Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - August 2001

* Class Divisions *

Far from eroding social divisions, one-bar pubs may end up increasing them

In the past, the splitting of pubs into public bars and lounges was often criticised as perpetuating outdated class divisions. As we were supposed to be moving towards a classless society, it had to be a good idea to get rid of the dividing walls, so everyone could mix together. But unfortunately this failed to recognise that traditionally people had engaged in all sorts of activities in the pub, some quiet, some rumbustious. Very often this was a function of the differing ages of the customers rather than their background.

Inevitably in a one-room environment, the louder activities tended to drive out the quieter ones, so there was less scope for different kinds of people to use the pub. Some might decide not to go to the pub at all, so the "democratisation" of the layout could have the perverse effect of reducing the social mix of people using it. Or it could happen that the rowdy clientele went in one pub, and the more sedate or older folk in a different one entirely, with the result that age and class divisions ended up if anything more pronounced than they were before, when everyone went in the same pub, albeit in different rooms.

One of the biggest problems in this is the increasing presence of large screen TVs in pubs. A TV will dominate a single-room pub and leave no escape for those who just want a quiet pint. While undoubtedly many people do want to watch major sports fixtures on TV, the audiences for these events are typically far less than those for popular soaps and drama series. Sport remains a minority taste, yet more and more it drives anyone who isn't a fan out of the pub. That must be yet another good argument for the return of multi-roomed layouts in pubs.

* A Man of Substance *

Britain could do with more political leaders who enjoy a pint

Whatever one may think of his politics, beer drinkers everywhere will welcome Ken Clarke barging his way through to the final round of the Tory leadership contest. This country has had a serious lack recently of political leaders who give the impression of enjoying a pint or two. You can't imagine Tony Blair getting through anything more than a very occasional small glass of Chardonnay, and I suspect it's many years since William Hague drank fourteen pints in a month, let alone a day, while Iain Duncan Smith would be more at home with a stiff G'n'T in the officers' mess.

There's a lot of talk nowadays about the general public becoming disconnected from politics. But if politicians - of all shades of opinion - spent a bit more time in the pub they might get a better idea of what really matters to ordinary people.

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