October 2, 2022
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: See you soon, old pub pal … but not too soon

I have been on good terms with pubs for the 50-plus years of my adult life.

The pub is an old friend and I have shared his company with many other friends .

He stood by us through thick and thin, in good times and bad. He was there for all our celebrations, confirmations and graduations; when the boat came in, the lottery ticket came up or the dark horse proved a winner.

My old friend has been locked down all on his own for months and I am looking forward to the day when we can get together again and I can raise a glass in his company.

But I won’t say ‘I can’t wait’ for the pubs to re-open.  I can wait and I should wait for, so long as there is a virus on the loose, pubs are dangerous places.

I can think of few social settings where physical distancing is less likely to be maintained than in an Irish pub.

I am not speaking here of pubs that are really restaurants, where people reserve tables, stay at them and leave in good order shortly after finishing their meal. Despite what publicans would have us believe, such places are rare.

Most pubs serve food nowadays and some serve very good food but, at heart, they are centres where meeting, not eating, is the main function.

The Irish pub is a kaleidoscope that changes throughout the day.

I like pubs in the early evening, when people are heading home from work. Nobody lingers long but you never know who you will meet at the bar, with a good story to tell or a piece of tasty gossip.

I like pubs when there is a big match on the television.  You don’t need a ticket; just join the crowd, cheer for your team, and you’ll soon be a member of the supporters’ club.

I like pubs when I bring my own company there with me. Sometimes my company will join with someone else’s company and it all becomes a happy rolling maul.

I like to call into a pub on the way home from an evening’s entertainment. I drop in with a friend, knowing there is every chance we will meet other friends and round off the night with good conversation.

That’s the great thing about pubs. You don’t need a ticket or reservation, you can keep to yourself or mix with the mob, make a friend for the evening or a friend for life.

And, yes, you can even eat there. But that has never been the real purpose of an Irish pub and I can’t see it becoming the real purpose, no matter how strictly publicans try to enforce the new rules.

I appreciate that many publicans are struggling to keep their businesses alive and would welcome the chance to open earlier than the August date set down in the Government’s roadmap.  Some will try to use their restaurant licences to get back in business this month..

In general, I do not like this pressure to speed up the re-opening, which is coming from many quarters. The roadmap’s dates have been well thought out; they give us a chance to see whether limited loosening of the rules brings growth in infection and to assess developments in other countries.

It would be tragic if, having made so many sacrifices and wrecked the economy, we were now to move too fast and find ourselves back at stage one.

Maybe that’s a risk worth taking when it comes to schools, offices, or factories. But it is not worth taking for the pleasure of enjoying a pint in good company. Particularly if the rules mean that there can’t be good company.

So, sorry my old pub pal. I do very much hope to see you again soon. But not too soon.

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