Every time I pass a pub now…10 September 2009

Cigarettes & Alcohol

Every time I pass a pub now, there’s a morbid fascination to see how busy it isn’t.

Occasionally, I’ll go into one and have a drink. I like proper beer but it makes me fat and, more immediately, drunk.

Following the sad demise of the automatic hand dryer – a roaring noise, a vertical gale of warm air and cold wet hands which you could dry by running through your newly deranged hairstyle in a vain attempt to restore it to some semblance of order – lots of pubs have paper towels. Such is their pathological need to not run out before closing time, they cram the dispenser so full that the first tentative tug usually brings a dozen or more out in one clump. So the very act of overfilling means they run out sooner, I always conclude. This is known as the law of unintended consequences.

Another example of this was the Beer Orders which appeared in the UK in the early 1990s. At the time most pubs were owned by big brewers, and appeared to be taking advantage of a monopoly situation. The legislation was intended to force brewers to sell off most of their pubs, and to allow those they retained to sell at least some beer from small independent brewers. It imagined a return to idyllic pubs with owner landlords all selling local brews. It bombed. Some of the brewers decided they preferred owning pubs and sold the brewing side, most of the pubs that were sold went in bulk to new, huge pub-owning chains. Brewers consolidated even further. Choice went down. Forced to buy expensive beer from the huge PubCos in return for ostensibly cheap leases, landlords were caught by first cheap supermarket alcohol and then by the smoking ban. So the pubs closed down.

But, whilst sleeping off last night’s football-fuelled beerfest this morning, the Radio Four current affairs fairy whispered something magical in my ear – the growing number of breweries in the UK made it the “undisputed top brewing country in the world”.

“Britain has more small craft breweries per head of population than all other major industrialised countries; but it also offers tremendous choice,” said Roger Protz, editor of the Good Beer Guide.

“While most other countries offer mainly mainstream lagers, Britain has enormous diversity – milds, bitters, strong ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, old ales, Christmas ales, spring beers, golden ales and harvest ales to name just a few.”

So, much like Yellow Pages, the law of unintended consequences is not just there for the nasty things in life and apart from the usual screw-ups (step-forward Financial Services Act) and Murphy’s Law (the first spill in months is always on your new, expensive carpet, shirt or tablecloth), those awfully nice Wikipedia peeps describe a third category – a positive unexpected benefit, usually referred to as serendipity or a windfall.

So if I pass a pub these days, serendipitously open, there are lots of great beers to drink. That’s why I get so pissed I can’t work the towel dispenser. Why do they fill those things so full? What a waste, no wonder they’re often empty. Hmm – my hair looks kind of windswept…

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