Most of us have been fortunate enough to have never lived through a world war.
Recent days and weeks have made me begin to think we are all about to encounter the nearest thing though. It has already seemed like a war of attrition though, with worse news emerging each day. “Can it get any worse?” I keep asking myself.
The undeniable answer is, of course, yes. This is not least because the UK has yet to share full lockdown or, more to the point, the truly dreadful grief and trauma of the size of the Italian and Chinese mortality rates. For the pub industry, the outlook is, therefore, very bleak, not least because the latest view is that social distancing is now expected to need to last a year or so. This is now existential for all us.
My emotional reaction to events over the past week or so have been a veritable roller coaster, with far more many downs than ups. Indeed, I have gone through the whole gamut: concern, frustration, bewilderment, fear, anger, tears, relief and hope.
Concern: that we are already behind the curve and, as a country, might not have been following best practice. Why is it that we seem to have one of the worst ventilator/ ITU bed ratios in Europe? How is it that we did not learn all the appropriate lessons/recommendations from previous infectious diseases outbreaks?
Frustration: at the Prime Minister. At times, I did not have total confidence that the pace of events was not overwhelming the Government. For instance, why did the UK only try to put together alternative forms of ventilator manufacture in the past two weeks instead of the past two months?
Bewilderment: at why the public was advised to avoid going to the pub but, in the same breath, the Prime Minister did not, like the president of France (Macron) or the prime minister of Italy (Conte), order closure of all public spaces like public houses, restaurants and the like. Instead, the burden was left on the small, often individual, operators in the pub industry to decide whether to stay open to try to pay their outgoings and their loyal team (most of whom have mouths to feed and rent or mortgages to pay). I felt bewilderment too that Denmark, Ireland and most of Europe, proactively offered employee support packages from the outset but that there was vacillation by Number 10, despite knowing its advice not to visit pubs would cause a significant downturn in trade (and, therefore, inevitable layoffs).
Fear: of course, for my worried wife, very anxious family and my team members, as to how the hell are we/they going to pay the bills and whether we will be able to get through this and survive. I have never seen the team we have at the Unruly Pig look so worried, indeed scared.
Anger: at the selfish behaviour of too many in our society; stockpiling food and creating havoc and panic. Anger too that my youngest daughter, who is a doctor in a London hospital and had to evacuate her house hurriedly (because of a flatmate having suspected coronavirus) could not buy herself food for her temporary accommodation because the supermarket shelves were empty. “You need to come much earlier love, when we first open,” she was told – she couldn’t. She was caring for sick children all night in accident and emergency.
Tears: when one of the commis chefs came to genuinely thank me, “for everything you have done for me at the Unruly Pig... you have always been so good to me”, after I had just cut all his hours. I just could not hold it together in front of him. I still get emotional when I think about this extraordinary act of generosity. “So good?” Really? I don’t think so. Tears too at the kindness, consideration and encouragement of so many loyal customers.
Relief: that we were able to drive into London (despite the wrongly rumoured imminent London lockdown) to stock our daughter’s larder from our own. God bless Marks & Spencer on the A12, by the way, as we were also able to get her some ready meals and a piece of millionaire’s shortbread to cheer her up. Much more importantly, I was relieved the Government, which I was beginning to doubt, came up with a very significant support package that will probably see us through the next three months and enable me to do right by all the team. Brilliant. Well done Boris and Rishi.
Hope: there is now some hope we will be able to survive. There will still be very difficult times ahead though. Let’s all hope for the best in the days and months ahead but, obviously prepare for the worse. However high the hurdles and however daunting the challenges ahead, with tenacity, consideration and kindness for everyone in society, we will then be best placed as an industry to come out the other side: wiser, stronger and, hopefully, more cohesive. The acts of kindness that I have referred to above have left me with great hope for the future of our pubs and, of course, still faith in most of humanity.
Keep healthy. Good luck and sincerest best wishes.