cry from the heart from that pub landlady, who must be at the end of her tether, both emotionally and financially. I’m not sure what the answer is although, as is normally the case, common sense would go a long way in solving some of these issues.

I know it’s a cliché, but stay strong, stay safe and we’ll see one another on the other side of this!

Beermunster said...

Talking to the landlord of my local on Saturday. He says that after the first lockdown and the eat-out scheme, their turnover stabilised at around 40% down on last year. Since the recent lockdown ended, he is around 80% down compared to normal and we are in Tier 2. Coupled to that, in December they normally turnover double what they do in other months because of all the Christmas parties etc., none of which are happening this year.

There are vaccines being rolled out, but even the best case scenario means this is going to continue until at least June or July. Now that financial support for pubs has pretty much dried up, I fully expect we will see a lot of pubs shutting up shop either until this is over or for good. It's not a rosy picture.

retiredmartin said...

A lovely piece. Well done (honestly) on following the rules
I'm a bit conflicted on risk. Personally I'd been to about 260 pubs in the 4 months from July to October, and felt very safe as they clearly followed the rules better than anyone could expect (as did the vast majority of customers).

It's obvious (isn't it ?) that cases and deaths had virtually dried up by August, despite pubs re-opening, only to spike when schools and Universities returned.

But then I read this piece about transmission in the Los Angeles Times,

and I feel a little nervous again.

But I'd still be in a pub tomorrow if they were open.

Ryan said...

Excellent piece, but one quibble, the problem isn't the coronavirus, it is government restrictions that are choking the life out of the hospitality sector and the country as a whole.

The Coronavirus "pandemic", is actually no worse than a somewhat baddish seasonal flu and it has a survival rate of over 99.7%, so it isn't The Plague or the Black Death or anything remotely like them. We have never closed the country down for a seasonal flu or a flulike illness, so why is this time so different and WTF is really going on?

By the way Bill Gates now says that bars, pubs and restaurants should stay closed until at least 2022 and Bill always seems to knows what's going to happen these days, a bit funny that, but I mustn't stray into the realm of conspiracy fact, that would never do. However, not in dispute, is that not much of the hospitality sector will be left by 2021, never mind 2022. And will 2022 when it's here then become just until 2024 or whenever. Now of course, they know that they are killing the trade and the inevitable landslide of pub/bar restaurant closures seems to me to be wholly intentional.

By the way the dullard Matt Hancock, is now trying to peddle the arrival of a mutated strain of coronavirus. Now there's a real surprise and once again another fast tracked and hardly tested money spinning vaccine will be on the way

It looks for all the world as if we are being scammed and big time at that. Is it now time for us to mount the barricades and try to save what's left of our fast sinking country, or should we just open another can and doze off in front of the tele?

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Look at the positive side - going 9 months without visiting a pub for a few pints suddenly made me realise just how pissed off the missus must have been while pregnant and not drinking or smoking.
And she loved her drink and fags.
And she did it twice.
And instead of finishing each time with a massive piss-up she spent hours in labour while her useless husband cracked jokes and promised to film everything in close-up so the kids could watch themselves being born.That last idea was a deal-breaker by the way.
The one thing I've noticed is how rarely I watch or listen to the news these days compared to the beginning of the pandemic.It's become a non-stop blame game when, in reality, I doubt any politician would have done any different to the current PM.
And I have enormous sympathy for the situation Boris finds himself in - the scientists give him their advice and it is almsot invariably against every political instinct he has to follow it but follow it he must as lives are at risk.
I've no doubt that spell in ICU weighs heavy on his mind too.
The lockdowns have been much more severe here in Ireland and they still retain much public support.Despite what we, the inveterate topers would like to think, I suspect a similar view prevails in the UK.

Ryan said...

@Professor Pie Tin. After all the shit that's been thrown at the British public since March, you just know in your heart, that inside Boris Johnson there is a wonderful warm human who is sadly having to do the right thing which the "science" dictates. Oh dear me, what are you on, it must be so much stronger than Guinness.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Germany is in total lockdown until January and my pals in Greece are on a 10pm curfew and needing a police pass to go anywhere.
The Swedish Open All Hours approach hasn't worked.
Here in Ireland we've had the strictest lockdown measures in Europe since March and we're at virtually the same stage as the UK in lockdown meaures.
Remove Boris the bogeyman from the equation and do you really think Britain would be in any different position than it is now ?

Ryan said...

You are cherrypicking, but still picking the wrong ones. Sweden has done better than the UK and has not voluntarily liquidated its own economy à la UK. Of course, Ireland decided to self-destruct, after it was rumoured two people had sneezed on a bus in Waterford.

As for the mastermind Johnson he has to go, even if he is replaced by the devil himself.

Curmudgeon said...

@Prof - what people tell opinion pollsters and what they actually do are often entirely different things.

