Pubs and class

Inspired by an inter­est­ing post at Tan­dle­man Tow­ers (which was itself kicked off by this one over at Gar­rard’s gaff) I just rang my Mum and Dad and asked them: “Why don’t work­ing class peo­ple go to the pub so much these days?”

Now, I should explain that, although I am now ter­ri­bly mid­dle class (I near­ly bought a cheese dome in Peter Jones the oth­er day) my folks are and always have been work­ing class.

I live in Lon­don; they live in a small indus­tri­al town in Som­er­set. So, we have very dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences of and feel­ings about going to the pub these days.

Here’s my per­spec­tive: I don’t bat an eye­lid at pay­ing £3.40 for a pint. I’m very blase about pub clo­sures (“The ones that are shut­ting are prob­a­bly hor­ri­ble any­way, so who cares?”). I’m spoiled for choice, with loads of great pubs with­in an hour of my house on Lon­don’s excel­lent pub­lic trans­port sys­tem.

And here are the rea­sons my folks gave for their grad­ual aban­don­ment of pubs in the last few years:

1. It costs too much – a pint should cost less than £2, sure­ly?

2. The tra­di­tion­al pubs in town are cold, unfriend­ly and have a poor range of beer. Some­times, says Dad, “it’s like walk­ing into a hos­tile Wild West saloon”.

3. The new­er pubs are almost like night­clubs, with DJs, dance­floors and offers on alcopops. To note: young work­ing class peo­ple are going to those in some num­bers, because they can get drugs and pull there, unlike at the dis­tinct­ly unerot­ic Rose and Crown or Bunch of Grapes.

3. The nice pubs in the area are out of town, in the sur­round­ing vil­lages. Drink dri­ving’s now taboo and there’s no pub­lic trans­port to speak of. Cabs are too expen­sive.

4. Work­ing class homes are nicer now than they were in the 60s and 70s; it’s eas­i­er to get qual­i­ty beer and spir­its these days; and it’s rel­a­tive­ly cheap­er than it used to be. So, stay­ing at home isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a com­pro­mise – it’s quite nice!

5. As it hap­pens, they are going to the pub for the first time in a while tonight, and the draw is free live music from a local blues band. Oth­er­wise, they would­n’t both­er.

Inter­est­ing­ly, they did­n’t think the smok­ing ban was an issue, although my Dad smokes and my Mum used to, and actu­al­ly thought it had improved some of the local pubs.

Food for thought. I need to digest it.

18 thoughts on “Pubs and class”

  1. Nice expan­sion on Tan­dle­man’s post. I do agree with you that the pubs that are clos­ing are bad ones. The rest are good points and it all adds up. The class divide is right there in the mid­dle some­where too – kind of on the road between vil­lage pub and bar.

    Maybe the most per­ti­nent answer to ‘why don’t the work­ing class go to the pub?’ is that a tin of lager at home is mas­sive­ly cheap­er than an pint of lager in the pub. Food for thought indeed.

  2. Peter – that Wether­spoons is a fun­ny one. It’s cav­ernous, very ‘young’ and is on the street where peo­ple go for a fight on a Fri­day or Sat­ur­day night. So, no, they’re not keen. My Mum also went off it when they served her whisky in the bot­tom of a half pint tum­bler instead of a stem glass. She’s fussy like that.

  3. This is a fas­ci­nat­ing top­ic, made more­so because of British notion of class is some­thing I’m still try­ing to get my head around.

    There are crap pubs in my neigh­bor­hood that have closed. They had the “Wild West” feel­ing your father men­tioned. All the pubs I enjoy seem to be doing OK, so I won­der if this is just the free mar­ket forc­ing the pub to evolve?

    Even if my con­sumer habits (yes, I did spend £7 on that bot­tle of Goose Island stout!) mark me as mid­dle class, I con­sid­er myself work­ing class– again, I haven’t got my head around the British notion of class. Maybe it’s just Lon­don that makes me feel poor?

