Tuesday 8 May 2018

No politics, no religion!

The Fishermen's Rest in Birkdale, Southport
I posted this on Facebook this morning:

Our song session in the Guest House was invaded by a Jesus fanatic last night. He'd interrupt songs to say in a loud voice with an ecstatic look on his face,"Jesus!" repeatedly. I don't care what religion people follow, but I doubt that I would be welcome if I went to his place of worship to interrupt the proceedings with, say, trade union chants.
I ended up telling him he wasn't welcome to come back. In nearly 20 years of running such sessions, I've never had to speak that way to anyone before.

Then I got to thinking about the rules that some people think apply to pubs, such as don't discuss religion and politics. Last year, again in the Guest House, I was talking about two Jehovah's Witnesses who had come to my door. I wasn't talking about religion, just about how I had dealt with them, but someone whom I didn't know sitting on the next table said to me that you weren't supposed to discuss religion in pubs. As I think that's nonsense, plus I wasn't taking about religion per se anyway, I ignored him and a few minutes later he and his friend moved to another table. Personally, I think they were guilty of the greater faux pas of listening in to other people's conversations.

As for politics, as someone who's been actively involved in trade unions and political parties, I've often discussed political issues in the pub. I've known occasions when seemingly intractable disagreements at meetings have been resolved informally after a couple of beers down the pub. It is inevitable that groups of people who have come together for a specific purpose such as politics, campaigns or trade unions will, if they go for a drink together, talk about what they have in common. The back room of the Vernon in Dale Street, Liverpool, was well-known as the meeting place for Militant Tendency in the 1980s. Pub function rooms have often been used by political parties and other campaigning groups for meetings, and it is regrettable that we've lost so many of them, especially as they were also useful for non-political gatherings such as parties, family occasions, fundraisers, and so on.

I don't know where these so-called rules come from. It would, in my view, be wrong to stand up in a pub and start political campaigning, but I can't see how it's wrong to have a chat about politics in your own group. 

I'd take the same approach to preaching in a pub. In 1986 I went to a commemoration of the centenary of the Southport and St Anne's lifeboats disaster in the Fishermens Rest pub in Southport. In 1886, this building was the coach house of a nearby hotel and was where the bodies of the lifeboatmen had been laid out after they had been rescued from the sea, hence the name it was given when later it was converted into a pub. I wasn't very happy when a local clergyman called for silence to say prayers, getting the whole pub to stand. I expect quite a few of the customers felt as awkward as I did at that point.

I suppose a summary of my view is that religion and politics cannot be forbidden subjects - like it or not, both are a part of life - but if you start pushing either down the throats of other customers not in your group, then you're going too far. On that basis, the pious visitor to our song session was way out of line.

An aside: I once heard someone at a local CAMRA meeting refer to a controversy about the name of the pub: Fishermans Rest or Fishermens Rest? There is no controversy: the latter is correct, being what it says on the outside the pub, and in view of the origin of the name, the former makes no sense. The local CAMRA pub guide published twelve or more years ago got the name wrong.


  1. Folk clubs and singarounds are full of people sharing their political views so I can't see why religion should be verboten. In any folk crowd there are assumptions made that we all sing from the same book on all kinds of red and green issues. (We don't). The preachy presumptuousness is one of the main reasons I don't go much anymore.

  2. I was talking about pubs in general rather than folk clubs, but I see your point. If there's a prevailing sentiment - whether in pub or folk club - that you don't agree with, then you will be disinclined to return. Why would you go back if it doesn't suit you?

    However, that's not quite the same as being told bluntly to my face, as I was, that you shouldn't talk about religion in a pub. The funny thing is that I wasn't, as my previous post makes clear.


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