Illustration by Tom Scotcher
I was trying my best to drink off a hangover last weekend when I noticed the clientele of the local boozer had changed. The concept of the underage drinker is hardly foreign to the British Isles but the pub now is always full of kids, and unlike in the good old days when Victorian slumchildren pissed their lives away with endless pints of gin, none of them are even trying to get a round in. The pub, once an escape from the drudgery of family life, has become just the opposite.
It is time for action. It is time to ban children from the pub. Here's why.
Our World and Their World
A key and enduring vision from my youth is that of the archetypal grey huddled mess, sat on a park bench, sacrificing his sobriety to a bottle of Diamond White or Tennent's Super, whatever happened to be on deal at the offie. As a kid I looked on this sight with some intrigue as fundamentally his life was a concept I couldn't yet grasp. Kids are like that. What I could grasp was that the waste ground beyond the concrete footy pitch was his world, whereas the swings and roundabouts were mine. Any errant football would be met with the same sighs of inevitability as one of us was nominated to sidle over to the groaning mess, expectant of some choice words in a language none of us could understand. He was definitely out of our zone and Edinburgh City Council's parks and recreation department had never factored this guy into their vision for a child's play utopia.
This man didn't fit into our idyllic way of life, and that was fine because he scared the shit out of us and smelled bad. We were each of us happy – well, "happy" might be overstating it, but content at least – in our own little galaxies. However, the reverse of that situation is now deemed acceptable, as boozers are festooned with children. The worlds of the drinker and the infant were never meant to meet. Yet they have and the committed drinker is still the enemy, even on his home turf.
They Don't Buy Drinks
Boozing doesn't work on charity. All publicans would agree that if you can't buy a drink, then you must fuck off. There is no benefit to the presence of the penniless drinker. He simply doesn't contribute to the idea of drinking in a pub. So why the hell are children allowed in with such abandon? They don't get rounds in. They don't ask for change for the puggie. Obviously, it's their parents who're the ones supposedly contributing to the great economic plan of boozing, the grand project of exchanging labour for solace, but next time you are in a pub in East London or West Glasgow, watch a group of Fjällräven-clad parents sip their way through half-pints of speciality cider and tell me who exactly is contributing? Even the dole is enough to make a decent dent in an unworking man or woman's sobriety, but who is it that props up the bar these days? Children. Skint children.
Pub food used to be pork scratchings (not the trendy kind) and – if you were lucky – maybe a toastie. With the evolution of the boozer we supposedly should feel lucky that we can now part with £15.95 for fish and chips. Great. I saw a mother bring a baby into the pub the other day. While her other offspring played around, generally doing all the things you don't associate fondly with the experience of getting plastered on your own, this woman approached the bar with a small tin of baby food. She wanted it heating up and the bar staff did so obligingly. The situation seems reasonable enough. But what if I did it? Brought a can of ravioli in and said: "There you go darling, heat that up for me, eh?"
I didn't realise it was bring-your-own-canned-goods-to-the-pub day. I wish they'd told me before I bought the fish and chips. I could've gone to Best Buy for a Fray Bentos.
Parents Need to Take Responsibility
Marriage. I don't get it. But somewhere after the endless cycle of routine that plagues the modern relationship, something clearly inspires some sort of desire to trade pills and plastic for a shot at procreation. Perhaps it's boredom or the realisation that any life beyond 5AM has no meaning. What I will say is that the event of having a kid is life changing. I mean this in a very literal way. Parents need to take responsibility for their actions. The things you used to do before are finished now. A couple of brandies and a line on a Friday are no longer in your social repertoire as you have a sentient being to raise, hopefully into less of a selfish prick than yourself. This isn't easy in what is essentially a booze-soaked front room you have to pay to be in with literally no stimuli for children other than the blue hue of a Guinness tap. People used to talk about great things when they were pissed. Porn, fucking, drinking, fucking again and football. It was ace. It was what the pub was built for. Now, ironically, those who bring children to the pub have nothing else to talk about except that which they painstakingly lugged here. I know what a child is. I know what it does and frankly I couldn't give a fuck.
They stink. There was a guy in Bethnal Green who used to do the rounds of the boozers. Tell the truth, he was a mess; carried with him the general scent of neglect that accompanies everyone who treads the despair triangle of pawnshop, bookies, boozer. He didn't do much, just sat their slurping Guinness, stinking of piss and occasionally ranting about the IRA. Eventually the staff stopped serving him, and he moved on a little further down the Central Line, I guess. People said he was disgusting and foul and maybe they were right but how is this any different from a child? Children stink. One father recently commented that there was no soap left in the baby changing. When did that become a thing to say in a pub? Kids piss and shit themselves all the time. In pubs. I don't care what anyone says, that's a throwing out offence. Or at least it was when I did it.
A Beacon of Intolerance
For all my hatred of them, kids seem to find me with an unerring sense of regularity. Of all the folk in the pub they can smell the intolerance coming off me. And so it goes that my glorious semi-inebriation is jolted back into the grim reality of day by some kid driving a tricycle into my table. Look through the work of the writers that history has chosen to remember, from Pepys to Roth, and you will not find this situation anywhere. Check the pages of Bede or Chaucer and you will find no mention of "changing facilities" or a "kid's portion". It is only now that the worlds of children and dedicated drinking have collided to create this hellish cocktail of unease. As I stare into the moronic eyes of generation bastard, he rams the trike a couple of times into the leg of the table and I lose the top of a pint. He giggles. I thought children were programmed to fear the ugly?
It is modern living. We always want the best of both worlds and in this consumer-driven day and age we have got it, in the worst possible form. The haven in which you could escape from the misery of life and the misery of life have now been joined, for better or for worse. Out with the old and in with the new, as reliable stalwarts who have propped up bars for years are pushed closer to the park benches and railway arches, while Barbie-doll-similar home counties mothers with their ability to breed slowly tear apart the last shred of what used to be the pub.
Next time you want to drink, go to the park. There are fewer kids there these days.
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