OPINION: It's up to us punters to follow pub rules and keep them open

Phil and Alex Nichols enjoy a pint outside at The Gangway in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden

Phil and Alex Nichols enjoy a pint outside at The Gangway in Cromer. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant

Cheers, everyone. Who didn’t feel a frisson of hope and excitement about a life outside our front doors and rehabilitating to a ‘normal’ life at the buzz of happy drinkers outside pubs on Monday?

It was lovely how people took days off work – one business boss gave all his staff Monday off to go shopping and enjoy a pub lunch - to mark the emergence from a long winter and embrace hope for the future.

There’s nothing like that first draught pint when it’s been an impossibility for so many months. It was a taste savoured for so many.

Even those who vowed they wouldn’t go back into a pub until they could stand at the bar couldn’t resist knowing that the pumps were working again and booking a table.

How our pubs are doing is a barometer of the state of the country – full and bustling indicates buoyancy and prosperity, quiet and empty, struggling. Pubs are part of the fabric of the UK.

Photos and films across the media and social media this week have been a joy to soak up.

Like pit ponies released from the dark, people swarmed back to town and city centres to browse the shops, sit outside coffee shops, and have a drink and food.

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Holding pints aloft – albeit in ghastly plastic outside ‘glasses’ - we can’t have everything - the first gatherings of friends for months, people wrapped in thermals, hot water bottles up their jumpers, vitamin D-deprived pale faces reddened by a heady mix of the nippy air, alcohol and pumped-up patio heaters and choosing from menus and being served food again were such welcome sights of hope.

Sensibly, not all pubs took the step to open, stepping back to watch how it goes for others, cautious about bringing staff back from furlough and buying in stock, especially if their outside space was limited.

It’s a huge risk for anyone to commit to the unknown, already crippled by so many months of closure.

The burden of rules and regulations that people running have to be responsible for, with the awful spectre of policing vaccine passports if they are imposed, test and trace rules and taking outside payments, is far from the pre-Covid life of a publican.

To open their beer gardens to customers is a bureaucratic obstacle course, which no one should underestimate.

We take our pubs for granted, but the people running them and the pressures they face are rarely thought about?

Until something goes wrong, that is, which is why every customer needs to be responsible and not jeopardise a publican’s livelihood after a nightmare year.

Sure as eggs are eggs, if there is another spike in cases, fingers won’t hesitate to point to the pubs and dodgy social distancing, however hard individual landlord and ladies work to keep people spaced out and safe.

Ultimately, the responsibility is with the customers.

Being daft and hugging, sharing food and crowding together might well, which is why people using pubs have to think about how they use them and respect the nightmare publicans have been through in the last year and tread carefully and keep to the rules.

Even those infrequent users don’t want to see pubs and restaurants closed and boarded up.

It often takes a village pub to be under threat of closure for people nearby to appreciate a pub brings so much more to a community than a place to get a pint, and are communities within themselves, and see you don’t have to be a drinker to use a pub.

The bravery of people reopening pubs and restaurants this week to provide a service when the custom ahead is so unpredictable should not be underestimated and is to be admired.

This week has been a novelty – the break-out.

Sitting freezing eating food that goes cold as soon as it’s served doesn’t detract from the fun for the first or even second time.

But it soon wears off. Will media photographers find the same busy tables, smiles and positivity about what lays ahead if they go out next Monday night?

Now, staff are delighted to be back from furlough, many young people desperate to work, even students deprived of topping up their loans with part-time jobs.

We must give them the support and respect they deserve to keep going – and be responsible or they could end up gone forever.

Back to the barbers: There’s nothing like a trip to the hairdresser after five long months to put a spring in my step.

Being back in the salon chair and handing my Suzi Quatro in the ‘70s-style mane into her taming hands was bliss.

Our six-weekly catch-ups are about so much more than covering up inches of grey roots and having a snip. We’re the same age, with children in their 20s living far away and know lots of the same people, and she’s become a grandmother since my last colour and cut.

Like pubs, hairdressers are crucial public services but also intimate places where relationships are formed and lives are shared.

What I did learn was that she, and so many hairdressers and self-employed, have had no government support payments since before Christmas.

Their worth has been proved the hard way in the last year, so please tip generously.