Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2003

* Ten Years On *

Despite all the grumbling, the last ten years have not been a period of unrelenting gloom

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the very first ďCurmudgeonĒ column in May 1993, which reflected on the sacking of railway guard Jeffrey Sullivan after drinking three pints of beer before his turn of duty, and wondered where this country would be if the same standards had been applied to Winston Churchill during the second world war. While there may have been some justification in this particular case, it remains a very relevant point as employers take an ever more restrictive and intrusive attitude towards even very modest drinking by their employees.

Many may think that this column has simply spent ten years moaning about things getting worse both on the beer and pub scene in particular, and in terms of broader social attitudes to pubs and alcohol, and thereís more than a grain of truth in that. But a lot of positive developments have been celebrated too, and there have also been plenty of constructive suggestions as to how to improve things. The one constant factor has been that little stays the same for very long.

Change is an unavoidable feature of life, and it often seems that the pace of change gets ever faster. Itís also part of human nature that as you grow older, you will recall with regret the things that have been lost, while viewing with suspicion any new-fangled innovations. Thus people become, well, a touch curmudgeonly. Peopleís view of the world tends to be formed in the period when they entered the world as young adults, and they view any deviation from that state of affairs in a negative light. Many older folk still look back nostalgically at the 1950s, although most of us today would find them insufferably conformist and full of prejudice. As I came of age in the 1970s, the era of the Winter of Discontent and the Austin Allegro, when nothing ever seemed to work properly, perhaps I donít recall the days of my youth in such rosy terms.

People have been claiming for hundreds of years that the world is going to hell in a handcart, but it hasnít happened. Some things get worse, others get better, but on balance, people continue to become more prosperous and live longer, and the passage of time usually proves the doom-mongers on any subject to have been at best guilty of greatly overstating their case, and at worst completely wrong.

Of course thereís plenty to have a good grumble about, and Iím still annoyed by tables slopping with beer where pubs refuse to provide beermats, baffled by the reasoning behind ripping out comfortable bench seating, and disgusted by otherwise respectable people guzzling beer straight from the bottle. But the story of the last ten years has been far from one of unrelieved decline.

While youíre less likely now to find a good pint simply by going in pubs at random, the best pubs now are better than ever before. There are plenty of superb drinking establishments about, both old favourites and ones that have sprung up in the past few years. And the choice and quality of beers available, if youíre prepared to make a little effort to seek them out, is enormously better than it once was.

The pace of change is unlikely to relent, and undoubtedly there will be many changes that give cause for regret. But Iíll raise a glass to the confident expectation that weíll continue to enjoy good beer and good pubs for many years to come.

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