While I was visiting my dad in Manchester, I had a difference of opinion with the manageress of a Wetherspoons pub in Ashton-under-Lyne.
We’d just finished shopping and had stopped by the pub for a pint and a glass of lemonade before catching the bus home.
‘Will you be eating?’ a barmaid asked my dad.
‘No. Just a drink, please,’ he replied.
‘Then I’m afraid the children will have to sit outside.’
‘But we’re only stopping for a quick one,’ my dad said.
‘I’m sorry, sir, but it’s company policy. If they’re not eating, then I’m afraid they can’t drink.’
I was getting rather thirsty by now, so joined my dad at the bar to find out what the delay was. When the policy was explained to me I was baffled, but suggested a solution.
‘OK, can we get a couple of ice cream desserts for my sons?’ I asked.
‘Sorry, sir. It has to be a main meal.’
I asked to see the manageress who very firmly, but very politely explained the reasons behind the inexplicable policy.
‘We get mothers and fathers as young as 18 and 19 coming in with their babies and then just sitting here all day getting drunk,’ she said. ‘We want to promote responsible drinking, and insisting on them buying a main course at least puts some stodge in their stomachs to prevent them getting drunk.’
‘Nonsense,’ I replied. ‘It’s just about making money. There’s no profit on a lemonade so you insist on people buying a main course to screw some cash out of them.’
‘I’m sorry you disagree, sir,’ the manageress said. ‘But that’s the company policy.’
After a bit more to-ing and fro-ing, the manageress eventually used her discretion to allow us a couple of pints and a couple of lemonades, but after that we would be refused further refreshments unless we sat outside in the freezing Manchester rain, which was by-the-by because we were only stopping for one, anyway.
Now I’m not a huge fan of kids in pubs – especially when they’re not controlled by their parents. But I rule mine with a rod of iron. If we go to a pub, they either sit and do some colouring in or, if I’ve got my laptop, they keep themselves entertained on Friv or Moshi Monsters. What they’re not allowed to do is run around annoying other drinkers.
But we allegedly live in a café society now, and children are welcome in the nation’s hostelries. Only welcome, it seems, at Wetherspoons, if the parents are prepared to stump up an extra £8 for a burger and chips.
The next day, we went to another nearby town. This, too, has a Wetherspoons, so we gave it a wide berth and went to a neighbouring pub, whose name I won’t reveal lest the owners come looking for me!
This place was not just crawling with kids, but running amok with them. There were two lads, about the same age as mine, chasing each other with pool queues; a couple of zombified toddlers were strapped tightly into buggies; a baby was screaming the place down in its pram in the corner. And all the while their parents sat around drinking and swearing and shouting at the loud widescreen TV at the horse race taking place.
‘How long have they been in here?’ I said to one of the locals.
‘Since opening time.’
It was now 4.30pm, so they’d been drinking for around five hours.
‘Have they had any food?’ I asked.
‘They don’t serve food here,’ came the reply.
I looked at my lads sipping at their Cokes, a look of terror and bemusement on their faces, which said: ‘What hellish place have you brought us to, Dad?’
Then I turned to my Dad: ‘Sup up, we’re going. This is no place for kids.’
Perhaps Wetherspoons has got it right after all.
What do you think? Should children be allowed in pubs?