Tuesday 19 April 2011

Started with a kiss

It was a dark and windy winters evening. It was Friday and one would expect it to be busy in the pub, but at the end of a long West Cumbrian valley even weekend nights are quiet. We were not expecting to do more than four or six covers and if the GP on the beer sales paid for the barman to be there I'd have been very shocked indeed. We staffed appropriately.

At the time I smoked, and was still allowed to do so in my own home that happened to be a pub. The kitchen was sort of ready, myself and the small staff team had already resigned ourselves to settle in the bar, I had rolled a tab and was just entering that Hamlet moment content in the knowledge that it would be an easy service and I would shortly settle into a gentle evening of drinking. A fine and polite gentleman entered the bar, asked if we were doing food and proclaimed that there was a huge group in the Youth Hostel for the weekend who would be shortly attending for dinner.

There was a short Basil moment when my realisation that I'd be run off my feet, and an early beer was not going to be for me, as I curtly enquired why they had not given me any nice. "We cook from fresh here you know, no zip and ping here, we might not have enough fresh meat in stock" sharp retort from Ann sent me scuttling into the kitchen ready to cook for these kindly people.

It was all running nice and smoothly in the kitchen. At the time the menu was reasonably simple and we had copious amounts of Cumberland sausage in the freezer, handily individually prepared straight and proud, not these silly curled up versions that seem to have an inbuilt coyness. They cook much easier from frozen than the curled up type.

I had a kitchen porter/waiter who was a great Aussie Bloke. A Proper Bloke, the type who would fit in well in A Fosters advert. He was starting to return to the kitchen, having delivered a number of fine 18 inch long local schlongs to some appreciative chaps. "They are all a bit weird" he reported "One of them is dressed as a Sheila"

Hmmmm, that'll shock the local bigots I thought, after all, this isn't a pub in Soho. Still, they are probably just on a stag do or something. Little did it cross my mind that the guy in question regularly liked to dress up as a woman. "A lot of them seem a little camp" reports my Antipodean pot sanitation operative. But I thought nothing of it, he seemed to have a view that English rugby players were all of dubious gender, so I just got on with cooking.

As the checks came to an end, I decided, as I often did, to carry the last order out and leave the kitchen cleaning to the other staff. There was something of a touch of irony in the fact that the rough guy from the outback was being left in the kitchen wearing apron and marigolds.

A huge length of meat in each hand, carefully arranged provokativly on the oval plates complete with juicy gravy, two veg and a good dollop of white mash. "Two Cumberland Sausages" I called out as I walked into the bar; there was no order and our normal table number system had gone by the wayside on this evening long ago. "Oooh, yeesss, that must be mine" one bloke called in the most pleasant of camp voices "Just put it down there dear" to which an amorous observer felt the need to comment, with equal, if not greater femininity. "Oh, what lovely sausage you have there Nigel" OK, so perhaps the KP had a point, many of these men were gay, and extremely happy with the fact.

They were a gay outdoor club, visiting The Lakes for some fell walking, and more importantly a bloody good laugh.

We had one of the best nights of our time at the pub. I even got chatted up, but of course, being totally comfortable with my own sexuality, Ann's insistence on reminding me of the fact has never bothered me. Not once has it bothered me. Really. Indeed, it was Linda, it turned out, who had decided to hit on me; the guy, all 6 foot plus of him, who was dressed in a very fetching dress, high heels, and wanted a man to treat him as a woman, whatever that means.

None of them kissed. Or perhaps they did, and I didn't notice. Perhaps I was too busy trying to explain to Linda that she wasn't my type. I think I let her down gently enough. I suspect I wouldn't have been offended if any of them were kissing, unless Linda had tried to kiss me. Perhaps it would only have been Crocodile Dundee who might have been upset, although I'm fairly sure he was seeing the funny side of everything anyway.

But, it's not Soho up here. There are people who would find it obscene to see two guys snogging. I would have had the right to eject anyone from my pub, without reason, providing it was not on any grounds of prejudice.

We have had same sex couples staying in our rooms. To be perfectly frank, they have simply been the most polite and agreeable people. I suspect we've had many more staying who have been more coy and not been open.

The worst thing about taking a booking for a double room, from a hoteliers point of view, and finding that the customers are same sex, is checking that this is what they want and that in fact we haven't made a huge mistake. To do that without drawing attention to the fact is somewhat interesting. Ann is significantly better than me at checking that without causing embarrassment.

It does seem completely daft that in the heart of what is generally considered the most liberal district of our country two gay men can be kicked out of a pub just for showing a little bit of affection. Moreover, it shows that in the majority the general population find it abhorrent that anyone can be ejected from a pub because of their sexuality. I'm sure that 20 years ago the attitudes of the general public would have been quite different.

Having said all of this, there are still people who are genuinely offended by same sex affection. Thankfully they are few in number and I suspect, and hope, these people will vanish completely at some point in the future.

