So the exciting news of yesterday was that the Isle of Wight was mentioned a number of times in parliament. Not just once but multiple times, I don’t doubt that we got enough mentions for some people to go so far as to look up where we are! Like proud parents the whole island collectively gasped at being called out by name, and it was on the TV.
Oh and yes we are in Tier 1 so we reopen on Wednesday under the old rules, not the very old rules, the latter rules from before shutdown. It goes without saying that I am tremendously sad for the venues across the country that will open with further restrictions and, indeed, cannot open at all.
I remain convinced that singling wet led pubs out and forcing them to close in Tier 2 is wrong and is based on a misunderstanding of the modern pub. I think so few MPs have used pubs since their younger years that when wet pubs are mentioned they picture the hedonistic, jostling booze fuelled parties of their youth.
I guess to some degree this is human nature. If we don’t do something for a while, don’t refresh our perspective, then our views become rose tinted. Your recollection of something is the good bits, sometimes the bad bits, not the mundane day to day stuff. Whilst we may all do this that does not excuse the politicians who should go out and refresh their perspective since they are charged with governing us.
So last night I settled down to watch Tom Kerridge ‘saving British pubs’, the final of a three part show. I must say that over the two previous shows I was pleasantly surprised to find a good selection of pubs and none of the normal ‘ you need fine dining’ as a stock answer which is what I had expected.
By a quirk of fate the third show was filmed around the first national lockdown. Perhaps there were due to be more but the crazy flu stopped play, I am not sure. So last night we watched publicans open their doors to minimal attendance as the government ordered people not to come to the pub. Then the devastating moment when they announced what we now refer to as LD1.
I would say that we all know how this episode ends but I guess that’s not true, we simply know what comes next. I was struck by the overwhelming feeling of loss. I expected it to be like watching a rerun but the Boris speech sent not so much a chill down my spine but a ball of ice into my stomach.
It sent me back to that awful night and the battle to put a brave face on the closure. I actually had to walk away from the TV for a bit rather than watch. When I came back one publican was saying ‘people think its great to be locked in a pub, its not, its empty’. This was the feeling that plagued me for LD1, the feeling that the building was not only bereft of people but somehow she had lost her soul.
Of all the experiences of my life this is the only one that ‘flashed back’ an it was not good. I think I can honestly say that I have (at some low level) PTSD over the pub closing.
When I was flicking through the licensee forums this morning a post caught my eye. A landlord in Cornwall was pointing out that although they are in Tier 1 and can open they do so under difficult circumstances. This particular pub was reduced to 6 tables, obviously no tourists and a very negative customer sentiment.
I think the current press view that all is normal in Tier 1 does us a disservice as, in reality, things are far from normal. We will reopen and we will do so with full table service, nobody standing at the bar, maximum table sizes of 6 and absolutely no standing (crazy flu loves vertical drinking). We will sign people in, remind them to wear masks and turn them away from a venue when it is barely half full.
We will suffer the abuse and ignorance that, I would imagine, will elevate again as people realise Tier 1 is still restricted. If we remain in Tier 1 for Christmas then BoJo has succeeded in his ambition not to be the ‘grinch’, he has passed that baton to us! It will be us that have to tell the three families, that are allowed to meet up and reside with each other, that they cannot occupy the same table in a pub.
The very purpose of hospitality is to be hospitable. The thing that we offer is the opportunity to meet people, to socialise and to engage in the banter of the pub. Many people who are not regular pub goers will still default to the pub when life takes a bad (or good) turn. It is where we go to celebrate, commiserate or to forget.
LD1 was awful, it was horrifying to see the pub empty day after day. It made me feel I had failed, somehow let the Plough down. I kept posting pictures of me at the bar with a pint, kept telling people we were getting ready for the opening, of course I did, that’s what we do. The truth is that in between all the work I spent a lot of time sat on the floor in ‘the corner’ struggling with the weight of the pub.
When we reopened we had the ‘rules’ the regularly changing, rules. The press was all (as now) patting us on the back because ‘the Great British pub is open’ again but it is not, far from it. In many cases we are working under constraints that appear to serve the sole purpose of ruining us.
Everything that we do in this trade is regulated by risk assessment and operating policies, written by us for our venues. This top down regulation takes no account of the venue and seems to show an absolute distrust of the competence of those of us in the trade. We all know that a crowd 6 deep at the bar would not be crazy flu safe but the old boy at 2pm doing his crossword presents no more risk sat at the bar than he does at a table.
Every venue in this country knows what they can do to operate with the minimum of risk to health and the large majority would be responsible. Of course there is an argument that some would be irresponsible and that is true, but no action is taken against those flagrantly disregarding the rules now.
Instead we have been ‘allowed’ to trade in such a manner that every day that we open the door we are effectively offering people a bad experience. We are working incredibly hard to offer an experience as far from that which we want to as is possible. We are told daily how rubbish it is being in the pub under the ‘rules’ whilst working harder and taking far less.
Now we have the added stress that every two weeks we could change Tier, up or down is life or death because wet led pubs can only trade in Tier 1. Trying to juggle having enough stock on hand with the risk of getting stuck with stock that will have to be wasted off. Christmas is normally a difficult juggling act with the complexities of additional trading days, restricted delivery days and lack of flex in the supply chain, this year will be far harder.
We have yet to see how the brewers react to the news that a large proportion of the on trade is not reopening next week and that we still don’t know what will happen at Christmas (we know there is no relaxation for pubs). It is likely that product ranges and supply chain restrictions will combine to form more late nights and failed deliveries.
So when you go to the pub please don’t be surprised to receive a negative reaction to “Bet you’re glad to be open” or “you’re the lucky one” and the inevitable “at least you are earning something”. We are tired, we are mentally drained and exhausted and we are juggling way more plates than we are used to. We are doing all this under rulings that seem determined to destroy our way of life.
We will keep doing this though, they won’t break us. We will keep doing this because not long after the announcement messages started coming in from people who wanted to know when we were reopening. All of those people who have missed the Plough, they are the soul, the reason why we do this and they are what keeps the old lady alive.