Three cheers for reopening great British pubs – Bill Carmichael

ONE of my early memories is sitting on the step of a Liverpool pub with a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop, waiting for my dad to finish his lunchtime pint with his mates from the docks.

Whitelocks is a popular Leeds hostelry.

From that day to this the great 
British pub has loomed large in my life and it is probably the institution, along with the church, that has done most to shape the country we know and love today.

Indeed, as I have been thinking about my love affair with pubs this week, I’ve come to realise that I can recall many of life’s milestones through the pub I was using at the time.

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As a young man I began my drinking career in those enormous Victorian mansions such as the Vines, affectionately known as the Big House, and the Philharmonic, where the toilets wouldn’t look out of place in a royal palace.

Regulars at the Whitelocks in pub.

But I preferred smaller, cosier venues such at the Villiers and Ye Cracke, where apparently John Lennon was once a regular.

In Cambridge you can drink in pubs once frequented by the scientists who split the atom and discovered the structure of DNA, but I ignored the hordes of tourists and students and made my second home in a splendid little boozer called the Hopbine in the then unfashionable Kite area of the city.

My mum and dad became instant stars when they insisted on buying drinks for the entire pub to celebrate my graduation.

In Preston as a cub reporter I spent way too much time and money in the Theatre and the Fox and Grapes, chatting up off-duty detectives in the hope they would give me a story.

What is the future of the pub industry?

Then off to Coventry, where the “office pub”, in those distant days when journalists had the time to leave their desk and mingle with real people, was the Town Wall Tavern.

It was in Coventry where I discovered the delights of totally inappropriately named pubs. The Live and Let Live in the tough Wood End district of the city, was the roughest pub I have ever dared to enter.

When I moved to Yorkshire I lived for a time close to one pub where police would consider it a quiet night if only one squad car was turned onto its roof and set alight.

Today, if I find myself in Leeds, I 
can feel the gravitational pull of Whitelocks off Briggate, or the Victoria behind the Town Hall, beckoning me for a quick livener before catching the train home.

In London the “office pub” was the Cardinal, behind Westminster Cathedral, and these days when I visit the smoke I may pop into the sumptuous Princess Louise in Holborn, or the Lamb, around the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital.

There is no better pleasure than venturing into a strange town and finding a cosy little local with good beer, engaging company and perhaps a bite to eat.

These delights have been denied us for three months during the lockdown when pubs have been closed – and oh, how we have missed them!

So I welcome the decision by the Government earlier this week to allow pubs to reopen from July 4 onwards – although it is going to be a strange experience.

We are told that we will have to register at the pub before visiting and use an app to order food and drinks. You must sit at your designated table – no chatting at the bar! Staff will wear full PPE, there will be Perspex screens everywhere and you’ll have to pay by contactless debit card.

There is even an app so you can book a time to use the loo – which after a few pints may prove to be a difficult challenge!

But thank goodness pubs are getting the chance to reopen because they truly are the heart of many communities.

Over recent years thousands of pubs, including many mentioned in this piece, have closed, victims of the breathalyser, the smoking ban and cheap supermarket booze. It has been a terrible loss.

My greatest fear is that the pandemic will put paid to many more. Some of my favourite watering holes are tiny “micro-pubs”, not much larger than the average sitting room, where social distancing is going to be difficult.

I hope they survive. If you agree and want your local to prosper it is time to pay a visit and raise a glass to the great British pub.

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