Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, July 31, 2015

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When I was up north recently, I met up with and old friend from university days. Education certainly paid off for her, as she has had a successful career in marketing, persuading people to buy Mills and Boon books or join the Army amongst her many jobs.

Now she is semi-retired, she loves playing tennis, badminton and bridge. She sits as a part time magistrate and loves travelling, having just booked a sailing trip around the Marquesas Islands. No, I had never heard of them either, but I have discovered that they are in French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean. Sounds like a pretty good lifestyle to me, but then she raised my eyebrows by telling us about her new puppy that she was about to collect. It’s a decision my father might have described as puddled. How can you go off for a sailing trip with a puppy? Are puppies welcome in court? Will they chase the tennis balls around and spoil the game? Can you train them to look over you bridge opponents shoulder and bark if they have lots of spades?

Sweet though Jasper looked in the pictures I could not help feeling that he would have a detrimental effect on her lifestyle and couldn’t quite understand the decision. However it seems like I am the one out of step. About a quarter of all households in the country now include a dog and the dog population of the UK has risen from 8 to 9 million since 2012.

This, of course creates a great opportunity for pubs. At one time pubs were considered a bit, dim, dirty and disreputable, the haunt of working class men, and not many others. As their popularity began to decline after the war, some made an effort to widen their appeal. First was the attempt to attract more women. A bit of flock wallpaper to cover the nicotine stains, scampi in a basket and sophisticated drinks like lager and lime and Babycham. More recently some pubs have tried to encourage families, with ‘fun factories’, ice cream machines and high chairs.

And now it is the turn of the dog. Brakspears have launched their ‘Pooches in a Pub’ campaign to make their outlets dog friendly. They are running a competition encouraging dog owners to submit pictures of their dogs in a Brakspears pub. The licensees are being provided with posters, drip mats and have been issued with tips on how to feed dogs alongside recipes for dog meals, the aim being to attract more dog owners and therefore increase takings.

It’s not only Brakspears. Here in West Norfolk, the House on the Green in North Wootton recently held their inaugural ‘Pups down the Pub’ day which was reported to have attracted 300 people and 120 dogs. I went into the Adnams kitchen shop up at Holkham a couple of summers ago and the staff there were telling me that the bestselling item was the Adnams dog bowl, although I guess that it is not obligatory to use it to serve up Southwold bitter for Fido.

So it seems that we now live in the world of the dog. I am sure that there will be some resistance to it – I remember seeing a ‘Men Only’ sign on the door of the ‘Loose Box’ in the Top Kicker, up in Lancashire long after it was legal, so I am sure that some pubs will remain dog free. Jasper may not go sailing or play tennis, but I am pretty sure that next time we go up to Cullercoats, he will come to the pub with us.