There’s been a little bit of a fuss round here recently about pubs, or rather a pub. I say ‘round here’, it’s actually been in the next borough along. As Robert Elms once said, ‘There’s no decent pubs in Tottenham”. It was true back when he and Sade lived in a squat on the High Road and used a bucket as a lavatory, and it’s truer still today when there are not only no decent pubs in Tottenham, there are hardly any pubs full stop.
One borough along, a pub’s got into a bit of a ruckus because a couple took their young child along one afternoon, and then complained that other patrons were using a certain level of bad language within earshot. The pub manager’s response was immediate and direct; he banned children from the premises.
There have been objections raised that banning children prevents parents from enjoying a social afternoon with their friends. It doesn’t. It just prevents them from doing so in that particular pub. There are other pubs, child-friendly pubs that smile benevolently on small children, pubs may have a menu that offers kiddie meals, pubs with tables covered in paper tablecloths that can be drawn on using crayons that the pub happily hands out. But even these do not disguise the fact that if you take your children to the pub, you are a lousy parent. Yes you are. This is why.
Pubs – I’ll say this slowly (though you can read at whichever speed you wish) – are adult places. They are places where adults meet. This is made obvious by the facts that generally, only adults are allowed to enter them unaccompanied by another adult, and that their primary purpose is to sell a product whose sale is proscribed to those who are not adults. That product’s primary effect is to lower inhibitions; put the two together and you get adult people, who have adult vocabularies, becoming relaxed enough among other adult people that they begin to use adult language (and we may argue here about what constitutes ‘adult’ language but you know very well I mean swearing rather than obscurant polysyllabics). If you take a child to a pub it will hear swearing. If you leave a child in the middle of a busy road it will be hit by a car. If you dip a child in golden syrup it will be licked by passing dogs. Cause and effect. Simple as that.
As a sidebar here, let me just mention that a while ago I ran into, and arranged to have lunch with, somebody I’d not seen in twenty-five years. When we initially sat down, we were both consciously trying to behave like the grown-up, cultured, civilised people we wished to be seen as by the other, and as such we spoke in polite, grown-up terms. You know what these things are like, though; somebody drops a ‘blummin’, that’s followed by a ‘blimey’, and within about half an hour there’s f-words flying around like no tomorrow. If that happens at lunchtime in a coffee-house-stroke-bakery in Crouch End on nothing stronger than decaf and Eggs Benedict in the company of someone with whom you intend to be urbane, what on earth do you think it’s going to be like halfway through a session on the Krony with the loud, sweary mates you last saw four days ago?
Besides, what the hell are you doing in a pub with a child? What’s the nature of your activity there? Are you yourself having a drink? If you are – even if you’re only having one measly little glass of red, not even a proper sized one, just one of the little thimble-y glasses - then your children should be confiscated, because you are not a fit parent. Fit parents do not drink when they are in charge of their children, and they rarely drink even when they’re not in charge of their children, and do you know why that is? It’s because children cannot look after themselves, and after even the smallest amount of alcohol, neither can you. They need you to do it for them, and they need to you to do this every hour of every day for at least ten to twelve years. Probably longer. Children are fragile. They break easily. They need you, their parent, to look after them as though you were Mary Poppins and Superman and one of those plate-spinning fellas you used to get on Saturday evening variety shows all rolled into one, and if you don’t remember plate-spinners what the hell are you doing having children at your age anyway and you can’t be all those things, things that you really need to be, if you’re even the tiniest bit below your best.
Even if you’re not drinking alcohol yourself, everybody else in the pub is, unless it’s full of people as effortlessly joyless as you seem to be. You’re in a place full of people who are quite probably losing control of themselves, even if it’s happening slowly, even if they don’t mean to. They might not have the reaction time that they should. They might stumble. They may be holding bottles and glasses and maybe knives and forks which, innocently or otherwise, could cause a great deal of damage in an accident, an accident which is far more likely to happen when there’s alcohol involved than not. You want to bring your children into that environment so that you can have a nice social afternoon? Frankly, you’re a dick.
Another thing: I’m all in favour of teaching children to be aware of alcohol. I think there’s a great deal to be said for the French way of slowly introducing children to dilute wine with meals; it’s better than having them discover Strongbow in the park with their mates (one of Sondheim’s lesser-known works). But we don’t do that here. Not in public houses. Do it at home by all means. But, as mentioned earlier, we only allow public sale of alcohol to minors under certain conditions. Only with meals, only of certain products, only with adults. The reason for that is simple; we don’t want to see twelve-year-olds off their face on Stella. Drunk adults are ugly enough, but there’s absolutely nothing good about a drunken child. Alright, there’s quite a lot that’s funny about them, I’ll give you that, but after you’ve had that initial bellylaugh and start to think about the adverse consequences on the child’s mental and physical well-being, let alone the social conditions that led it to drinking high-alcohol lager, well, things get pretty serious pretty quickly.
Most importantly, if you complain about swearing in front of your child in a pub, I have to ask: who the hell do you think you are? What gives you the right to demand that I behave in a certain way in a space that is by its nature intended for adults? You don’t want little Florence to hear bad words? Cover her ears. If it’s warm out, take her out into the beer garden where she can run about and play and where she’s less likely to hear this terrible terrible corruption that spews like bile from the filthy men’s mouths.
Better still, take her out of the pub altogether. Take her to a café. Take her to a soft play area. Take her anywhere you like but take her somewhere entirely different from where I am, because I am in an adult space paying adult money for adult pleasures and my enjoyment of those pleasures should not be reduced because you don’t want your child to hear a selection of syllables that you find offensive on their behalf.
Here’s what it boils down to: You had the child, you take the responsibility for it. It’s not up to me to do that, because I am not its parent. I’m not a monster and I won’t knowingly allow your child to come to any harm; in fact if I see any possibility of that I’ll do my best to prevent it, but I’m not going to do your job for you. It’s your kid, and if it’s in a situation you disapprove of it’s your responsibility to remove the child from that situation. In return, I promise to keep to my end of the social compact and will not sit in a nursery school classroom holding a pint of Adnams and calling the Chancellor a cunt.
Ah, now look. You made me do a swear.