Thursday 18 February 2021

Not Now. But When and How?

 Next Monday the Prime Minister is due to lay out some kind of rough timetable to ease the current lockdown. Much speculation has ensued and in the usual way, there have been what seem to me, placed leaks in the likes of the Daily Mail, hinting at what may or may not be intended. In the case of pubs, kites flying include opening pubs for outside service only and opening pubs for the sale of only non-alcoholic drinks. I won't explore either of these options here, as I do believe that there is on behalf of the Government, a degree of managing expectations, and if enough worse case scenarios are mooted, then what actually happens, no matter how unappealing, will somehow appear acceptable compared to what might have been. The longing for re-opening will inevitably permit a degree of leeway.

There is also clearly, albeit somewhat tardily, a recognition that so much has been over-promised and under-delivered - something almost everyone has complained  about - that the proceeding with a degree of caution penny, has finally dropped. To my mind too, in the case of pubs, there is such a fog of misunderstanding about them within our rulers, that they just don't know what to do.  There is too I feel an inherent distrust of the people - perhaps with the odd justification - as bad behaviour and rule flouting in a few cases is wrongly extrapolated to "all pubs are a hot bed of infection" -  despite there being little by way of actual evidence to support that view.  There also seems to this writer at least, that what happens in London, with its crowded after work scene, spilling onto pavements with no signs of social distancing, is wrongly extrapolated to the rest of the UK, though events in Liverpool pre this lockdown hardly helped.  And let's not go too deeply into the obvious fact, as evidenced by its treatment of them, that the Government just doesn't "get" wet-led pubs.

Looking at where we are now, my best guess is that we are around six weeks away from meaningful relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions. Does that mean good news for pubs? Well, experience would suggest not, but things have changed and continue to change.  Vaccine rollout to all the most vulnerable groups may well be complete before the target date of end of April and all the key age dependent groups will have been covered too. Everyone over 50, or deemed vulnerable should be vaccinated and work started on those under 40.  That is great and way beyond what we could have hoped for only a few short months ago. At the same time, better weather should lessen the amount of infection, as will the increase in those who have antibodies through infection and recovery.  All in all a brighter picture though of course doubts and concerns remain. 

But into each life a little rain must fall.  Until deaths, infections and hospitalizations reach a level that is insignificant, the Government will be very reluctant to go the whole hog.  Hopefully some of their more hare-brained ideas will be ditched though. Apparently the thought processes - yes there was thought oddly - about needing to have a meal with a drink was to stop doltish, irresponsible people going out and getting pissed and then kissing everyone while gobbing Covidly "You're my best mate you". In fact in most cases, it just meant that more affluent  citizens went out for meal and a couple of pints, while those without the ackers, went down the supermarket for a dozen cans of lout at less than half the price, to then drink illicitly with their chums.  The pubs, in the main, lost money operating it.  Frankly it was a laughable policy that helped and suited nobody at all, but that of course doesn't mean it can be entirely ruled out for an unwelcome return. This government has form when it comes to repeating the same process in the hope of a different outcome.

So back to when and how.  Frankly, I don't know. You don't know, and I doubt if the Government knows. My feeling is that as a government that just doesn't trust its people - not unique to the Tories by the way - there will be more than minor inconveniences as we go through re-opening. Some restrictions will remain, whether it is signing in, masks, table service or worse, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there and this time, hopefully it won't be a train coming the other way.

When our beloved pubs re-open, it won't be the end of it though. Lockdown and closure has been devastating for the trade. Many pubs won't ever re-open, or will change hands as the financial toll turns into a grim reckoning. Health worries will remain - see above. Customers will be wary, as will those serving behind the bar. This virus is here for the foreseeable future. It has likely changed us all and those of us that love pubs have a job to do in supporting them.

The bright side is, pubs will be back soon, and we will again remember what makes them so much better than a can or bottle at home. See you at the bar.

Let's hope too, that pubs and of course breweries, get sufficient notice to prepare. Pubs will need cleaning, staff will need training to meet whatever requirements there are, stock will need to be ordered and beer will have to be brewed and conditioned.

One advantage of being old is that I tend to drink in older style pubs. There, most of us will be vaccinated. Don't judge me. I have less of my life left and need that valuable drinking time more than the young do.