My piece for The Herald
I was in my pub yesterday - cold, dark and stripped of the spirits, wines and other vestiges that welcome those wishing to escape the hectic rat race of the former outside world. The fruit machine stands yawning; propped open to deter those who may wish to soften their own hard times by breaking more than the current law that forbids the crossing of our threshold. It felt unloved, unlived. A room so different for the absence of chatter and laughter of the drinking throng. It was sad and sobering - the antithesis of its former self. The closure of licensed premises came upon publicans suddenly and with predictably poor timing - the Friday evening announcement rendering a weekend's worth of beer idle.
We also found ourselves estranged from those who used the pub as a support network, and their wellbeing became the focus for many landlords and landladies.
Small business owners were stripped of their routine, income and purpose; and I guess we weren't so different to others as we entered the kind of survival mode that I had never contemplated before, but seemed unnervingly natural within a couple of days: premises were secured, staff furloughed and direct debits cancelled with debts and repayments negotiated. Within a few days we were mothballed.
A lot of bloody admin, that's what.
Thankfully not my job. The more efficient and organised members of the family have the complicated task of applying for grants and "government guaranteed" loans that aren't actually available to anybody without the mental elasticity needed to crack The Davinci Code or understand what the hell is going on in Twelve Monkeys (don't watch it again!). After this obvious course of action came the real head scratching for many licensees. So used to being the ring masters, counsellors and clowns, we now found ourselves without an audience. Most of us lost our incomes; temporarily for those awaiting furlough payments or self employed remuneration, but indefinitely for some who are directors of limited companies.
We also found ourselves estranged from those who used the pub as a support network, and their wellbeing became the focus for many landlords and landladies. Reports continue to come in of pubs serving meals to the homeless, running online charity quizzes and music festivals. Many others are delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable. Some have set up community shops and one licensee in Woking is even providing PPE for NHS staff using the pub's 3D printer.
Even with the profits (overestimated by most) taken away, many pubs continue to willingly and gladly shoulder the responsibility of being guardians of the community. Contrast this then, with Tim Martin's kneejerk response to his JD Wetherspoons outlets being forced to close. Not satisfied with the virtual asset stripping of local pubs and restaurants over the past couple of decades, the millionaire Chairman released a video a few days after the loose lockdown was imposed stating that his company could not afford to pay its staff until the government released furlough payments at the end of this month. He also initially refused to pay suppliers, many of them small companies whilst insisting, with absolutely zero proof, that there had "hardly been any" transmission of the covid 19 virus in pubs during an interview where he also threatened to defy the authorities and keep his drinking foyers open.
It seems as though we are in this for the long haul, and I urge people to take note of what many pubs - much maligned in certain sections of the media - are doing in these difficult times. I also urge you to remember how Tim Martin reacted when the pubs reopen and you decide where to celebrate.