Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Farewell To Pubs
I have spent most of today in Salford and East Manchester and was yet again shocked at the number of boarded up or demolished pubs. The pub on the left is the Hare and Hounds, a great traditonal local in Abbey Hey, Gorton. It has seen off almost every pub within a couple of miles, and believe me there were a lot of pubs in that part of Manchester, almost one on the corner of every terraced street. Let's hope the Hare and Hounds survives. So I started wondering again how it had come to this. I know we all have our pet theories but I think the problem, if indeed it is a problem, has many threads.
One reason is the smoking ban, which has undoubtedly contributed although it cannot be solely responsible for the level of pub closures. However, if I still smoked I wouldn't be prepared to go outside on days like this for a fag, I'd stay at home and drink and smoke in comfort, as indeed thousands of smokers are doing.
There was the Tory reforms in the '80s restricting the number of pubs a brewery could own. This opened the door to the plastic pub chains that we see today, that rip off landlord and customer alike. It also saw the beginning of the end for many small brewers such as Wilson's and many, many other small local brewers. I remember when you couldn't buy Boddington's south of Crewe because apparently 'it didn't travel well'. It isn't even made in Manchester today.
Young people also seem to have changed their drinking habits, which has inevitably contributed. We used to sit drinking beer in pubs until 11-00, later if there was a bit of 'extra hours'. We would then go clubbing, and continue drinking beer. It seems today, and not having kids I am one step removed, that young people tend to go straight to bars rather than pubs and hit shots straightaway rather than much weaker beer. Or, as friends kids have told us, they meet at someone's house to get drunk then go to a club.
There is also, linked to the change in younger peoples' habits, a breakdown of community. Pubs were once the heart of many communities, especially in working class areas. But people don't tend to socialise together publicly as much now. Social clubs, working mens' clubs, Tory and Labour clubs, parish social clubs have nearly all gone. There are changes in our homes that keep people from the pub. The proliferation of TV channels in recent years, especially sports channels. There are computers too that offer an alternative and any number of other lifesytle changes. There are government experts constantly harping on about having a bottle of wine when it's not Christams means you are an alcoholic who probably beats your wife and kids. All these things, and probably many more, have contributed.
From my own experience crap landlords put you off. I went a pub recently with a colleague at lunchtime. We ordered drinks and asked what food they were doing. We got a terse reply that they didn't do food. So we asked if he minded me popping over the road to bring a sandwich in. No, I couldn't, so we left without drinks and will never darken his doorway again. Some landlords should look at themselves when seeking to aportion blame.
So I still wonder if pub closures are a man made problem, or is nature just running its course?