    Where are these mid­dle class gas­trop­ubs? I don’t think I’ve ever been to one. Is the White Horse at Par­sons Green con­sid­ered one? (But that place is so love­ly, despite the posh clien­tele– I just ignore them). Would any­one have an exam­ple?

    I still am shocked to see peo­ple fork out £3.40 for a pint of Stel­la. That has got to be the rea­son why pubs are clos­ing, as Mark and Tan­dle­man have point­ed out– it’s cheap­er to drink from a tin at home. Also, more peo­ple have home enter­tain­ment sys­tems and the inter­net and leisure time is increas­ing­ly soli­tary, or at least free of any com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment– which is the sad­dest devel­op­ment of all real­ly.

  4. Class is one of those notions that falls apart when you try to quan­ti­fy it. Lots of mid­dle class peo­ple will claim to be work­ing class because their par­ents are. Loads of work­ing class peo­ple iden­ti­fy them­selves as mid­dle class because they aspire to be.

    White Horse is def­i­nite­ly a mid­dle class pub. Would some­one who works in a fac­to­ry feel very com­fort­able there? They might, but prob­a­bly not. My Dad cer­tain­ly would­n’t.

    This prob­a­bly relates to this post from a while back in which we said: “A pub where you can be your­self with­out wor­ry­ing that you’re being judged — one where you aren’t the cen­tre of atten­tion for the wrong rea­sons — is what most of us seem to be after.”

  5. Mind you, my par­ents are solid­ly mid­dle class and they hard­ly ever go to the pub either. When they do, it’s because I’ve invit­ed them to a nice one on a sun­day after­noon.

  6. A pub where you can be your­self with­out wor­ry­ing that you’re being judged — one where you aren’t the cen­tre of atten­tion for the wrong rea­sons — is what most of us seem to be after.”

    Yes, absolute­ly agree – peo­ple are look­ing for some­where they feel at home. And this is very often where peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds hap­pi­ly rub along togeth­er.

    I’ve been in pubs dom­i­nat­ed by pre­ten­tious twats talk­ing about chateau-bot­tled Bor­deaux and Jocas­ta’s gymkhana, and oth­ers where I’ve been called a poof because I wear specs. Nei­ther of which qual­i­fy, obvi­ous­ly.

    This post lists a num­ber of non-finan­cial rea­sons why peo­ple vis­it pubs less than they used to. You may well dis­agree on some, but the increased con­ge­nial­i­ty of the home and the attrac­tions of mul­ti-chan­nel TV and the Inter­net are cer­tain­ly sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors.

  7. No, I think that list is pret­ty much spot on.

    My Mum also said last night that it was very unusu­al in the 1970s to have beer or spir­its in the house except at Christ­mas. Big car trips to the super­mar­ket must have made a dif­fer­ence there – why not pick up a few bot­tles for the fridge while you’re there?

  8. Agree all the pubs I go to seem to be doing just fine but they all do decent cask ale and that’s why I go to them. I can’t get that from a super­mar­ket – cost is irrel­e­vant.

    … it was very unusu­al in the 1970s to have beer or spir­its in the house except at Christ­mas. Big car trips to the super­mar­ket must have made a dif­fer­ence there — why not pick up a few bot­tles for the fridge while you’re there?’ – Absolute­ly right.

  9. Excel­lent post that rais­es some fas­ci­nat­ing points.

    I’ve been bang­ing on for a while on the theme that pubs are busi­ness­es with no divine right to stay open, and those that oper­ate as a busi­ness – under­stand­ing the needs of their clien­tele and cater­ing to them, keep­ing high stan­dards in what they do (whether that’s food, great real ale or a DJ who knows what he’s doing) will thrive. Those who think some­one owes them a liv­ing will go to the wall.

    The class thing is very inter­est­ing – in a recent sur­vey 57% of peo­ple described them­selves as work­ing class, where­as if you take it by the ABC1C1DE demo­graph­ic clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem about 60% of us are now ‘offi­cial­ly’ mid­dle class. There’s a dif­fer­ence between hav­ing to work hard to make ends meet and being ‘work­ing class’. But what is it?

