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Beer Hall at Hawkshead Brewery #2
Guest Column

Take me to a pub with a dart board and spare me 'virtual reality' gizmos

Added: Saturday, March 2nd 2013

I was recently on holiday in a hotel and was asked by one of the other younger guests if I would like to play darts. Great I thought, I didn’t even know they had a dart board...they didn’t! He produced from his pocket some kind I-Phone, tablet, gizmo and just started flicking the screen. Time to make my excuses and tell him I had to wash my hair.

This took me back to thinking about my son who, when he was 10, said he could play the piano well, which filled me with pride, only to find that he "played" the piano on a similar gizmo as my new friend played darts on. My other son seems to be able to name every football player in the world, but I’ve never seen him read a footie mag or watch a game on television even -- think you know where this is going.

Accuse me of being old and boring if you want (they do!), but what I really like is a really good laugh ,with a group of like-minded people from all sorts of backgrounds and jobs, with a pint of real beer, containing no horse additives, hosted by an enthusiastic genial host who would throw me out on the street if I so much tried to use a calculator to work out how to get down to double 16. Got to admit, not great at working a calculator either, but I can tie my own shoe laces and get to work having brushed my teeth and boiled an egg. 

Being with people is the greatest thing in the world, probably second only to laughing. OK, you can laugh on your own but there’s nothing like shared laughter. Those younger people who are flicking their darts, playing with their fake ivories or pretending to be Ronaldo, or more than likely taking on the whole of the Zombie Night Killer Tribe with a blunt fork, just have no idea what they are missing. The pub environment is a microcosm of life – of course I mean a proper pub, not one which is "themed"/targeted to attract one type of customer. Sons grew up waiting in the car park while dad, granddad and friends drank in the pub, then at 18 (ish!) they were allowed into this mysterious place where you mixed with all sorts of different characters and learnt to respect their views and their age. The pub was probably the only place such meetings would take place – can’t the powers-that-be see that proper pubs aren’t the problem , they’re the solution? 

Take one of our own pubs, the Dog and Bone in Lincoln. A proper pub standing among a row of terraced houses, where everyone is welcome, regular or non-regular. The landlady did a small piece on her website recently (obviously I had to get one of my kids to show me how to view it.) 

“We do a variety of folk and jazz music nights, poem reading evening, joke telling and even mini plays, all in front of two big open fires ,which I even light in the summer -- you know that thing which happens in England (except Manchester) about once every 10 years. I have more than 2,000 books available for regulars to read and punters often spend their evenings playing board games. When I came into the pub nearly six years ago I was determined to make it a real pub. That doesn’t mean old fashioned, just what a pub should really be. It is about reflecting the mood of the local community. People often come in and have a good moan about their day at work – it’s about being a good listener, making them laugh again and pulling a good pint! 

"I revamped the garden area a few years ago and I had a lot of the regulars here helping and it was a great crack. You can’t buy a good community like that. It isn’t rocket science. It’s about making the pub clean and tidy and creating a warm and jovial atmosphere where people feel secure and safe.  It’s the connection and making people feel like they are people. I would like to think I have proved pubs can still be a success even in this day and age."   

Eat your heart out "pretend" Eric Bristow, Jules Holland and Ronaldo -- I'm going to the pub!

*Stuart Bateman is managing director of George Bateman & Son, based in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire.