Let's herald an era of positivity about pubs

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

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Let's herald an era of positivity about pubs
Last week I appeared on a Radio 4 programme called What’s the Point of Pubs? It had a favourable reaction on Twitter, but I was struck by the number of people who highlighted my positive, optimistic sign-off about the future of the pub as being particularly noteworthy.

It depresses me slightly that such positivity is so rare as to attract comment. We’re good at campaigning in this industry, and one problem is the danger of focusing on problems and issues rather than what’s good. I’ve written before in various places — and spoke at this year’s Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) conference — about how, if we’re not careful, we can talk ourselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy of decline.

But the British generally aren’t that good at positivity and celebrating what we’re good at. Show any kind of national pride and you very quickly end up sounding like a UKIP-voting Daily Mail reader in our post-colonial, post-Empire guilty collective consciousness. We must be unique as a nation in allowing our national flags — both the English Saint George Cross and the British Union Jack — to be symbolically appropriated by far-right extremists.

Recently, when I wrote in The Guardian that British brewing is admired around the world, one online commenter declared that when he reached this sentence, he had to stop reading the article. We’re in a pretty poor state if a simple statement of fact, a simple acknowledgement of something we’re good at, actually causes offence.

This is a drum that I’ve been beating for some years now, so apologies for any déjà vu up to this point. But, the thing is, we may well be on the point of a refreshing change.
Britain’s success in the Olympics surprised everyone, and delighted many. I live in Hackney, not much more than a
Jessica Ennis long jump from the Olympic Park, and we’re still buzzing at the feel-good factor the games
generated. It went beyond the medals and permeated the national consciousness. In London at large, it was like living in some weird parallel universe, as if we were temporarily and delightfully trapped in a child’s dream of the city rather than the real thing. There was a chilled vibe in the air. People smiled at each other in the street. And get this — tube station staff and bus drivers were polite, courteous and cheerful. Yeah, I know. It was that strange.
I don’t think this was just down to the success of our athletes. I believe our Olympic experience would have been like this anyway, thanks to Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.

I said on the radio show — recorded before the Olympic Games began — that Britain was confused about its identity. Days later, Boyle’s spectacle portrayed Great Britain as multicultural, off-the-wall, kind, eccentric, fun-loving, creative, smart, tolerant, sociable and ever so slightly barking mad. Even the hateful Daily Mail had to grin through gritted teeth about how wonderful the NHS was, and confined its customary incitement of racial hatred to the odd opinion column that was swiftly amended and then deleted in the face of public outcry.

Boyle taught us how to think of ourselves positively. He defined modern Britain in a way that’s appealing to anyone except the most intolerant reactionary.
Could some of this rub off on the pub?  

The chat among publicans, as opposed to drinkers, has focused on the fact that business was down during the Olympics. (That’s a shame, but how many publicans planned something special for the games?)  

And if I were to follow usual beer columnist rhetoric, I could moan about how the opening ceremony itself threw in every single signifier of British culture you can think of except the pub and cask ale, and isn’t this a disgrace?But that would be to miss the bigger point quite spectacularly. Boyle’s vision of modern Britain showed us how to feel good about ourselves, and then our athletes gave us good reason to do so. The Union Jack suddenly seems quite cool.

We can build on this, creating a refreshing, modern, 21st-century pride in what we’re good at, and that includes the British pub and British beer. The legacy of the Olympics — if we choose it — is an appetite for optimism and what is truly British — not what was British 50 years ago, but what is British now.

The pub and British beer should be part of that — so why not let’s all be a bit more optimistic and celebratory of beer and pub culture, and see what happens?

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