    I am now a North Lon­don media ponce, but my dad worked in a car­pet fac­to­ry and my mum was a clean­er. And I grew up in Barns­ley for God’s sake. I think the point at which I stopped being work­ing class was the point at which I stopped adding up the cost of my gro­ceries as I went round the super­mar­ket, so I think the orig­i­nal post and most com­ments are bang on. A lot of it is about not hav­ing to wor­ry about every pen­ny, know­ing that you might be skint, but hav­ing the con­fi­dence that if you stick it on a cred­it card you’ll be able to pay it down next month. But many pubs are clear­ly los­ing the plot. Recent­ly, a pint of lager and a glass of white wine for the lady broke the £10 bar­ri­er for me in a pub. I can afford it, but I’m offend­ed by being ripped off on prin­ci­ple and haven’t been back since.

    I think the points your par­ents made are excel­lent and you should send them to the Pub­li­can and Morn­ing Adver­tis­er and make pub land­lords and Pub­Cos see the truth.

  10. I agree with Pete – god help me – that is an excel­lent post with plen­ty of points for con­sid­er­a­tion. One thought that springs to mind, how­ev­er, is that aside from the price issue, the rest of your par­ents’ com­plaints boil down to the local pubs not giv­ing them any­thing they can’t get at home. (A notion fur­ther rein­forced by the fact that when they final­ly are giv­en such an entice­ment – live music – they’re only too hap­py to go out.)

    Again, as Pete notes, pubs are busi­ness­es and I believe should be oper­at­ed as such, rather than as de fac­to com­mu­ni­ty insti­tu­tions that pos­sess some sort of god- or coun­cil-giv­en right to exist. Give peo­ple some­thing they can’t get else­where, whether a great pint of ale or live music or sim­ply a place larg­er than their liv­ing room in which they can socialise with friends, and they will come. Oper­ate like you’re doing your cus­tomers a favour and you’ll soon be whin­ing about the lack of busi­ness.

  11. Armadil­lo – cask ale is cer­tain­ly one of the things that gets us to the pub. Sad­ly, though, my Dad can get much nicer beer from the super­mar­ket (Mean­time Lon­don Porter, for exam­ple, which he’s devel­oped a taste for) than he can in most of the pubs in Bridg­wa­ter.

    Pete – glad you like the post. Here’s anoth­er through on class, from Boak’s brainy (mid­dle class) dad: work­ing class peo­ple get few­er chances to fuck up in life than mid­dle class peo­ple. Upper class peo­ple can do more-or-less what they like with­out con­se­quence.

    Stephen – hel­lo! “Local pubs not giv­ing them any­thing they can’t get at home” sums it up nice­ly.

  12. Cor blimey, class, you can’t get away from it in this coun­try — my par­ents drank in hotel bars in North Wales in while my grand­par­ents drank stout and mild in pubs in rur­al Wales and Irish bars in Liv­er­pool. Haven’t got a clue where I stand in all this.

  13. An old­er (six­ty-some­thing) rel­a­tive of mine who would punch your lights out if you called him mid­dle-class says there are three rea­sons why work­ing class peo­ple don’t go to pubs like they used to: fit­ted car­pets, dou­ble glaz­ing and cen­tral heat­ing (at home that is, not the pubs)

  14. My (posh) dad goes to a pub where there are two bars. There’s an unwrit­ten rule that one bar is for work­ing class peo­ple and the oth­er is for the posh peo­ple. The posh bar ajoins a small restau­rant, is adorned with hops and has a good selec­tion of real ales. The work­ing class bar ajoins the skit­tle alley, has bar bil­liards, a juke­box and Fos­ters.

    Some­times the posh peo­ple have to go into the oth­er bar if they want to find out from the mechan­ic how long their car’s going to take or see if the local handy­man’s got time to fix a fence.

    I think the whole pub­’s about to go bust though because no one’s real­ly drink­ing now, posh or not.

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