Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - March/April 2020

* Very Early Doors *

Extended licensing hours give people the freedom to use pubs at times that suit them

THE DETERMINED band of drinkers who assemble in the average Wetherspoon’s at 9 am are often viewed with a mixture of amusement, derision and pity, and singled out as an example of the downside of extended licensing hours. However, if you actually look at what they’re doing, they’re not settling in for an all-day session: many will be gone at lunchtime, and pretty much all by mid-afternoon. This isn’t all that different from the regular sessions straight through from teatime to 11 pm that used to be entirely normal. In many cases they will only be drinking at a leisurely pace too.

There was recently an outbreak of moral panic in the media when it was reported that a non-Wetherspoons pub in Great Yarmouth was even offering a happy hour from 9 am to 11 am. But the reality, as reported by the “Eastern Daily Press”, was more a general feeling of conviviality. One customer said “I love the atmosphere in here and it's great to catch up with my mates. The pints are cheap and everyone is in good spirits”, while a barmaid commented “Everyone knows each other in here and they just have a laugh. There's no trouble.” Isn’t that what pubs are supposed to be all about?

Other customers gave safety as a reason for coming out earlier. One said “I don't feel safe coming into the town any later. There are too many yobs on the streets and who knows what might happen”, and another added “It's not safe for someone like me who has health problems to come to the pub in the evening.” These fears may seem a touch exaggerated, but many towns that encourage a lively nightlife do develop a distinct “atmosphere” later in the evening that makes older drinkers feel uncomfortable.

It may not be something that appeals to you or me; it’s unlikely to meet with the approval of the public health lobby, and it’s certainly not compatible with holding down a full-time job. But isn’t this really just a case of the liberalisation of licensing hours opening up opportunities for people to go to the pub at times that suit them? Rather than laughing or sneering at the early-morning drinkers, shouldn’t we just accept that people now have the freedom to use pubs in different ways, and at different times of day?

* Measure for Measure *

Even if you don’t drink it in pints, price per pint is still the way to compare beer prices

YOU SOMETIMES see stories in the media expressing shock over some rare, mega-strong craft beer being sold in a bar for the equivalent of £22 a pint or thereabouts. This inevitably results in some people saying “why are you expressing it as a price per pint when it isn’t going to be drunk in pints?” Well, probably it isn’t, but that isn’t the point. For any commodity, if you’re making price comparisons, it’s still desirable to have a consistent yardstick, and given that the pint is the standard unit for draught beer then it seems sensible to use it. This line of argument comes across as trying to cover your embarrassment.

Wine prices are generally quoted by the bottle, even though you drink it by the glass. You often hear of expensive wines being "£100 a bottle" or suchlike. Likewise, in the supermarket, the prices of various cuts of meat are quote as price per kilogram, although nobody eats a steak that size. Anyone with any knowledge of beer is well aware that stronger beers cost more because of the higher duty and the greater amount of raw materials needed. But, locally, you can buy Robinson’s 8.5% Old Tom for the equivalent of £7 to £8 a pint in pubs, so in comparison anything over £20 still seems pretty eyewatering.

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