Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Time Gentlemen, Please!" No More.

2am: The effects of 24 hour opening on a pair of typical twentysomethings

Under a cloud of hypocritical prudery from the drunks of British print journalism last weekend saw the start of 24 hour opening for Britain's drinking establishments. Despite dire predictions of vomit and violence beyond all measure a jolly weekend was apparently had by almost all; Rule Boozetania, and all that. Of course, bitterly cold temperatures, the fact that establishments had to apply and be approved by local authorities for an extension, the fact that many pubs only extended their hours by and hour or two, and the inability of drinkers to find an extra fifteen or twenty quid in their budgets for extra booze probably combined to help keep the lid on.

Frankly, I'm in favour of the change, and not because it would mean I can throw more Abbot down my neck on our next visit to the family. I have become used to going out later of an evening and have found that I have a fairly standard window of about four hours before I should probably stop, find a glass of water, and go and have a quiet conversation with my pillow. Also, by the time the various sets of relatives and friends I go and visit have finished primping, eating, fitting masts on boats, and so on we used to find the amount of time allowed to us between arriving at the pub and the last orders would become so compressed that an anticipated evening of connivial conversation and gentle imbibing would become a gassy, bloated, red-faced sprint.

There are always casualties of change, however. Along with the rituals of the last orders bell, drinking up time, surly staff (including at one time, a teenaged me) stacking chairs of tables as you grimly clutched your last pint, and the raucous shouts of the landlord at chucking out time ("Do your talking while you're walking! Don't you have no homes to go to?") the cherished tradtion of the after hours lock-in is set to fall by the wayside:

BBC News: R.I.P. Lock-ins
LOCK-INS, the party is over, time has been called.
Legislators will make the traditional pub lock-in redundant on Thursday when new opening hours come into force. Under the new Licensing Act, premises can now apply to extend their opening hours beyond 11pm, allowing round-the-clock drinking and killing off the need for an after-hours get together.

Many pub lovers, for whom there were few more pleasurable drinking experiences than the illicit thrill of carrying on when others had been asked to be on their way, will rue the day. For while 24-hour drinking will become widespread, the attraction for many was that lock-ins were secret, a conspiracy between publican and patron. Also, they were exclusive, usually with only a few select regulars.

It's a tradition that had been enjoyed by generations of drinkers, with even the likes of Prince Harry enjoying a few covert pints. While publicans risked losing their licence by allowing them, police often turned a blind eye if things were kept low key. They did crackdown when things started to get out of hand, with police recently finding 140 patrons enjoying an illegal after-hours drink in one County Londonderry pub they visited.

Friends may have foreseen the end when the government announced back in 2000 that it was considering the biggest overhaul of drinking laws for 90 years. Licensing laws in England and Wales had changed little since 1915, when they were tightened to stop factory workers turning up drunk and harming the war effort. While some said the shake-up was long overdue, lock-in regulars knew time would be called on their exclusive after-hours drinking club.

No flowers.

I'll miss those special, rare occasions; the nod from the pub owner, the hiding in the beer garden, toilets, or kitchen until the "strangers" were turfed out; the more brazen sitting still and quiet until the un-elect grew embarrassed and shuffled out; the bar staff on the public side of the bar; the money left in a jug ("We ain't selling it after hours- the money's for 'charity' mate"); and even the heart stopping moment of the beat copper peering through the window, then winking and walking on.

Ahh, change is so bittersweet.


jamie said...

it's a little different when things close at 3am, but i do have may fond memories of similar evenings at the bar i worked in in DC. after the riff raff had left the beers kept flowing, everyone would do a shot or two, we'd raid the kitchen for sandwiches and then go home and sleep until 2pm.

weasel said...

Nothing beats walk-in food in the middle of the night.