Pubs are coming home... at last it seems. Ok it's not 55 years, but neverthless it has indeed been a very long, rocky and wearisome road since March 2020. Now we are almost there - from Monday July 19th pubs are freed from the shackles of Covid regulations. This will breath new life back into many pubs, a great relief to the host of publicans who have struggled anxiously under the pandemic cosh or simply been unable to trade. Independent brewers will get back on their feet and sell more good beer once again. We can get back on our feet and chat at the bar again, if we feel like it.
We will once again mix casually in the pub, meet old friends, make new ones... do that weird thing we sometimes do in the Great British Pub; engage randomly with total strangers. Yes, of course, we know the nighmare is not yet over. I am doubled jabbed and in decent health, so feeling reasonably confident of the return. However with the relaxation comes the responsibility to behave sensibly, with care, consideration and sensitivity to others. We must appreciate many people still need to be fully vaccinated and others, especially vulnerable perhaps, may remain nervous and wish to continue wearing masks and distancing in public spaces. So be it.
Neverthless, I can't help looking forward to the relaxation with some relish. Shortly after our 'venerable leader' had pronounced on our 'new freedoms' last night I had my own personal preview of that return to normality. I visited a pub and chatted casually, at some length, to a chap I had never before met. It is quite some while since this happened, usually meeting only with 'booked' friends under Covid. Yes, we still wore masks to enter and were seated on separate, spaced, tables; but the quiet country pub on a slow Monday sort of demanded conversation. It transpired we have both lived in neighbouring rural Cheshire villages for some years, yet had common roots in towns only a few miles apart amidst the erstwhile rattling cotton mills and smoke spewing chimneys of an industrial Lancashire. We talked over pints of Purple Moose and Brimstage beers, conversation ranging across those aforesaid mutual origins to the state of Cheshire agriculture today and, naturally, our favourite cask ales. A very pleasant - unexpected - interlude. Just like it used to be
Now, I know that this sort of thing is not everyones cup of tea as it were. But for me - and especially as a one time daily newspaper reporter - this was the bread, butter and beer to my adult life (and a bit before) until the Covid monster reared its very ugly visage. Now I happliy anticipate more evenings of this sort. Indeed, I will be amongst the first to return to the bar next week and be very glad of it. It's our tradition, nay some may say our birthright to mix in pubs. Table service is for 'abroad' not Britain. Pubs are social places, part of the very fabric of our communities. We need them - and they us.
If we can let's get back in and support our pubs' 'new' freedoms. Yet, and even for me, after all this time of booking for our locals and the infernal, albeit necessary, table service we may feel a little strange, nervous even, enjoying a beer back at the bar. So if you see a solitary fellow staring reflectively into his pint next Monday try and chat... just if you feel like it. Cheers.
Camra has welcomed the news, while also flagging the hurdles ahead:
CAMRA hails return of normal service in England’s pubs from 19th July
Responding to the Health Secretary’s announcement that remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in England on 19th July, CAMRA Chief Executive Tom Stainer said:
“The lifting of these final restrictions is a huge step on the road to recovery for England’s pubs, social clubs and breweries. 19th July will be the opportunity for our pubs to be able to trade at full capacity, with table-service replaced by people ordering and chatting at the bar.
“Not only will this see the much-anticipated return of the traditional pub experience for customers, it will also help licencees make ends meet after a devastating 16 months.
“CAMRA will continue to campaign for the Government to continue to support pubs, including by changing the rate of duty charged on draught beer served in pubs to help them compete with supermarkets. Pubs are also in need of clarity from the Government as restrictions lift, namely on what is expected of businesses in continued contact tracing and checking COVID status, which we hope will be released in the coming days.
“We are calling on everyone to support their local pubs, social clubs and the great local breweries that serve them in the weeks and months ahead. As restrictions lift across the UK, we can help the Great British pub recover, thrive and cement their place at the heart of community life up and down the country.”