If I go into a pub and order a scotch egg as a starter, then provided I am seated at a table and the food is served to me on a plate, I am allowed to order a pint of beer or a glass of wine to go with it.
But if I order a Cornish pasty, I am not allowed any alcohol, unless I also order a side dish of chips or salad, which then turns it into a “substantial dish” and as a result I can have a drink. Confused?
Like me you probably are, but I can guarantee we aren’t as clueless as the government ministers who have devised these rules and seem to have absolutely no idea how they will work in practice.
Under the new Covid restrictions introduced this week, pubs and bars in Tier 2 areas, such as York and much of North Yorkshire, are allowed to open only if they serve “substantial meals”.
The big problem is that no one seems to know precisely what that means.
A government spokesman insisted “bar snacks” do not qualify, but when pressed to explain the difference between a snack and a meal he could not supply a working definition. So we are reliant on the inconsistent meanderings of various government ministers to find out what is allowed. According to Environment Secretary, George Eustice, scotch eggs are in.
But Community Secretary, Robert Jenrick, says Cornish pasties are out, unless you order chips as well.
Incidentally, I may have lived a sheltered life, but serving a scotch egg as a starter? Seriously? What fresh hell has 2020 brought us now? And where does the Government stand on pork pies, sausage rolls, pickled eggs and a ploughman’s lunch? Do they count as a “substantial meal” or a snack? Who knows? Certainly not the people in charge, who seem to be making it up as they go along.
The confusion doesn’t end there. You are not allowed to linger over your drink once you have finished your food.
So as you shovel down the last forkful, are you expected to leave immediately?
No, says Mr Eustice, “but you can’t sit at a table all night ordering drink”.
So what is a reasonable time to allow diners to drink up? Half an hour? Ten minutes? Thirty seconds? No one knows.
The hospitality industry has been absolutely hammered during the two lockdowns this year and they deserve better than this.
They simply cannot carry on with such uncertainty – they need to be absolutely sure over what they are allowed to do, or else they are highly likely to fall foul from overzealous policing of the rules.
Because we all know there is a certain type of police officer – the sort of modern woke copper who normally spends all day seeking out hurty words on Twitter – who is itching to kick down the door of the street corner local because of reports of a group of pensioners inside eating illicit snacks.
“Everybody freeze! Put that illegal cheese and onion toastie down slowly granddad – you’re nicked!”
It all reminds me of the then Chancellor George Osborne’s “omnishambles” budget back in 2012 when he tried to impose 20 per cent VAT on sausage rolls and pasties sold at “above ambient temperature”.
Retailers were expected to constantly compare the temperature of their pies to the outside temperature and levy VAT accordingly.
Amid widespread ridicule Osborne was forced to scrap the idea and he has never fully lived down his “pasty tax” fiasco.
What the pasty tax and the scotch egg shambles show is that when governments try to micro-manage every tiniest aspect of people’s lives it invariably ends in confusion, chaos and a loss of liberty.
At some point we are going to have to trust people’s common sense and allow them to run their own lives according to the level of risk they are prepared to take.
So it is definitely good news that a vaccine against Covid may only be days away – because I honestly do not think the general public would put up with this nonsense for much longer.
I live in Tier 2, the pubs are open for the first time in over a month, so a trip to my local is on the cards this weekend.
Mine’s a pint and one of those lovely scotch egg starters!
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