Sunday evening and the pub shuts earlier than on the rest of the week, 10;30 time is called and our glasses are gathered and we call goodnight to whoever is working behind the bar and set off back home.
Now things are different. Each night of the week the pub will shut at 10:00, and by shut that means we have to be off the premises and the doors locked behind us. No hanging around chatting, saying farewell, finishing off the stories people are in the middle of telling. Now last orders are called, somewhat early to give us chance to catch up with the new regime, and then, by ten we’re out on the street or in the carpark, depending on which door you leave by.
Bearing the 10 o’clock deadline in mind, we nipped sharply to the pub tonight, rather than saunter slowly along what I think of as the high street but which is in fact Old Church Road. As we approach the carpark we are already pulling on our masks. Instead of going in the door on the corner as we usually do, we follow the marked out lines across the car park and in through the door leading to what might be called the public bar or the sports bar.
There is tape on the carpet guiding us through and we follow it to find seats in our usual place. There is a perspex screen across the bar, with a gap to pay through, and the tables are separated by perspex screens too. There’s hand sanitiser stations everywhere, squirt bottles full of disinfectant and rolls of paper to clean anywhere we might want – although the staff are constantly venturing out from behind the bar in their masks to clean and sanitise every surface.
Whoever is behind the bar knows our order so we sit and our drinks are brought and the machine to pay contactless is brought to the table. Now we are seated we can unmask, but if we need to go to the loo we have to don them again. We keep our eye on the time. It seems odd being here early and feeling as if we’re rushing our drinks. There aren’t many people in tonight, but Sunday is generally quiet. As the hands on the clock move on, we finish our drinks, put on our masks, put our glasses on the bar, and saying goodnight we leave. As soon as we’re out of the door it locks behind us.
This hour early might seem nothing to those who don’t regularly visit pubs. However, there’s a rhythm to a visit usually, and the particular times people go. We generally go later, usually tennish or after – except on quiz nights. It’s often busy when we arrive at around ten, but it thins out as people head home. In town, where younger people go out, the pubs are full and on leaving it’s not home but on somewhere else, a club maybe, or somewhere to get food. I can imagine that now – and I’ve read about it in the news, that come ten o’clock, when everyone has to leave earlier, there will be a lot of milling about outside and street socialising – which isn’t what the aim of the early close is.
It seems to me, as a pub person, that those who decreed this new regime – maybe for the best of reasons, completely failed to understand pubs. Here’s something from the BBC which highlights the situation: