Living with the Ninny State

Time flies, folks…whether you’re having fun or not. Those brief few months when we were able to re-open our doors and welcome customers back to the bar were good while they lasted, but now the party is over.

It’s a cold, wet and grey November day and I’m waiting to hear what exactly the latest lockdown rules mean for the business. We all knew for weeks that another raft of restrictions were on the way, but there was a sting in the tail after the PM made his latest speech to the nation on Halloween.

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What the what, now? Back in March we had started a delivery service before the first lockdown was announced. Off-licence sales had sustained us through the spring and well into summer (because of renovation works happening at the bar we weren’t able to open until the first weekend of August). 

I was expecting to spend November doing the same as we’d been doing in high summer: shop sales from passers-by (with a max of 2 mask-wearing customers inside at a time), local deliveries of cans and BIBs in our ‘beer wagon’ on the weekend, plus on-the-spot draught growler fills from our taps. All supplemented by a sales portal on our new webshop which we’re promoting with 15,000 leaflets being dropped around the neighbourhood the first week of November.

Once again we’ve had our plans up-ended by a party of nincompoops who only go to the pub when it’s time for their annual photo op with their donor friends. It’s like living in a Ninny State.

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The uproar from pub landlords and brewers over the past few days has been deafening on social media, but it remains to be seen whether the MPs will make any changes before enacting these proposals. 

I understand the sentiment behind the restrictions. Throughout the summer pubs and bars that did not have an off-licence element to their business were selling pints and  cocktails for customers to drink in unofficial beer gardens or in the street. But c’mon, guys, it’s November. The long summer nights of raves, street parties or other mass gatherings are over.

Let’s also not forget the host of measures that pubs and bars put into place over the summer, meaning much of the financial support provided by the government ended up being spent on sanitiser, software and Perspex screens…not to mention our combined efforts resulted in a nationwide ad-hoc track and trace system that was in place before the government’s highly-paid consultants managed to unveil their own (hugely expensive) botched effort.

These measures meant that traceable infections from hospitality accounted for around 2-3% of all cases in the autumn. By comparison, restaurants packed out with diners eating out to help out only helped to accelerate the second wave. And let’s not even dwell on the situation with schools, public transport and the workplace.

My initial reluctance to open the bar eased as it became more apparent that our reduced capacity, increased ventilation and stringent cleaning regime were working in our favour. Our spreadsheet of contact details had over 600 names on it before the Track & Trace app went live. As most of those people came in with a partner that meant we had well over 1000 people pass through our doors without a single high alert (although that may have something to do with the recent news that the app’s parameters on what constitutes a high risk were set at too high a threshold).

I think what’s most upsetting is that every single time the government has had an opportunity to make a drastic change that would actually make a difference, they have dithered and delayed, testing out the public response via leaks to the media, before announcing what amounts to only the tiniest of tweaks. We knew weeks ago that a lockdown was likely, but what was the PM’s response? Close pubs an hour early.  We knew here in Manchester that Tier 3 was highly likely (we have the country’s largest university student population) but it turned out that tiers were negotiable.

And now we’re in the situation where a proper nationwide lockdown is probably what’s needed the most, but essentially all that will happen is that the barbers will have to shut up shop along with pubs (many of which were already shut for being in Tier 3).  All because what would really make the difference (better testing, better tracing, more capacity in the NHS) are beyond the government’s capabilities.

One good thing to come out of all this latest round of agonising and anxiety is that we’re all guaranteed our place in heaven. God knows to not keep us in purgatory, not after we’ve lived so much of our lives in limbo.

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