Smoky rooms of melancholic men

[Pictured is the now demolished ‘Blood Tub Hotel’, formally known as the New Dock Hotel, Birkenhead].

I didn’t realise how much I like pubs or relied on them,until COVID-19 shut the world down.

Firstly, I rarely drink alcohol, and when I do it is whilst hosting friends at my house or dinners at theirs.  Apart from that the odd cocktail on the docks with a visiting friend in summer is as lairy as I get. I don’t go ‘out out’.

Why? I have to be in the mood to drink and due to various health reasons I have to be careful. I also find alcohol quite boring and do not understand the obsession with it and never have. I prefer a Dr Pepper.

I have a great social life and most of it does not revolve around drinking. In normal times it consists of dog walks, yoga, films, food, days out etc. I just like hanging out with my loved ones.

As the daughter of a dead alcoholic I spent much of my childhood in the pubs of Seacombe and Birkenhead. Rough working men’s pubs, with beer-soaked carpets and dark wooden tables. Smoky rooms full of melancholic men.

My husband is the son of an alcoholic mother. Instead of pubs she stuffed spirit bottles down sofa cushions and hid her melancholy in the living room.

Bizarrely there is often a contested notion of what type of alcoholic is ‘worse’. The type who cradles a can of strong brew at 8am in the kitchen whilst his daughter gets ready for school before moving on to the circuit of pubs for the day (my dad) or the alcoholic who discretely hides their consumption at home, in a neat and tidy house (my husband’s late mother).

Alcoholism is destructive, violent and harrowing. The pungent smell of haemorrhaging and the terrifying descent into alcohol-induced psychosis are not for the faint of heart. You don’t observe someone else’s alcoholism, you live it.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics  is there to help people who have been impacted by a parents’ drinking. Please don’t feel ashamed of the life long consequences it has.

From reading the above you might assume I am against pubs. You would be wrong. Pubs offer a community for those cast adrift from society. The man sat in the corner with a cut on his head is better in the pub than home alone.

Alcoholism is a complicated affliction arising from deep trauma. From a harm reduction perspective, I want problem drinkers to be safe. I want them to have a glimmer of normality and the human interactions which we all crave.  When I look around me, are we going to ‘cure’ the men of 70 years old plus who have alcoholism? Probably not. We have to meet them where they are and sit with their sorrow and pain and anger. That is difficult. Alcoholism is hard and nasty and messy. But the people who are the hardest to love and care for are the ones who need it the most.

Pubs reopened yesterday on the 4th July, and I saw the local red mobility scooter outside in its usual space. I felt comforted that the owner has his place back.

It is easy to sit and judge people who frequent pubs. People use them for different reasons. Many use them for the cheap and free coffee refills, free wifi, a warm and sheltered place you aren’t rushed from, predictable and cheap food, and from a disability perspective- the plentiful bathrooms.

Poverty has been  ignored in many of these debates. It is a lot easier to “stay the f**k home” if you are privileged with a secure job, a nice home and no disability (perhaps actually preferring to stay home). It is a lot harder if someone resides in poor living conditions and is desperate for a reprieve. Screaming about “the virus” doesn’t help. This isn’t a zero sum game. Other health conditions and causes of death haven’t evaporated because of this pandemic. Living miserably for months of end isolated can have long-lasting consequences. Likewise, many publicans and staff need to return.

I have been trapped within a 20 min radius of my house for the last 3 months due to the lack of toilets being open. As a woman with severe Endometriosis and Colitis sorry if it’s TMI, but I need the bathroom a lot.

I estimate that in normal times or the ‘before times’ as I like to put it, I used pubs at least 2-3 times a week. I go for a soft drink and food with dog walking pals; I wile an hour in between appointments or waiting for friends to finish work; I go with my husband for food; I meet family who live out of town. Pubs are one of the few public spaces where you are not rushed. I go to ‘old men’s’ pubs mainly, so there’s always quiet corners and I can work or people watch before moving on.

Pubs represent so much about our society, and to dismiss them as just people going out getting pissed and partying is to dismiss so much of the tapestry of human life. We crave interaction. I am very much an extroverted introvert, I love being around my loved ones and socializing (but then I get ‘peopled out’ and tired).

COVID-19 has changed everything. Nobody knows if this will last years or indefinitely. Just be kind. The mental health impact of this has been dismissed. But mental health and in particular the effects of social isolation have massive physical health impacts, From lowered immunity, to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes. Some people haven’t been out of their house for months! If people want to sit in a room with others and it’s socially distanced, and the pub has followed all the COVID compliance, just leave them alone.

Some people live isolated lives, some by choice, others by circumstance. Others thrive on contact with friends and family every day (me!). Most of us have been flung into living a completely unnatural life where we have been kept away from our loved ones and physical contact has been limited. It is no surprise that people are jumping at the chance to claw back some semblance of ‘normality’.

Thinking of all those with independent businesses who have opened again or are preparing to re-launch. Stay safe and I hope you get support from your community.

Gemma x