Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - February 1996
* No Smoking, No Pub? *
It's reported that the government are now thinking of making no-smoking areas a legal requirement in pubs, as apparently only 14% have an effective smoking policy (whatever that may be). If implemented, this would be yet another body-blow to the already hard-pressed pub trade.
I don't smoke myself, and to be honest I think it's a pretty unpleasant habit. But, on the other hand, I find it less than wholly convincing when I hear people moaning about the health risk from smoky pubs while at the same time pouring gallons of beer down their necks. If you really were that concerned about your health, you'd give pubs a wide berth and get your two units a day by drinking small sherries in the safety of your own home.
A large number of pubgoers are smokers, probably a higher proportion than in the population as a whole, and they value the pub as one of the dwindling number of refuges outside the home where they are allowed to light up. If they weren't allowed to smoke in their local, they wouldn't grin and bear it, they'd take their custom somewhere else where they could.
Many smaller pubs which have been converted into one room by the brewers are not in a position to offer a proper segregation between smoking and non-smoking areas. If they couldn't accommodate smokers at all, much of their trade would disappear, and licensees would be deprived of a living through no fault of their own.
A growing number of pubs are already introducing no-smoking areas, and finding after a while that it does bring in new customers. If there is a genuine demand, then it will clearly be in the interest of licensees and pub operators to provide them. But compulsion is not the right way to improve provision, and, if brought in across the board, it will be extremely damaging to exactly the kind of small community pubs CAMRA wants to protect and encourage.
* Earlier Closing Rejected *It's never easy getting up the morning after a strenuous evening in the pub, and the darker it is, the harder it gets. So I was relieved when the attempt to move this country on to Berlin time fell at the first hurdle.
The unholy alliance of big business and interfering busybodies promoting this claimed that it would give more daylight, but of course that simply isn't possible - all it would do is to move daylight from morning to evening.
Anyone in this area tempted to support this move should realise that it would mean that, from the beginning of October to the end of February, people going to work or school before 9 a.m. would be doing so in darkness. Far from cheering us up in the winter, surely that would spread gloom and misery.
* Little Chef Meets Brewer's Fayre *
It's rather fitting that Whitbread tried to buy the Little Chef chain from Forte, as their Brewer's Fayre establishments bear much more resemblance to licensed Little Chefs than anything recognisable as a proper pub. Now, they're even building new ones on major out-of-town road junctions - maybe a suitable location for a drive-in diner, but hardly, you would have thought, the best place for a boozer.