Beer and oafing - the time and place to be adultPosted on: 12 May 2011 by Alexander Hay
We all need our own place to be ourselves
My earliest memories of a pub were over 30 years ago, when as a mere toddler, I found myself on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides, where Her Majesty's Armed Forces maintained a large base.
Needless to say, this meant the NAAFI was there in full effect and so the island had not one but two bars aimed at military personnel and their families. I was often taken to both by my mother, usually to visit a friend as these were the only places you could socialise.
One was in a huge concrete building and was dark and exciting, with the then-latest video games and pool tables at hand. The other was a slightly shabbier affair, based as it was in an oversized prefab, and it smelt a lot of pineapple juice. In any case, from an early age, I knew how to behave in a pub.
Because pubs aren't child friendly. You will see and hear people in various states of emotional disrepair, inebriation and conflict. It didn't help that the first venue had a major caterpillar infestation, for some bizarre reason. And the fact that the other bar had its own sweet/toy shop on the premises probably just confused everyone too. But the fact remained: These were adult places and I was on the periphery, looking in.
Still, a lot changes in 30 years. In many ways, the barriers between old and young have broken down and this is a good thing. The only problem is when one group tries to intrude into the other's space.
This weekend, I was in a pub not far from where I live, which just so happens to let children and young people in. So it was that in marched about a dozen girls in their early teens, flanked by their teachers, who then roosted at a table nearby.
Being young and annoyingly exuberant, they broke out in song (they were probably a choir on the side and out on a social) before reverting back to giggling while two of the 'Misses' headed off to the bar.
But this was still a pub, and pubs - would you believe it? - have drunk people in them. One such old soak heard them sing, so got up and waddled over, drawling a request for them to sing again 'becosh yersh all shound like... Like anshellssss...' The teacher left behind to protect her charges flipped out and threatened to report the drunk for being a paedophile or some other such menace to youth.
This is the sort of shrill discourse that drunks simply don't get, so he eventually staggered back to his table, slumped down and then had a long rambling conversation with me about the incident where he kept repeating himself every 60 seconds.
The panicked teachers and their charges, meanwhile, darted off to the seats upstairs, the school ma'am complaining to management - who proceeded to do nothing about it. After all, it was still a pub.
The problem lies in our dysfunctional relationship with children. With this comes the belief that everything should yield to child safety, or rather, what paranoid, somewhat mad parents and teachers assume is child safety.
Hence the teacher's shock and horror that her pupils would encounter a drunk - A DRUNK!!! - in a pub. After all, shouldn't everything be sanitised, clean and safe? Shouldn't someone think of the children?
The truth of the matter is that there are places that should remain the way their owners should prefer them. If the drunk and the girls had anything in common, it is that they both need somewhere to go where nagging adults can't go, and yet the assumption of the teachers was that everywhere was accessible.
The flip-side of this is that if you can go everywhere, then everywhere should be bound by the same rules and expectations, which is of course anathema to both teenage choiristors and drunks alike. They need their own territories where they can live, however briefly, by their own rules.
Instead, we had the odd spectacle of young people being marched into a pub and a drunk being told he wasn't welcome there. On the upside, at least the girls briefly witnessed a moment, however brief, where their tightly run, scheduled lives ran headfirst into some boozed-up, wobbly legged chaos.
Like me in my formative years, high on pineapple fumes and being helped up to play Scramble, it was a moment where the adult world revealed itself for what it truly was and welcomed us into it.