time, gentlemen, please

Last week, my local drinking establishment closed down without much advance warning. The street its on used to have six pubs along its length; it now has one ‘cocktail bar’.  From having so much of a reputation for pubs that it was said Prestonians had one for every day of the year, thus prompting the creation of teetotalism, we are a city slowly and surely drying up. The most recent figures from within the industry suggests Britain is losing 100 pubs a month: some estimates put that far higher, maybe as many as twice that amount.

What is prompting the loss of pubs in the UK? It’s not just the smoking ban, or the increase in alcohol duties, or the popularity of supermarket deals, or any other single suggestion in isolation. It’s all those things, some of them, one of them, and others aside in combination depending on area. The old fashioned boozer is on the endangered list as much as the kakapo parrot, and in its place are a dwindling number of gastropub/brand pub combos. And not to sound too much of a grump on this, but they’re not always what I need of an evening.

I’ve seen some of the regulars from my local – the blokes who would sit in the same seats, at the same time, having the same drink and often sharing the same conversation – wandering around Preston looking for somewhere else to go. It’s a ‘Goldilocks’ process, each pub being not quite friendly enough, each seat not comfortable enough, each ale not poured just right. Now I know what some of you are thinking – you’re middle aged men putting the world to rights at a backstreet boozer, you don’t really need to rediscover the ‘perfect pub’. To a degree, you’re right. We just don’t want to find the wrong ones.

Now let’s not get over-romantic. There’s some terrible pubs out there. I can see why people argue very convincingly that the death of the British boozer is just the free market working its way through oversized buildings selling lager to a dwindling number of pensioners. In a society in which email and social networks are killing off the art of conversation, in which organising nights out has been reduced to a few texts, the death of the pub exacerbates the decline of our “social society”. Anecdotal evidence for the win – the 90 year old whose only interaction with the outside world was my local twice a week may now have nowhere to go.

(And even in my local, as it happens, there’s been one or two uneasy moments. I was swung at by a bloke who took offence at my belief in the existence of black holes, as he was adamant that they didn’t exist and my ‘chatting shit’ about them being real was enough for him to roll a punch at my face. Exception rather than rule, there, though.)

So now the country faces an unusual situation. CAMRA and its real ale supporting colleagues have never been so popular. Real ale and new micro-brewers are filling pubs with much more choice than we’ve seen in years. It’s just the structure of the pub industry has not kept strong against the resilience of the brewers. In oversized franchise pubs with little interaction between barstaff and customer, you might as well install self-service checkouts for all the experience you have when drinking. These places can’t ever be “your local” because you don’t feel local when drinking there. The “custom” part of “customer” is lost when the JD Wetherspoon you’ve chosen has hundreds of people surrounding you with no space for air, never mind asking about the weather.

And so where does this leave me? I’ve tried a number of new locals, all a bit different, all not quite as comfortable, all without a jukebox which leaves me VERY frustrated because I’d happily pour £20 a night into a jukebox rather than across the bar. I’m very conscious of the pubs I’m choosing have a secondary role as somewhere to meet and greet, somewhere to wind down, just somewhere to go if you have few other options, and how friendly and social and familiar these places can be. Maybe Britain’s binge drinking problem has its origins in the new generation of drinkers only knowing chain pubs with their neon lit special offers, rather than the world-to-rights solitude of the boozer down the road? I’m worried we won’t have long to find out as each of those boozers shuts up for good.

Mine’s a Cumberland, or whichever guest’s on that takes my fancy, please. And a packet of Scampi Fries too.


I understand social media, to a lesser or greater degree, enjoying the expansion/development of the Internet into a jamboree of tagging, poking, checking in and checking out.

All the same, there’s a block, a black mark across the mind, bubbled and scratched and defaced by white blobs, like a popcorn’d barcode. This is the QR Code, not “the humble” or “the dear old”, just the straight down the line, aren’t we all fans, let’s celebrate our cleverness QR Code.  It cannot be my age or lack of a decent scanner, it has to be plain old common sense, because I just do not understand the appeal. It’s the worst kind of technological clever-clever, not too dissimilar to using an in-joke at an interview, or eating English food with chopsticks.

The latest company to grind my particularly well oiled gears on this is Heineken. I don’t drink Heineken, preferring beer/ale which tastes of something, rather than fizzy water with a hint of battery acid, so their “Concert goers are all QR crazy” shtick weakens my disposition.

