In a really lively pub, not everyone is going to get a seat.
If you do get a seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have the table to yourself, or that someone won’t end up stood over your shoulder bumping you with their hip and yelling, laughing or otherwise existing out loud.
We found ourselves thinking about this as we worked our way around the pubs of Kelham Island in Sheffield on a busy Saturday night.
There, parties of people in smart Going Out Clothes seemed happy to stand about, cascading into spaces between tables even where there hadn’t seemed to be spaces moments before, and crowding the corridors.
“Can I just squeeze through there, pal?” Well, not really, and yet somehow, yes, and all without touching. (A British superpower.)
If you’re mug enough to wear a coat, you’ve either to swelter, to hold it, hope to hang it, or throw it on the floor. The tendency to hit the town in shirtsleeves makes sense in this context – cold between pubs, sure, but unencumbered once you get there.
That’s not to say that people aren’t keeping an eye on the availability of seats. There’s a way of glancing sideways: how near is this lot to finishing? How empty are their glasses? Is anyone making a move to buy another round, or have they started picking up coats and handbags? There are prime hovering spots, and sharp elbows are sometimes unleashed: “Some people’ll jump in your bloody grave!”
One party leaves (a gust of cold air, dead leaves across the carpet) and another group comes in. The crowd flows fluid to make way as hands reach over to lift pints from the bar, as scotch eggs are eaten from plates balanced on the mantelpiece, as giggling people sit on laps, or the arms of chairs.
These pubs are healthy. This pub culture is healthy. Life is good.
And those lovely, tranquil pubs where you always get a seat? Perhaps worry about them.