I visited a pub today. The first in a very long time.
It was a pub I used to be a regular in, but that was twelve years ago before I moved from there. For a long time I have intended revisiting this old haunt because it was one of my all-time favourites. It's a country pub but not isolated. There is a small village around it, population in the hundreds, so not vast but not tiny either. It is the only pub within a three mile radius.
The village is a little difficult to reach by bus but it can be done. I couldn't stay late, the last bus out is 8 pm but it turned out not to be a problem. I left long before then.
I remember it as an active and vibrant pub, rarely packed like a city-centre pub but never empty. There were bar-proppers who would be there if you went in for a lunchtime pint and they'd still be there if you went back in the evening. It didn't do a roaring trade but it ticked over very nicely. There was always a decent selection of beers and malt whiskies, including the Glenfarclas 105 which isn't too common in pubs because it's, well, deadly. The interior was redecorated frequently and sometimes completely remodelled. The pool table was perfectly level and in frequent use, there was a pool team and a darts team and both did well.
Today's visit was not the trip down memory lane I had expected.
There were no draught beers of any kind. None. All beer was in bottles or cans. The taps were there but the landlord had stopped ordering draught beers and ciders because he couldn't shift them before they went out of date. Whiskies consisted of Bells, Famous Grouse, Whyte and MacKay and only one malt - the Macallan. A decent malt but not my favourite. I'd pay £3 a glass for Ardbeg, but not for Macallan. So Whyte and MacKay it was.
The lounge bar is now a restaurant and empty. The public bar doesn't even have the lights on other than around the bar, there aren't enough customers to make use of the space. The dartboard was closed and had seating under it, the pool table cloth was dirty and torn. There are no pool or darts teams any more. Not enough people to form either.
Taking glasses outside is not allowed and smoking inside is, of course, not allowed. Twelve years ago, around 90% of this pub's customers were smokers. ASH will say there is no connection between the sorry state of the place and the ban they placed on 90% of the pub's clientele.
There are a few hundred people in the village but almost none use the pub now. There is nothing else. No club, no disco, not even a tea room. Just the pub. Well, when I lived there, the bulk of the village never visited anyway. Smokers were the main customer base. Visiting pool and darts teams provided a regular boost, so much so that the landlord would lay on free food for the evening.
Then the smokers were banned. Not by the pub, but by the Righteous who have never visited this pub. The nonsmokers in the village never visited before and still don't. Darts and pool teams from other pubs have no reason to come here. There has never been any passing trade. This place is not on the way to anywhere.
Now you not only can't smoke in this pub, you also can't play pool or darts, you can't sample unusual or unknown malt whiskies and unless you like lager, you can't have a draught pint. Why? Because the customers stopped coming and without income, none of these things can be maintained. Now there is little to nothing to entice the customers to come back. The landlord reckons he'll be closed within a year unless something dramatic happens. "People are having get-togethers at home," he said.
I have a name for that sort of thing. And when the pubs only offer the same canned beers you can buy for considerably less money in the supermarket, there is no point in visiting the pub any more. There is nothing to do in the bar except watch TV, which those who like to watch TV can do at home and decide which channel to watch. They can do it while drinking a canned beer that is now exactly the same as drinking in the pub and they don't have to go outside to smoke.
Pool and darts - well, most of us can accomodate a dartboard but a pool table needs a lot of space and unlike a dartboard, it needs that space permanently. Using the one in the pub was unquestionably the best option. Now it's no option at all.
This pub is nearly dead. The one in the next village died a couple of years ago. Smoky-Drinkies are on the rise although they go by many different names or by no name at all.
I wonder, are we returning to the original concept of a 'public house'? As the war on booze proceeds along the same lines as the war on smoking, soon we'll have to brew our own anyway. So Smoky-Drinkies will be 'public houses' with their own little brewery round the back. They won't be open to the public, of course. There'll be no signs and no welcoming landlord. They will be set up among small groups, they cannot be open to everyone because as soon as they are, the smoking ban will shut them. So if you don't already have one you'll just have to form your own.
In May, most smokers and drinkers in Scotland will vote for the continuation of their own persecution and the acceleration of the destruction of their pubs by voting for the parties that have openly stated this as their intention. They will vote for people who hate them and who make no secret of it.
The overweight will vote for their own persecution too, as will everyone who likes salt on their chips and who drives a car. All of them will place their 'X' in one of the 'denormalise me' boxes.
There is a UKIP candidate here. That's where my vote will go.
Independence for Scotland is the rallying cry of the SNP, but what use is independence without freedom? North Korea is an independent country, remember.
Free benefits for all, is the Labour cry, but what is the benefit of oppression?
Um... right, yeah, is the Lib Dem cry. Why do people vote for them anyway? More to the point, why do any of the denormalised groups vote for them? If there is one thing the Lib Dems are certain of, it's that they hate us all, just as the other parties do.
The Tories' cry in this part of the country is likely to be 'Please, somebody, anybody, vote for me' but few will. Here, the Tories can be dismissed as the irrelevance Cameron has made them.
All those parties hate smokers, drinkers, the overweight, drivers, anyone who likes a bit of salty food... the list now includes pretty much everyone. Yet they still get votes. Lots of votes.
I doubt they'll get that pub landlord's vote this May. The thing about dead-slow pub business on a Saturday evening is that it gave him plenty of time for a chat, and put him a receptive mood for a few new thoughts.
If only he had some customers to pass it on to.