In the late seventies, my wife and I made our first and only trip to England. We spent an idyllic ten days with relatives in the village of Tottington , near Manchester , taking day trips to York , London, the Lake District and Stratford on Avon. One of the things we fondly remember about Tottington was the local pub. What a wonderful place to go to of an evening ! Relaxing atmosphere, friendly people, good beer, a game of darts and watching soccer on the telly. I know that some serious drinking does go on in pubs but that village pub was more of a social meeting place to meet your friends and have a good time over a glass of bitter. I have never experienced anything else quite like it.
I was sorry therefore to read in the New York Times that British pubs are fast becoming an endangered species with more and more of them being converted to supermarkets or parking lots. There are a number of different reasons being trotted out for the decline of the pub. One big reason is that the availability of cut-price beer at supermarkets makes drinking at home an attractive option. In general , a pint of beer costs about five times as much at the pub. Times are harder now and there is not that much disposable income to go regularly to the pub. Another prime reason is that the large independent holding companies that own more than half the pubs in Britain are trying to cash in on their real estate. As a result , many pubs have been sold to developers who tear them down and erect stores or housing. Other reasons: Anti-smoking laws which keep away the smokers. The rise in violent crime which makes people scared to venture out at night. The rise in social networks and cellphone use which has removed the need for a community gathering place. A change in Britons beer drinking habits which has seen consumption fall by almost a quarter over the past five years. No wonder the British pub is under siege.
Cognizant of the problem , the British government is trying to do its bit to protect pubs from the clutches of developers. Designating pubs as ” an asset of community value” protects them from demolition and gives community groups a chance to buy and operate them. It is a badly needed move because more than 7,000 pubs have been shut down since 2008, a fact which is all to apparent to tourists and others who visit the U.K and find it difficult to find a pub. I hope that the decline in the numbers of pubs will be slowed , if not arrested , by such efforts. The pub has a special place in British life and is one of those beloved institutions which are unique to that country.
Pubs are not an unalloyed blessing, however, and some British wives may not be totally in favor of them. When we were in Tottington all those years ago, the next door neighbors were a very nice couple, Tony and Sue. Tony, an accountant, had a fixed schedule on weekdays. He would get home from work at about 5:30 and have dinner with the family. Then it was off to the pub for him while Sue stayed at home with the kids. He stayed there until 9 or so, knocking back a couple of pints , before getting back home. Only on Saturdays would Sue accompany him to the pub while a babysitter took care of the kids. I don’t know how much Tony earned but the cost of those pub visits must have put a big dent in the family’s finances. His schedule also didn’t leave much time for the family.
I wonder what Sue thought about pubs.