There is an underpinning principle of operating a licensed premises that permits the operator of the establishment to eject any person without reason. Indeed, it is often advised that reasons are not given to avoid accusations of prejudice. The need for this is very simple and permits the licensee to prevent unpleasant situations occurring.

I'd be surprised if anyone in Soho would be offended by a little bit of kissing, but what if the pub had been in a reserved area and someone was offended? Should a licensee be permitted to ask someone to leave if another customer was offended?

Despite the fact that I support the continual removal of bigotry, I worry that there has been little mention in the mainstream press of the importance of the licensees right, and indeed necessity, to sometimes ask people to leave a licensed property and the fact that anyone who fails to leave when asked is breaking the law. It would seem that Jonathan Williams was somewhat confrontational during the incident when he was asked to leave.

Having said all of that, the publican in this particular case clearly did not handle the situation well and I suspect is having a huge amount of regret right now.


Curmudgeon said...

Not having been there, we have no way of telling if they were genuinely the victims of double standards, or if they were coming on a bit strong in a way that would lead a licensee to suggest to a heterosexual couple that they should "get a room".

Unknown said...

Mudgie, I totally agree, there is no way of knowing just how intimate this snog was. They claim it was a "hands on table" kiss. But, what is considered acceptable in public varies from person to person.

Generally I'd say most people would think that any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, would be best advised to get a room once kissing turns into snogging.

Wasting time in fact, just go home, get down to it and enjoy that post coital feeling.

Anyway, there is part of me that wonders if the couple concerned were looking for confrontation, looking to get thrown out of somewhere to prove a point.

That might be unfair, it might have been nothing more than a genuine show of affection.

I'm still surprised this could happen in Soho.

Phil said...

Does it annoy me when I see a straight couple getting excessively friendly? Yes, sometimes. Do I want to take my custom elsewhere? Yes, very occasionally. Would I want the landlord to tell the couple to leave? Absolutely no way at all - I'd be outraged. And I'd hope that gay snoggers would be left to irritate other punters in peace just as much as straight ones. As I said over on Des de Moor's blog, the whole point of tolerance is that it applies to things you don't like - if you liked to see something happening you wouldn't need to tolerate it, would you?

Curmudgeon said...

This is more a general point than one specifically linked to this case, but it must be remembered that pub customers do have the ability to take their business elsewhere if they don't like the atmosphere they encounter. A pub, by definition, more than any other kind of business, is somewhere where you want to feel "at home". Thus licensees can be put in a cleft stick over tolerating certain activities and groups of people which, in practice, have the effect of deterring customers.

Phil said...

My point is that seeing an officious landlord ask an irritating customer to leave would actually be far more likely to make me want to go elsewhere than the irritating punter him/herself. Tolerance of irritating behaviour may be the least bad option.

Unknown said...

Phil and Mudgie, I think I agree with both your last points equally.

A licensee may wish to shape the atmosphere in his pub by deciding to prohibit certain behaviour and a last resort may well be to eject people who refuse to moderate.

However, just because the landlord thinks someone is behaving badly does not mean it is good for the pub to object nor would it make the other customers happier.

I know I got this wrong on more than one occasion when I ran my pub.

However, I believe on the very rare occasions I had to ask someone to leave I believe I was right to do so and fully support that principle that licensees ultimately have the right to ask anyone to leave without reason.

Phil, most importantly I generally agree with all the points you make here. Although we don't agree on many issues that does not mean I can't be tolerant of your opinion and I hope you of mine. For this reason I must agree with you on this one.

But even so, tolerance always has to have a limit. In this case the question is what level of sexual behaviour in public is acceptable?

I could give examples of what I find acceptable and what I don't. I could give examples of what I would enjoy watching and of what might offend me. I'm sure I don't need to be graphic.

Phil said...

Cheers, Dave. As for what's acceptable (or tolerable) and what isn't, I think it's a moving target. There are some stories I can imagine hearing which would make most of us jump out of our seat and say "now that's just taking the p***!" Presumably the landlord of this pub in Soho was anticipating this kind of reception when he told his story later ("and then this one guy, you'll never believe it, he actually kissed the other guy - full on the mouth, tongues and everything! I mean, I had to say something!") And at one time, not that long ago, that would have been precisely the reaction he got. Perhaps there are things we're shocked by now that we'll tolerate in twenty years' time.

Curmudgeon said...

@Phil - it would be interesting to learn what behaviours in a pub you would actually regard as unacceptable. Hopefully the deliberate insulting and baiting of other customers would be included.

ChrisM said...

And at the other end of the spectrum...

As you rightly say, Dave, if this had happened in a remote village in the Grim* North, I could sort of understand it, but in Soho!?

Maybe this will be the start of a ban on PDAs for all, gay, straight or otherwise...!?