WOODHOUSE Street, Nottingham, was where my late father was born in 1934 and brought up. It was rammed full of two-up-two-down narrow terrace houses. Each had a coal cellar but no bathroom or kitchen. The khazi was in a shed across the rear yard. ‘Central heating’ was a fireplace in the living room. My father, being the youngest, slept in the attic where a glass of water would freeze over during winter nights.
I used to visit as a kid regularly and loved it. Such an inclusive atmosphere, inside the house and out on the street, but of course I never had to sleep over in near-freezing temperatures. Even with a blazing fire downstairs it was a seriously cold house. Fortunately my grandfather was an ex-miner so his family got a deal on coal, unlike so many others in the neighbourhood.
At the top of the street was ‘The Alcester’, the local public house. It was always warm and welcoming. For many residents of Woodhouse Street and around, this was a compelling option in the evening. Warmth, hospitality and companionship with your neighbours. An inclusive atmosphere to build strong friendships and make sure everyone was taken care of. If you had the discipline to take it easy on the booze, in theory you could even save money on fuel for your domestic fire. Lots of folk used to go just ‘for the last hour’ to warm up before bed and enjoy the convivial atmosphere of those who had been imbibing for longer. Most widowers and many widows would spend lots of time in there. Where else would they rather be? In fact the place was so important to their working-class roots that my parents named our house ‘Alcester’.
But here is the thing. Public schoolboys, middle-class professionals and most university academics will never understand on a personal level the critical importance of a pub to the community. They drink expensive wine at home and would never think to step inside a regular hostelry unless it had re-invented itself as some kind of ‘gastro pub’, complete with chef and pretentious menu.
This is where the deeply divisive ‘substantial meal’ condition for Tier 2 comes from. It reveals a high degree of snobbery and outright condescension for anyone who might want to drop in to a pub for just a drink. Quite possibly that is because so many ordinary people simply cannot afford a ‘substantial meal’ out on a regular basis. But they are, like myself on occasion, often quite desperate for some friendly company in comfortable surroundings. Just like the Alcester used to be at the top of Woodhouse Street; very often much more appealing than one’s own domestic circumstances.
The likes of Johnson, his political cronies, Sage members and every single one of the political class all have three things in common. Big fat salaries, big fat guaranteed pensions and big expensive homes that are a pleasure to occupy. Why would anyone in their right mind want to patronise a grubby, noisy pub full of the uncouth working class when you have absolutely everything you need right there in your beautiful home?
It makes no sense at all to them, so it is not surprising that they have found the arrogance to insist that pubs in Tier 2 (most of the country) must serve a ‘substantial meal’ in order to trade. So if the pub is not some kind of glorified restaurant it can basically just sod off and die. And good riddance. Along with all the scummy working-class customers. All of whom are regarded widely as common pissheads and lager louts who should have learned to appreciate fine wines and nibbles at home instead.
You can probably appreciate that I am incensed by this arrogance. So many pubs are still a social lifeline for ordinary people in the neighbourhood. A welcoming place in which to find companionship, humour and temporary respite from what is very often a mundane existence. A deep social need that often grows with age, especially once the social networks of employment are no longer a regular part of life. Take it away and what remains is an utterly miserable outlook.
In contrast to Woodhouse Street, I grew up in a village in Norfolk. Very happily in fact, and I remember my father observing: ‘In a small community like this, there are always three key people – the vicar, the schoolmaster and the publican. As long as two out of three are popular, the village will thrive.’
It seems to me that the role of the typical Church of England vicar has become less relevant as the years have ticked by, probably due to the church’s destructive focus on political correctness rather than spiritual priorities and Bible lessons. Which in many cases leaves just the schoolmaster/mistress and the publican to represent beacons of light in what can be a very dark world. So what I find truly unforgivable is this Government’s agenda, deliberate or not, which will definitely result in the destruction of so many ‘wet’ pubs and countless livelihoods. A community without a local and a gregarious publican is basically just a sad dormitory, often a pathetic collection of cookie-cutter houses and apartments to sleep in. A good pub can really make the difference between living and existing.
Finally there is no evidence at all to suggest that pubs are some kind of hotspot for Covid transmissions. But it is clear that the doom-mongers of Sage have insisted on a sacrifice in return for letting the schools reopen and the ‘gift’ of five days at Christmas. Thousands of traditional pubs will be the sacrifice demanded; many in Tiers 2 and 3 will never reopen. I am already seeing the ‘For Sale’ notices go up on pubs around my own locality in Essex. But as so many middle-class people would never dream of stepping inside, why would they give a damn?
Surely the working people of Britain are not going to see their local pubs go to the wall without a fight? There is only one thing you can do with arrogant bullies like Johnson, Hancock and their kind – stand up and defy them.