Told me by a man in a pub?

A mate of mine has a job which involves him sitting on the end of a phone whilst people tell him about how they paid a lot of money to a man in a pub, and now they’re shocked that whatever they bought doesn’t work or has broken down.

So frankly I try not to believe ‘the man in the pub’.

But anyway what about the man in the coffee shop? I don’t know if it’s only me, but I tend to chat to the people who work behind the counter at places like Costa. I remember talking to one guy and asked how he was enjoying it. He did me the honour of assuming that I meant it as a serious question and explained that, funnily enough, he was enjoying in. He was originally working in the pub trade. He knew it; he’d literally been born into it. He hoped to work his way up to management.

But pubs are dying, society is changing, now people buy cheap drink in supermarkets, drink it at home and tell their friends on Facebook what a tragedy it is that all the pubs are closing.

The only work he could get was in pubs where they paid you less than a minimum wage but promised you’d get a share of the profits. In his case he’d been in the trade too long to fall for that. He could walk round the pub and tell that it wasn’t going to make profits for five or ten years.

So when an old friend walked into the bar and asked him how he was, he said he was getting sick of it. So she offered to try and get him a job in Costa where she worked. He’d said ‘Fair enough.’

So there he was working in Costa, and by his own account he was quite enjoying it. Money was OK, hours were OK, the other staff were fine and the customers sober. Yes, if you’re a Guardian journalist then the money looks pathetic, but if you’ve spent your life in the pub trade, it’s actually pretty good. And he gets to spend his evenings with his friends.

But anyway, that’s by the bye. We’ve got a general election coming up and we’ve got two groups of people deluging us with memes on Facebook saying how either, “The economy is rubbish, the greedy bastards have given everything to their mates” and “The economy is recovering, we’re pulling out and everybody is going to be better off, but don’t vote for the other lot or they’ll screw it again.”

Fair enough, they’ve got jobs to do; they both want flash offices, ministerial cars and the extra salary and expenses.

But what’s the truth? It’s an old question, Pilate wasn’t the first to ask it (John 18:38) and since his day the definition has been changed regularly to make sure we never find out. So let’s ignore that people who’re paid to tell us what they want us to believe.

Every so often I go for a longish walk on a Wednesday afternoon and if I’m going the right way I’ll stop in at Costa.  It’s about 5pm when I drop in and normally it’s quiet. There’ll be me, the staff and three or four other tables with customers on them.

Except that in the last two weeks, same day, same time, it’s been busy. First time I wondered if there’d been something on in town, second time I mentioned it to the guy who was making me my coffee.

He also did me the honour of taking my question seriously, because he stopped to think as he reached for the chocolate sprinkles.

“We’re a lot busier all the time now.” He sprinkled the chocolate on, leaving the shape of a Christmas tree. “You know, I wonder if the recession is over?”

Who knows? But frankly he’s not standing for election, he’s just looking at the world that he lives in, and because he’s not the man in the pub, he might even be worth listening to.

Oh and thanks for offering, mine’s a large cappuccino, with chocolate.

before coffee break

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4 thoughts on “Told me by a man in a pub?

  1. willmacmillanjones November 28, 2014 at 3:09 pm Reply

    I’ve just come back from Swansea City Centre. perhaps travelling in on this most hideous of US Imports, Black Friday, was a mistake: but the place was very busy. Sadly I thought there was an air of desperation amongst the shoppers as they waved credit cards in the air and plundered perceived bargains, but that might just be my anti materialistic viewpoint. What there was not was jollity. What i did notice was an increasing number of empty shops and charity shops. And, incidentally, Card Shops.

    Perhaps Douglas Adams should have written about the Greetings card Event Horizon instead?

    • jwebster2 November 28, 2014 at 4:14 pm Reply

      It’s always struck me as strange that Card shops should hope to flourish when email is killing the post.There’s something unnervingly counter-intuitive about it.
      I’ve avoided town (not difficult, I normally do) but there, the main shopping street now contains the sort of shops that would have hoped to have wormed their way onto the second division shopping street forty years ago.
      Some of it is supermarkets and the big sheds killing town centre shops and drawing people out of the centre to the fringes
      But a lot of the stuff they’re buying in the town centre seems ‘disposable’ now. Cheap clothes to be worn once, a lot of stuff out of Poundland, if you want quality you’re as likely to find it in the charity shops as anywhere.
      I’m still pondering this.
      I think we’ve got a lot of long term factors in play here.
      I was looking a figures for income inequality, over the last century or more. In the English speaking world if fell after WW1 and in the 70s and later it started going up again.
      My gut feeling was that 1914 drove home the message that the ruling classes needed the ordinary working man, if only because they needed a mass conscription army. (Read stuff written in 1900 where military commentators bewail the fact that too many men are unfit for military service due to malnutrition)
      But by the 1960s it was realised that we don’t need the vast conscript armies anymore, we’ve moved on in warfare as in everything else so now we’re just looking at small elite forces, be they soldiers, software designers or whatever. The mass isn’t needed and no longer need to be pandered to. That’s why we see such a gulf between the political class and the rest. ‘Plebs’ and tweets about white vans and union flags is merely a symptom.
      I suspect an Athenian would diagnose a shift from limited democracy to Oligarchy where a comparatively closed aristocracy (From the Greek, aristos, meaning ‘the best’) now dominate government.

  2. M T McGuire November 30, 2014 at 9:40 pm Reply

    I think a lot of it is because so much is boiled down to generalisations and sound bites, which, by their nature, cast things as extremes. People like a succinct summary and its excellent that they can have one but it doesn’t always communicate the subtleties of an issue. If you fail to flag up the subtleties of the issues, you can’t blame the people who don’t get them. In short, I think a lot of politicians treat all of us as if we are thick because we’re not part of their exclusive little political club. as a result we tend to do two things: first we stop trusting them, who trusts anyone who treats them as inferior, second we ease to respect them because they don’t respect us. I think it’s also a big reason why so many people have reached a level of cynicism with politics where they’ve given up on it.

    On the oligarchy front, yes there sort of is one but it’s more complicated. On the whole the people running things are a small select band of the most highly intelligent people in their year group at Oxford and Cambridge. They all know one another from uni before they start running government, law, big business and the rest. The up side is that at least, if you’re insanely bright, you can get into this group regardless of your background. Case in point my state school educated, extremely high powered friend (via Cambridge).

    However, now that he can afford it, he is sending his son to one of the best public schools because he wants it to be easier for his lad to do the same thing. But also becUse there is so much stuff you can do at a public school. The clubs are like university: sports, arts, facilities etc are much, much harder to come by at state school. I went to public school and it was completely amazing. However, it was one with a fair few scholarships so the social backgrounds were very mixed. I can’t afford it for my son and I am less sure I want to. I would need to pick very carefully. It strikes me that the kinds of people who can afford to go these days are from a wider variety of nationalities but social background wise it seems to be bit more elite. A bit more monochrome.



    • jwebster2 November 30, 2014 at 10:49 pm Reply

      On the education front I think they did horrible damage to social mobility by destroying the grammar schools. Barrow in Furness was one of the few places that brought in the 1944 education act properly with grammar, technical and secondary modern schools. I suppose that because we were an industrial town with plenty of work no school became a ‘dumping ground’ because being good with your hands but not terribly literate still meant you could earn good money.

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