Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Changing the Conversation - Parents in Pubs

According to some folks I had a misspent childhood.

There are many Sunday afternoons in memory where my little brother and I were at the Sergeants' Mess bar with my mum, dad, and assorted other military families. We would be given a stack of 10p pieces, the old big ones that often had a two shilling coin mixed in, and summarily told to fuck off and play pool while the adults sat around drinking. If the noise of a group of kids got too loud, within moments there would be one of the collected kids' parents, invariably actually one of the dads, on their way to tell us to pipe down.

My dad had an equally misspent childhood in London, and often regales anyone that is listening with stories of being sat outside the pub, given a glass of orange juice and an arrowroot biscuit to keep him company.

My twin sons are continuing that tradition, we first took them to the pub when they were 10 days old, they slept the entire time. Now they are toddlers they are learning to sit at a table, drink their milk or water (juice and soda for kids can fuck off in our world), and colour in their books. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal.

When I was back in central Europe in October, basically every pub I went to had families sitting at tables together, parents with half litres in hand, and kids engaged as part of the group and the occasion, and more than once given a sneaky sup of booze. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal.

As a result of the recent article in Pellicle on the theme of kids in pubs, these thoughts and memories came flooding back. The article is well worth the read, though in my opinion it is really more about women in pubs than children as no-one seems to be addressing the idea that fathers take their kids to the boozer with them. Likewise I am not going touch that aspect here, mainly because as a father to toddlers I know from experience that even taking them to the park by myself can be a challenge. The boys will have to wait a couple more years before the three of us head to the pub sans Mrs V.

Several of the commentaries I have read as a result of the original article take the approach that kids in pubs are a "bad thing" and that the norm for "family-friendly pubs" is basically Lord of the Flies. From a purely anecdotal level, as that is the only level possible in a beer blog unless I plan to document pub life with pictures, dates, and times (I have no such ambition, or the time to do so), is that the vast majority of kids in pubs are supervised and reasonably well behaved. Of course, if your expectation of kids is that they should be seen and not heard then you are ripe for disappointment, and frankly that is your own problem.

What I did decide to do though was to take a look at the history of children and the pub, and one of the first things to pop up was this cartoon.


As you can see, the picture purports to show the scene at a London pub at 9 PM, and right there front and centre are children. To the left I see a toddler and probably an older sibling, getting a jug of ale, the toddler may be about to have a meltdown and is being taken away. To the right a mother, I assume, is holding the hand of another toddler. Stood at the bar is at least one woman holding a baby. The picture was first published in The Evening Chronicle in 1858.

Kids in pubs is not some kind of new alternative lifestyle being pushed by the politically correct hordes intent on destroying western civilisation as we know it. For as long as pubs have been regarded as community assets the community has taken its kids to the pub with them. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal. A little further evidence for this is the poll I decided to run on Twitter:

From more than 300 responses to the poll, 58% of respondents' parents took them to the pub as children. What then is going on?

The problem here, in my unhumble opinion, is that we are focusing far too narrowly on children in pubs. Kids that misbehave in pubs are in all likelihood the kind of children who misbehave in other public spaces such as on the high street and in the shops. In reality the issue here is one of parenting, of which the child's behaviour in public is a symptom not the disease itself. Parents that take their kids to a public space and then let them run wild to the detriment of others using the space are the problem.

What then, to paraphrase Lenin, is to be done? The knee jerk reaction is to ban children from all pubs and create a generation that have no idea how to behave in the pub, have no positive impressions of life around alcohol, and are thus more likely to view booze and boozing as illicit and ripe for misuse. Not being a fan of bans in general, even ones, like the smoking ban, that don't impact me personally, landlords should have the freedom to set the rules for behaviour in their own pub, whether that is no kids after a certain time of day, making plain that families breaching said rules will be asked to leave the premises, or having a separate "quiet lounge" so that those who just want a pint can enjoy the space without being triggered by the presence of small humans.

Such is the nature of our society, seemingly on both sides of the Pond, that no one solution will make everyone happy. Some will cry out "why should I go to a different part of the pub?" if the landlord creates a quiet lounge, others will go running to the local tabloid with stories of the mean landlord kicking them out because their kids are high on sugar and the sheer bliss of being ignored by parents. Of course there is the old refrain from pre-smoking ban days that if you don't like smoky pubs just don't go, the same could be argued for pubs with kids in them, if you don't like it, go some place else.

Kids will always be in pubs, it's just part and parcel of being a community, but they also need to be given the tools and space to learn how to behave when they are there, and that is the responsibility of the parents. It is on the parents to make sure their children are behaving in a manner that respects the public nature of the space they are in. So let's stop raising the straw man of children in pubs and focus on the core issue, parents control your children.

3 comments:

  1. Children were allowed in UK pubs until WW I when it was banned as part of the DORA legislation. So it's not as if it's a long tradition.

    We had a cravan when I was a kid and there was a pub on the site. They quite often allowed kids into the lounge (but not the public bar). Totally illegal, of course. Strangely, civilisation didn't come to an end.

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  2. Al -- interesting post, will put it in our round-up tomorrow. Also, a non-watermarked version of the image is here. Right click the page and save as. (I get annoyed at stock libraries selling these out of copyright pics.)

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  3. Thanks for the new version of the cartoon Ray!

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