Sunday, 1 January 2017

Pubs v. Facebook

Acoustic songs in the Mason's, Southport
I see that CAMRA has reacted positively to a survey by the Campaign To End Loneliness which revealed that older people experiencing loneliness miss simple things in life, such as a drink in the pub, a walk in the country or a shared meal. CAMRA itself commissioned a study by Oxford University called Friends On Tap which showed how community locals can help fill gaps left by loneliness.

In 2014, the Office for National Statistics found Britain to be the most lonely country in the EU. We're less likely to have strong friendships or know our neighbours, and many us have no one to rely on in a crisis. While isolation is most commonly associated with older people, the study found that younger people in the 18-34 age band can often feel alone too, despite smartphones, Facebook and other social media, or - in my view - partly because of them. Reading 'LOL' on your phone is not the same as laughing out loud with your mates around a pub table.

This time of the year, Christmas and New Year, can actually deepen feelings of isolation because, if you're alone, it can look as though the whole world is having a party to which you're not invited. To be fair, there are occasional messages reminding us not to forget people who are lonely at this time, but the problem is not seasonal phenomenon: for many, this is a year-long struggle.

Pubs are one obvious answer, as you can enter and buy a drink without having to pay for admission, join or sign in, and it is acceptable to speak to strangers, but it's not necessarily as straightforward as CAMRA seems to suggest. First you have to find a suitable pub: not every pub is a community local, and some may cater more for specific age groups so that even a regular pub goer of the 'wrong' age might feel out of place. An older woman may not find it easy to go into a pub on her own, especially as she may be of a generation that did not readily accept women doing so.

When you are a regular pub goer, as CAMRA members are almost by definition, walking into a pub is simple, so it's easy for us to forget that some may find the prospect daunting, partly because of the fear that you may end up sitting sadly on your own, perhaps compounded by simple unfamiliarity with pubgoing in general. 

I'd suggest that people try to find out about suitable pubs before venturing out: for example, from other people, from the local papers and on-line. It may be an idea to go when there is entertainment on, because that can be the ostensible reason for being there, and it doesn't matter if you're watching, say, music alone as people will assume that's why you're there. Music and quiz nights are probably the most common forms of entertainment, although some pubs put on comedy acts. If music is your thing, a loud rock band doesn't help if you're hoping to speak to people, although not all amplified music precludes speech. Increasingly there are unamplified acoustic music sessions, some held during the day and therefore clearly suitable for retired people. Pub games, such as darts or pool where you can challenge whoever's playing to a game, may be another way of breaking the ice. It is not even necessary to drink alcohol: in my local, one of my friends whom I've known for decades drinks only diet Coke. If, like me, you are not drawn to soft drinks, tea and coffee are often available nowadays.

Pubs aren't a silver bullet that can solve all the problems of loneliness, and some people may genuinely not like them anyway. The propaganda of the anti-alcohol brigade has had a corrosive effect on the perception of pubs, as have media stories suggesting our town centres are like the Wild West at weekends: I go out every weekend, and they're not. Having said that, CAMRA is basically correct in suggesting that pubs can help reduce isolation for many people. 

4 comments:

  1. Well said, although you are right to point out that not all pubs are havens of community spirit. as CAMRA sometimes seems to imply.

    And the mere act of getting out of the house and enjoying a change of scenery can do you good even if you don't talk to anyone.

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  2. Very well argued piece,and spot on advice.

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  3. Thanks to you both. Once I'd written this, I thought it might be suitable for the CAMRA column I write in our local paper. I think your point, CM, is a good one, and it could be coupled with the suggestion that if you go to a pub more than once, you begin to be recognised by staff and other customers: you're starting to belong.

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  4. I did a blogpost on this general subject here, which I will be adapting into a column for "Opening Times" in February.

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