Ale In The Time Of Pandemics

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Keri O’Shea returns to the pub after three months, and lives to tell the tale.

2020 is squaring up to be a fairly atrocious year for many, so you’ll forgive me if I was rather pleased to get out and get back into the pubs on the weekend, as early as I was able to do so.

Having spent three months largely indoors and having very much missed being able to have a beer I hadn’t had to mail-order, you would have struggled to keep me away, I fear. And the experience, though strange in some respects, was absolutely fine. Whilst we are living in ‘interesting times’, and whilst we – of course – need to be cautious, there’s really little need for naysaying and hyperbole.

The pubs I have been to, so far, are handling the necessary changes slightly differently, but all in all, you can see how hard they have worked to make it work. The main change is that there’s no propping up the bar. Table service has formed part of the new normal, as has cashless payment. This is all fine by me, as I quite like the more European model anyway and if someone is happy to bring beer to me, then I won’t be complaining. I can also live with table bookings, which is another facet of the new-look pub: although there was some capacity for walk-ins, this doesn’t seem to be the preferred option for obvious reasons: capacity has to be a consideration. A lot of tables have been removed for the same reason. You can expect to see hand sanitiser stations dotted around, and the staff are wearing PPI. So far then, so good.

Is it odd? A little, but it’s by no means the alienating environment I’ve seen some people claim. Most people are just genuinely pleased to be back out and they’re therefore happy to adapt. Now that social distancing has been tweaked to encompass other households than your own, it’s unsurprising that people might like to meet up with friends; it’s been known. Folk at the weekend were beaming from ear to ear, and it was good to see.

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Now, I am well aware that we are coming out of an unprecedented pandemic situation and that there are risks associated with social gatherings; we also still know comparatively little about a disease which did not exist a year ago, and this is something that needs to be remembered: no one has all the answers yet, and if the epidemiologists don’t, by the way, then it’s probably not a good idea to take your cues from someone confidently predicting the apocalypse on Facebook. We need to be careful and we need to be clear-headed. But we must, at some point, dare to rejoin the world again. Given that a vast new second spike hasn’t happened, even after widespread social protests, BeachGate and – ulp – the reopening of Primark – then perhaps this indicates that the virus is now at a manageable level? Or if that turns out not to be the case, then we will deal with it. The economy is tanking and people have become deeply isolated. We can’t hide forever.

Outrage and concern about people going to the pub, though, may have come under the guise of a deep-seated care for the health of the nation, but scratch that surface even slightly and what you get is good, old-fashioned snobbery. The usual cohort of slebs was at hand to sneer at a man who, having worked a shift tarmacking roads (an occupation which actually serves a purpose) decided to take the opportunity to go for a pint. Oh, but he chose Carling, what a rotter. David Baddiel thought that Jimmy, the bloke in question, looked like he’d watched a lot of porn in lockdown. Charming fellow, there, and certainly of far less use to the country than a tarmacker, who deserved to drink whatever he damn well fancied. But it wasn’t just the slebs desperate to constantly reiterate their nonsense mores for all to see. A lot of people who are otherwise quite rational suddenly started pouring scorn on drinkers this weekend – often from rather shaky vantage points, given their own piecemeal observance of lockdown rules over the past few months. Pro-tip: going for a ‘lovely hike’ in a crowded beauty spot is probably worse, not better, than going to the pub. And so on and so forth…

So, although our current situation is unprecedented, and whilst we need to be prepared to change what we’re doing if new evidence comes to light, for now – honestly, it’s as good as it can be. Be sensible, support your local and avoid lambasting people for perfectly reasonable behaviour: panic-mongering and overstatement are not a good look, particularly when people completely deserve to let their hair down a bit. And remember: you’re free to stay in if you like.

KERI O’SHEA

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