Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, October 21, 2016

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There was a time when it must have been possible for an educated person to read every book in the world. Soon after the printing press was invented I guess that changed and one had to begin to select the books which interested you and pass on the rest. These days, this selection is increasingly performed by electronic devices. When I turn on my mobile phone, it gives me updates about subjects that are supposed to be of interest to me. In the last week or so I have learned about craft beer in Alaska, an independent brewers marketing scheme in Ireland, the first craft brewery in Jordan, the 17 best pubs in Cardiff and details of a beer festival in Huddersfield. Of course beer is not my only area of interest, so I could tell you about the problems of the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen, traffic jams in Norfolk and the number of awards won by ‘Game of Thrones’. There are also a few topics that seem to have crept in there from which I seem to be unable to unsubscribe, St Albans FC injury updates and the progress of Mila Kunis’s baby bump amongst them.

Pubs seem to reflect this fragmentation of the world. There are pubs with 2 meals for £10, those with soft play areas for children, sports bars, pubs where all the tables are laid for food and those with live music. Each try to attract a specific audience and either accidentally or by design alienate many other potential customers.

Is this a problem? I think that it could be. Increasingly we have become locked in our own bubble, concentrating on the things that interest us, meeting and communicating with like-minded people and having our views and prejudices, good or bad, reinforced instead of examined and challenged. When we do come into contact with views that don’t coincide with our own, there seems to be an increasing tendency to resort to abuse rather than argument, be it the accusations of sneering or characterisation of people as ‘luvvies’ that I see on the letters page in this august organ, or the obscenities shouted at me by the guy on a bike because I was walking on the ‘wrong side of the path’ in the Walks. You may not agree with all of the Labour Party’s policies, but I for one think Jeremy deserves enormous praise for his decision to expel members who resort to abuse.

So where are we to have these discussions and arguments? Universities were the natural debating arena, but many now seem to be designated ‘safe spaces’ where dissenting voices must not be heard. If the government have their way, grammar schools and secondary moderns will return, which in my view, is more about social segregation than academic excellence, reinforcing class privilege and prejudice.

Then there is the pub. The best ones are those where everybody mixes, the young and the old, the working man and his boss, the tory and the socialist and men and women. It doesn’t mean that they sit around the table every night debating the issues of the day, though it might happen sometimes, but it helps people to realise that we have a lot in common, and people who do not share our views or social class are not necessarily monsters. Unfortunately it is just this type of suburban community local that has suffered the most in the pub closures of recent years, and they will be a distant memory kept alive by plot devices in soap operas allowing just that – the different characters to meet each 
other.