Thursday, January 06, 2005

Compare and Contrast

I'm reading Pete McCarthy's 'McCarthy's Bar', for the second or third time. In case you are not familiar with this wonderful book, it's a travelogue describing the experiences of a half-Irish English guy trying to 'find himself' in Ireland. About halfway through the book, he gets involved in somebody's birthday party at a pub, a restaurant and a pub again. Being English, he is very concerned because it is almost midnight and the pub appears to be still open. This would be illegal in England because of the strict licencing laws - pubs always have to close at 11 p.m. unless they have been granted an extension for a special occasion.

Which reminded me of two things a couple of years ago.

Thing 1: a business associate from England came to visit us in Dubai. His flight arrived at about midnight. We picked him up from the airport and went straight to the Irish Village. If you are ever in Dubai, you must visit this brilliant boozer. When we got to the Village the night was just getting going. In the area outside the pub were maybe 300 happy people singing and dancing to Degsy (resident musician) doing 'Why Why Why Delilah'. Utterly brilliant and my associate just couldn't believe it.

Thing 2: a few months after the above, I had to visit my associate in England. My flight was due to arrive at Heathrow at 10 p.m., but it was delayed a bit, and I didn't get out of the terminal until a few minutes before 11. 'Let's go for a pint!' I suggest. Mein host gives me a look that implies his doubts about my sanity. At 11 p.m. you cannot get a drink in a pub anywhere near Heathrow Airport! I was gobsmacked. I thought they'd finally got a grip on the licencing laws in the UK so that pubs could open when they wanted. Well, apparently they have, but the pubs in that area just cannot be arsed providing any kind of service to thirsty travellers.

What I really cannot get over is that Dubai is in an Islamic country, and booze is more freely available than in England! Outrageous.

Later on that same visit I went to visit my family in Yorkshire. I went for a drink with my dad at the local British Legion. Not my preferred choice of watering-hole (in fact I might be barred from there after my last visit), but the village that I grew up in is in serious decline and does not offer a whole lot of options. It happened to be a Sunday, and at 2.20 p.m. they rang the bell for last orders. I nearly had a heart attack. Were they seriously proposing to close the bar in ten minutes' time and throw everyone out onto the street 20 minutes later? Apparently they were. But the place was packed with customers who would be very happy to stay there all day and give lots and lots of money to the club, in return for some beer. But no, the Steward wanted his Sunday dinner, and everybody had to go home.