The transformation of a humble logistic company’s tracking device into a gig-goer’s name badge should, by all records of such things, be exactly the kind of development I would welcome with giddy abandon. “It’s the future!” as a wise man once said of garlic bread. But no, alas, I am not convinced. Not even curious – less so when faced with Heineken and their corporate video of doom. I’ve not been to any music festival, ever, so maybe I am wrong in cynically dismissing a QR Tent full of shoulder slapping, wide-grinned strangers as being contrived. Drugs can’t have that much of an impact on people. (“Wow, this stuff is amazing, I’m totally baked and I’ve just unlocked the Munchie Badge on 4squre”).

This is the future

QR codes on the sides of buses (no, really), shop windows, even pub menus (though to be honest, that was spotted whilst drinking a few doors down from Angel tube station so it’s probably considered normal there) – all combine to form a language marginally less useful than Esparanto. Or Canadian French. There’s an implied barrier of snobbery with companies who use them – more so when the box is not accompanied with any explanation to its meaning. Unfortunately I fear the ship has sailed around the world picking up passengers and hosting all day orgies because the dreaded box is not going away; film distributors offer extra long trailers for people who scan in the right code. It’s worth remembering the rule about long trailers mean terrible films.

I want to like the QR code in its new guise as hip and happening password to the future, it’s just impossible to do so. It’s an impersonal and impractical image of style which abandons pretence of function. The “concert friend hook up” wheeze is a desperate act akin to putting casters on a dead horse and pushing it around Ascot.

Liam Rhodes

Liam Rhodes is a conservative blogger and social media communicator…During a recent spate of discussions and arguments on Twitter about his personal politics and definition of conservatism in the age of the Coalition.

I offered to ask Liam some questions following on from these discussions. This is what came from the questions…

You can find me on Twitter @doktorb, or Liam at @LiamRhodes.

So, Liam, thanks for this, for those who may not have seen you on Twitter before now, it may be best if we just find out a little about you…..

Well, I’m 21. I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party since 2005. I sought election in a difficult ward as a borough councillor in 2010. I’m also the blogger behind http://www.onenationtory.com.

…Good, right, on Twitter you have been taking part in a continuing discussion about whether you are a “capital C” Conservative. How would you describe yourself ?

I’m a liberal one nation Conservative. I have always been a liberal, one nation Conservative.

That is, I am a small ‘c’ Conservative. I believe in Government providing both a ladder and a safety net whilst the State is smaller than it was in the Labour years to make room for private sector, sustainable growth. I also believe that the State should leave people alone and let them get on with their lives. I am an advocate of equal rights – but also free speech.

One recent tweet from you said you had become more progressive over the years, how would you describe this process?

A very painful personal journey for me resulted in the anti-progressivism to begin with. It’s a difficult question for me to answer.

Did the Coalition agreement change your opinion specifically? Or was this a process already in motion before the election?

I support the coalition because it is first and foremost in the national interest, and I believe it is where the Conservative Party has an opportunity to further change.

Would defecting away from the Conservative Party ever be an option for you? What are your opinions of people who do defect parties?

Not unless the Conservative Party took a big turn to the right. My opinions of people who defect are not negative; I understand that in some circumstances, people’s hearts change.

In terms of specific policies, the Coalition are accused of slashing spending on public services at the least appropriate time. Are you concerned by the cuts to public services?

I put my faith in the Coalition to protect the front-line services and the most vulnerable.

To what degree is the current Council Tax scheme “fair” ?

I believe Council Tax system is fair because it is progressive in the sense that older people pay less and people who live alone get a discount.

At what level should, for example, Child Tax Credits or Child Benefits be cut? Are you afraid the Labour Government spent too much on such benefits, or is “too much” not a problem when dealing with child and family welfare?

I believe Child Tax Credits and benefits should be means-tested further, and I am disheartened by the fact that we didn’t act on this when we had the opportunity. I am very concerned that Labour created a means of Statism whereby people felt they were dependent on the State. They favour State dependence because it results in more votes for them – and they believe in a large State.

Instead of handing out these forms of benefits, it makes much more sense to me to cut tax.

Should there be an English Parliament?

No. I simply don’t believe we need one. It would cost a heck of a lot and there is no added value to balance that cost.

What is a “living wage” in your opinion?

I would support an increase in the minimum wage to £6 with inflation, but not during the current economic climate. I would never support a ‘living wage’ because it would result in economic failure. No business will employ some unskilled workers for £7 or more per hour. It’s simply unsustainable.

Which former British Prime Minister do you most admire?

Margaret Thatcher. Not because of her social Conservatism – far from it. Because she fought for what she believed in and she saved the British economy from turmoil.

And finally…..What is it about Twitter you like so much?

I like the fact that you can be in contact people who share common interests. I certainly don’t like it when things get personal. For example, I’ve just been called ‘arrogant’. Oh well!

((This interview was carried out by email. Questions and responses have been re-ordered and edited for space))