Wednesday, 20 August 2008

British pubs according to George Orwell

This is taken from a newspaper column written by George Orwell in 1944:
"I note that once again there is serious talk of trying to attract tourists to this country after the war. This, it is said, will bring in a welcome trickle of foreign currency. But it is quite safe to prophesy that the attempt will be a failure. Apart from the many other difficulties, our licensing laws and the artificial price of drink are quite enough to keep foreigners away. Why should people who are used to paying sixpence for a bottle of wine visit a country were a pint of beer costs a shilling? But even these prices are less dismaying to foreigners than the lunatic laws which permit you to buy a glass of beer at half past ten while forbidding you to buy it at twenty-five past, and which have done their best to turn the pubs into mere boozing shops by excluding children from them.

How downtrodden we are in comparison with most other peoples is shown by the fact that even people who are far from being "temperance" don't seriously imagine that our licensing laws could be altered. Whenever I suggest that pubs might be allowed to open in the afternoon, or to stay open till midnight, I always get the same answer: "The first people to object would be the publicans. They don't want to have to stay open twelve hours a day." People assume, you see, that opening hours, whether long or short, must be regulated by the law, even for one-man businesses. In France, and in various other countries, a café proprietor opens or shuts just as it suits him. He can keep open the whole twenty-four hours if he wants to; and, on the other hand, if he feels like shutting his cafe and going away for a week, he can do that too. In England we have had no such liberty for about a hundred years, and people are hardly able to imagine it.

England is a country that ought to be able to attract tourists. It has much beautiful scenery, an equable climate, innumerable attractive villages and medieval churches, good beer, and foodstuffs of excellent natural taste. If you could walk where you chose instead of being fenced in by barbed wire and "Trespassers will be Prosecuted" boards, if speculative builders had not been allowed to ruin every pleasant view within ten miles of a big town, if you could get a drink when you wanted it at a normal price, if an eatable meal in a country inn were a normal experience, and if Sunday were not artificially made into a day of misery, then foreign visitors might be expected to come here. But if those things were true England would no longer be England, and I fancy that we shall have to find some way of acquiring foreign currency that is more in accord with our national character.

Though some of the more crazy aspects of British licensing laws have changed, many of his complaints are still true today.

I particularly like the bit about childrenless pubs being boozing shops. As a parent and continental resident, trying to find a pub the whole family is allowed in can be a frustrating experience. Britain is the only European country where this is the case. Even scandinavia, with quite draconian alciohol laws, lets kids into pubs. Rant over.


Boak said...

Thanks for posting this - I remember seeing a quote from Orwell about licencing hours but I haven't been able to find it.

Brilliant stuff, and scary how much of it could have been written yesterday.

And we're with you on the kids.

Anonymous said...

The finest English writer, the clearest thinker, of the late 20th Century.

The Middle Class Ponces of the beer blogerati can snicker and point over the ironic po-mo implications of 'Big Brother', but Orwell understood English society and held it up to the light. Good on him, good on you for finding and posting.

Anonymous said...

oh - i never realised that about kids in UK pubs. when i was there in december 2007 i just marched in to most pubs with my 4-year old, ordered a pint and sat her down with a soft drink and a colouring book and assumed it was ok. maybe it wasn't! particularly now that UK pubs are smokefree, it made it an ideal place to spend time while my wife is out clothes shopping.
Ed (wellington, nz).

Boak said...

Ed - that's the way to do it, to be honest. Most Brits are too passive to actually tell you off for it, they'll just tut to themselves...

If you ask if it's OK to bring kids in, you'll get told no, but if you just do it, I don't see anyone kicking you out unless they're a real a-hole.

Barry M said...

Even the last paragraph where he says "If you could walk where you chose instead of being fenced in by barbed wire and "Trespassers will be Prosecuted" boards" rings true to me when thinking of my native Ireland, compared to my new home in Germany where you can ramble pretty much everywhere. And yes, the child-friendliness of bars and cafes is a distinct contrast.

Unknown said...

I always wonder wtf people are up to in a pub that you could not have children witness? Seriously if you are behaving in a way that your offspring or mother would not aprove, perhaps you need to retool.

Stonch said...

Ron, this is magic, thanks. Almost every sentence is thought-provoking.

Anonymous: The Middle Class Ponces of the beer blogerati can snicker and point over the ironic po-mo implications of 'Big Brother'


Ron Pattinson said...

Jeff, I had a lot of time for Orwell before I read this. After reading it, I realised just how much he understood British society.