On Saturday 4 July, (the first day on which pubs in England reopened), the so-called “Super Saturday”, I went to my favourite local pub with friends. For anyone who isn’t aware, the pubs (along with restaurants and many other venues) closed in March, due to an order from the government, the instructions being designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On entering the pub, my friend and I had our temperatures taken by a young woman. Then, our temperatures being normal, we sanitised our hands with sanitiser. Following this “new normal”, my friend and I where conducted to a table, from where we ordered our drinks.
Anyone familiar with the British pub may well have visions of people standing or sitting around the bar, chatting, reading newspapers or swearing at the television when their favourite team misses a chance to score a goal! Sadly, under “the new normal”, this has been replaced by the rule that customers may not congregate at the bar, and must be served at a table which, following their departure will be sanitised by pub staff.
Whilst it was good to catch up with friends (another friend and his wife joined us later), I missed the mingling which is part and parcel of the traditional English pub. There was no more going up to the bar and exchanging banter with regulars, nor could one (officially at least) invite someone who was not part of the original party to join your table.
The young woman serving us (the same lady who had taken our temperatures) was wearing a mask. Whilst I can, of course understand her reasons for doing so (to protect against the possibility of contracting or passing on the virus), I couldn’t help thinking how she would cope on a baking hot summer’s day!
If you read the reports of “Super Saturday” you will, no doubt come across stories of “drunks not socially distancing”. All I can say is that neither my friends or I witnessed any such behaviour. Indeed the pub was rather quiet, perhaps owing to the fear of contracting the virus which does (I know through conversations with people) pray on the minds of some.
Whilst I was delighted to enjoy a few pints in the company of friends, I felt a sense of sadness at the sanitised atmosphere. We have, I fear lost something, I hope not permanently. We have lost the natural vibrancy of the traditional British watering hole. We have lost the stopping to chat to old acquaintences at the bar as we order our drinks. We have lost the ability (at least officially) to invite strangers to join us for a drink at our table. All this may be necessary, but it is still a loss and there is no getting away from that fact.