Saturday, 4 June 2011
Middle-aged, middle class drinkers are a threat to public order, you know!
Dear readers, I got thrown out of a bar last night. Or rather a large gentleman with more tattoos than is good for him informed me (rather rudely) that, having gone outside clutching a bottle of beer, I couldn’t go back inside. I had stepped outside to take a phone call not merely to enjoy the balmy summer’s evening.
Nevertheless, I assume that the tattooed gentleman was – as the saying goes – just doing his job. The rules were the establishment’s rules, doubtless imposed on it by a licensing panel terrified by the prospect of young people drinking on the pavement outside a bar in Headingley.
My next stop – a taxi ride away – was at another bar in Leeds. Here I met with my wife, her friend Cathy and some other people. Sat outside in the pleasant evening it was a reminder of how cheering drinking in the summertime can be with the right company. But at eleven o’clock on the nail a doorman – this time with a jacket on and no visual evidence of tattoos – ushered everyone back inside the bar. We went home.
The point of writing this, dear reader, isn’t merely to describe my adventures on a night out in Leeds but to ask some questions about our attitude to drinking and drinkers, to bars and pubs. Part of me can see the point of a doorman – with or without skin decoration – at a big pub in Headingley since it’s the heart of Leeds student life and can get pretty busy. Mind you when we were there – at about ten in the evening – it wasn’t exactly packed out. Perhaps the opportunity to boss me about was too tempting for a slightly bored bouncer!
But a bar on Street Lane filled (well not actually filled) with people all – putting it kindly – who have put their student days some few years behind them. Indeed, most of us have children who are going through that exciting period! What on earth requires that place to have a bouncer and, rather than polite staff implementing the licensing committee’s bossy requirements about outside drinking, using that person to herd everyone inside. These drinkers are that bar’s customers, they are the folk buying the bottles of wine, pints of lager and vodka cocktails that provide the business with its income.
I suppose the seeming ubiquity of bouncers is a sign of the times, a sign that trouble is expected rather than exceptional and that the authorities have come to believe that drinkers are problem to be managed, herded and bossed about. Thinking back to my younger days, I do not remember ordinary high street bars and pubs having doormen – such people were reserved for night clubs and a few cavernous venues in larger cities. Just as we never carried ID – or indeed were asked for any ID since bar managers and publicans simply refused to serve you if you looked too young – we did not experience the aggressive crowd management that seems to be de rigueur in bars today.
Maybe these are worse times, there is more violence, and drinking causes more trouble? But I ask, have we allowed the ludicrous arguments about binge-drinking and an “epidemic of alcoholism” to lead us to treat middle-aged, middle class people drinking outside a bar in a North Leeds suburb as a threat to order? Maybe we are such a threat – perhaps the revolution will start among nice people with mortgages, car loans and twentysomething kids who won’t leave home? Somehow I doubt it!