Forget the arguments about beer types…craft or cask doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things. It’s not world peace. Beer is merely a way of getting blokes to communicate. (The reason I only mention blokes will I hope, become clear below.)
I increasingly realise that pubs are one of the few opportunities for blokes (particularly those who are middle-aged & above and single) to provide the means to support each other. In terms of mental well-being, I realise that there are organisations such as the nascent men’s sheds movement and the bowls & golf clubs and their ilk, but men’s social networks in retirement are notoriously poor compared to women. At its best the pub offers the opportunity to talk if you want to, or remain silent, but yet be part of a community.
We were in a rural pub recently and started to chatting to a group of old mates in for an unhurried lunchtime of a couple of pints. Eventually one of the chaps started telling us of his wife who had moved into a care home with severe dementia. The pub was a place where he could bring her in the early stages of her illness without worrying about what people would think. As we chatted, he felt able to talk freely about the issues of being a carer and the hole in his life after she had to move out.
We found out, when another left early, that he was a Falklands’ veteran who didn’t like to talk about his experiences of lost comrades. Of course his mates respected his silence, but they were there to talk about other stuff and ready to support him.
Another chap was recovering from a stroke and slowly sipping his pint, safe in the company of his friends…people who would judge him on what he said rather than the manner of his speech.
As the first chap said, as we left, “this isn’t so much a pub to us, as a way of life.”
The best of pubs don’t judge, don’t ask who you are, or the value of your house. You’ll be given quiet space if you want, or friendly chat if that’s your choice.
In these days of limited public spending let’s remember the importance of pubs, the listeners behind the bar, and our fellow customers. We live in a rapidly ageing society and more and more people will live alone. Whilst I applaud CAMRA’s Community Pubs Month, there is much more to be done as the pub comes under more pressure, both economic and legislative.
Alcohol is subject to increasing scrutiny by health professionals and legislators. Pubs as outlets for alcohol products will inevitably come under the microscope. For some the pub will be seen as a means to breach government alcohol guidelines. We need more effort from the industry and CAMRA to improve recognition of the community, social and mental health benefits of the pub. A ‘public house’ is just that for many people.
We can all help each other, but let’s recognise the role of the pub in opening those doors to all.