I get the impression that huge numbers of people are just quietly getting on with socialising with friends and family in private homes which, so long as you keep a fairly low profile, is impossible to police.

Sweden has done no worse than the UK in terms of total deaths and hasn't torched its economy in the process.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

It's a funny old world.
Britain becomes the first country to start vaccinations.
Its Christmas lockdown regulations are some of the most relaxed in Europe.
Vast sums of money have been spent on business support schemes and furloughs for employees this year.
Bars providing food and restaurants are open in many areas.
Holidaymakers can still jet off to the Caribbean if they wish.
And the health service hasn't been overwhelmed at what is traditionally the worst time of year for it.
Yet some people still complain.
The fact is there is broad support for the way this government is tackling the pandemic.
Opinion polls, yes those again, repeatedly bear this out.
I miss the pub as much as the next person but another few months is not going to kill me whereas at my age the virus might.
Perspective lads please.

Tandleman said...

I can't pass the judgement of Solomon here as there is value in both sides of the argument. I do think though that there has been huge efforts to make pubs safe and with the mitigations of restricted numbers, social distancing, table service,track and trace, ventilation et al., there is scope here, especially if a crackdown on any abusers accompanies it.

But I hear too what the Prof says and while Boris is a dick, I wouldn't want his job.

Either way, we just have to suck it up, but these infections are coming from somewhere and it ain't pubs and restaurants according to data.

Unknown said...

People have short memories. Last March it was three weeks to flatten the curve, how did that one go? On the same basis Professor Pie wants "just a few more months" of lockdown" which on past form will morph into just a few more years or more. At the same time the wise professor tells us that the health service isn't overloaded, so is he really saying that lockdown aren't needed on that basis? Let's be realistic though, seasonal acute respiratory infections arrive every winter and going by by acute and ICU bed occupancies, this winter isn't anything special.

As for jetting off to the Caribbean, that sounds like fun, until you or one of your family/party fail the pre-flight Covid test. If you do all make it on to the plane then you'll sit for 8 hours or so masked up and recycling your own exhaust as well as everyone else's. Now that sounds like great fun. How much better and safer to be in a ventilated bar with a gleaming pint of freshly drawn cask ale?

As for Tandleman riding to the defence of Boris, I really didn't see that one coming. Boris wanted to be prime minister, he wasn't forced. However, he isn't remotely up to the job, only believing what the last crooked advisor he spoke to, tells him. Boris lacks any sense of judgement, or sense for that matter. He should do us all a favour and clear off before things get much worse. Getting rid of Boris isn't the answer, but it will be a vital first step, if we are to regain even the slightest semblance of normality.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Getting rid of Boris ?
His approval ratings are much higher than Sir Kneel-a-lot and overall the Tories are down just six points in the polls from last December's general election trouncing of Labour.
There's also no indication that the Tories hold over Labour seats they won is weakening as they deliver on their Brexit promise very shortly.
He isn't going anywhere.
In fact I suspect antipathy towards the Government's handling of the pandemic is largely among embittered Remainers. What's truly amazing is how many trade and constitutional law experts were hiding a light under their bushel that they were also expert epidemiologists.
Who'd a thunk it.

Curmudgeon said...

"In fact I suspect antipathy towards the Government's handling of the pandemic is largely among embittered Remainers."

Hmm, I would have thought, very broadly speaking, there was a correlation between Brexiteers and lockdown sceptics, and Remoaners and extreme lockdown fanatics. With exceptions either way, of course.

Tandleman said...

Unknown should know better than to offer me out.

"while Boris is a dick, I wouldn't want his job" hardly equates to "riding to the defence of Boris". It is an observation, not an endorsement of him in any way.

I think, as stated, he is a dick." I also think like the Prof, he isn't going anywhere.

Unknown said...

Whether or not the dear leader is going anywhere is regrettably not my decision. That his early departure may be unlikely, is not contested.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Rather than sides being split down the middle in this issue I'm more inclined to think most heat and noise is made in the media, both mainstream and social, but a majority of people are not on social media and their views are rarely known or listened to.
It's why my own view is that most people think the government is doing the best it can in difficult circumstances and most approve of the current measures regarding wet-led pubs.
Because we're all communicating on beer blogs we often assume everyone shares our enthusiasm for a good session.They don't.
And on Boris being a dick - surprisingly this may be the reason for his continued popularity.He's fallible, a bit of a handful when there's drink on board and makes mistakes.In other words just like everyone else.
You don't become Mayor of London,twice,then an MP, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister with a big majority by being a jackass.
I realise,however, that not everyone might share this view ...

Ryan said...

"You don't become Mayor of London,twice,then an MP, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister with a big majority by being a jackass."

Hmmm....if you say so. And of course you don't get to be president of the US by being a six times bankrupt property tycoon and game show star, or by being a senile old fool with AD.

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