Monday 12th April was a milestone in Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. Pubs reopened, at least in England. Hurrah! But forgive me for my lack of excitement, because the conditions for drinkers are far removed from the convivial and relaxed atmosphere of this British institution.
First, you cannot simply walk in and order a pint at the bar. No, no, no. Do this and you will already have committed several covid crimes. ‘You need a mask to come in here. And have you booked, sir? Sorry, we can’t just let anyone in off the street’. You could try to book from the entrance. A table is free in 20 minutes, but you can only have it for two hours.
No smartphone? You could still gain entry, if you run back home to make a booking. That would probably need to be done online, although some landlords may allow a phone call from a landline. Who knows?
Okay, so somehow you have made a booking. You mustn’t arrive early. Or if you do, wait outside away from the entrance. At the appointed time you will be asked to scan your QR code for the NHS Track and Trace app. Or sign in on a clipboard. Unlike last year, everyone must register on entry.
Then you’ll be shown to your table – in the back garden. It’s cold and raining, but hey – it’s a start! There’s a canopy keeping the rain off, but everyone is wearing coats and scarves and trying to pretend that they’re having fun.
You order your drinks from the picnic table. No real ale – the barrels haven’t arrived yet from the brewery. Four pints of lager, then. Plastic glasses arrive on a tray, with some spillage en route. £6 per pint – quite an increase since you were last here.
But for all these inconveniences and stifling regulations, the worst is yet to come. Every conversation you hear is about vaccines. Smug middle-class types with bespoke patterned masks, lowering them only when sipping their drink, want their friends to know they’ve been jabbed. Astra Zeneca or Pfizer – that stimulates another half hour of debate. And then the side-effects. ‘At least I know it’s working’.
You mustn’t converse with anyone at other tables, and getting up from the table without a mask risks rebuke. Bar staff, also muzzled, are under instructions to ensure covid discipline at all times – council enforcement officers are on the prowl.
As the pub is no longer a pub, perhaps I’ll recreate the Horse & Groom in my back garden.