JANET STREET-PORTER: Do enjoy your first trip back to the pub – just don’t expect to have any fun

Who fancies a trip to the pub?

Monday, April 12 is the long-awaited day when we can finally chill out at our local and enjoy a drink with family and friends.

But don’t get too excited. A simple pleasure has become (in the hands of Boris and Co) an exercise in unnecessary red tape, with confusing guidelines and bumbling bureaucracy – in short, everything this government is very good at. 

Come Monday, popping out for a pint or a sneaky G and T will require all the advance planning of an army exercise.

Here’s some helpful tips. Take a cushion – you must remain seated outside at all times, except when nature calls. 

Forget impromptu celebrations, and don’t turn up without booking a table in advance – that’s if you can get through on the phone. A booking at the Dog and Duck or the Shifty Poacher has become as elusive as a table at the Ivy or Annabel’s.

If you’re lucky enough to secure a reservation and the usage of a wooden bench and matching table (cutlery and napkins available on demand), you must ensure everyone in your group of six has signed up to the useless official Test and Trace App and has their phone fully charged up and in their pockets to be inspected on arrival.

A woman uses the NHS track and trace app at a pub in Manchester last September 

The NHS contact tracing app, pictured in use outside the Coach and Horses pub in Soho, is required on arrival

The NHS contact tracing app, pictured in use outside the Coach and Horses pub in Soho, is required on arrival

Getting into a hot nightclub was never this difficult. Back in the day, all I had to do was wear a short skirt and simper. Now, I need to hand over my ID via an app which will have me under surveillance in the name of saving the NHS. North Korea suddenly sounds quite appealing.

On arrival, each drinker will be checked in separately and (unlike a visit to the cinema of a sporting event) your host can refuse you entry if you are not willing to comply with rules. 

That applies to everyone in your group – including granny and ageing auntie Vi, who better be tech-savvy – otherwise you will fall at the first hurdle and be condemned to another takeaway from the local curry house. 

Other hospitality venues like cinemas only have to ‘strongly encourage’ customers to sign up to test and trace, but pubs are in a special category.

Still gagging for the pint? Don’t rush to the bar, you’ve got to catch the waiter’s attention as drinks must be ordered at your table, using an app if possible. Payment must be made outside – so if the electronic machines don’t work or the wifi is playing up, you better take plenty of cash. 

Yes, cash – that old fashioned commodity we got out of the habit of using since Boris told us to minimise contact of all kinds. Cash – which can be dirty and carry germs. Maybe you better pack hand sanitiser and rubber gloves just to be on the safe side. 

Boris Johnson, pictured on a visit to Cornwall this week, is only allowing pubs to open outdoors, while drinkers are limited to groups of six

Boris Johnson, pictured on a visit to Cornwall this week, is only allowing pubs to open outdoors, while drinkers are limited to groups of six

As for making this a joyful convivial occasion, have you looked at the weather forecast? Yes, 40 per cent chance of rain, temperatures in single digits and a nice chilly wind blowing in from the Baltic are all on offer. 

The best you can hope for is that your pub has installed the only kind of tent permitted under the draconian regulations – one with open sides – so still nice and draughty.

As for looking chic, forget the suggestions emanating from eager fashion editors, including floaty ‘picnic dresses’ and saucy crop tops. I suggest you wear a fleece, take an umbrella and carry a rucksack containing a gloves, a blanket and a nice woolly hat. Not exactly the garb designed to flatter or entice a new date into a second meeting.

Why are pubs being treated like hotbeds of contagion? The Covid infection rate has dropped by 60 per cent since mid February (in spite of schools reopening) and seasonal deaths have fallen below the five year average for the third week in a row. 

Three quarters of the population will achieve herd immunity by the end of next week. So why are the goalposts always moving further away?

The Boffins have decided that pubs are the most dangerous places we can possibly visit – just as they waffled on about schools and superspreading kids (and were proved wrong) the other month. 

Publicans are ordered to implement the rules with no exceptions, and to call the police if they ‘feel unsafe’. 

And there’s the threat of Michael Gove’s vaccine passports to come with more paperwork, more apps and another chance for the government to discriminate against anyone who doesn’t agree with handing over their details on demand.

A staff member wipes down tables at the The Fox on the Hill pub in Camberwell, London, ahead of Monday's opening

A staff member wipes down tables at the The Fox on the Hill pub in Camberwell, London, ahead of Monday’s opening

As for providing music to try and create a convivial atmosphere, there’s more regulations for publicans to wade through. Only a limited number of live performers can perform, they must remain two metres apart, singers must not be too loud in case it encourages patrons to raise their voices (chance would be a fine thing), they can only perform for a limited amount of time. 

As for that old idea of ‘having a knees up and a sing-a-long’ to celebrate the end of lockdown – forget it. In this new, dreary colourless Boris world, customers must not sing, dance, or indulge in group chanting and talk quietly.

Music ‘can not be the main purpose’ of a visit to a pub. On the plus side, food no longer needs to be served with drinks and there’s no longer a curfew. Doesn’t that sound appealing, the chance of two hours sitting in semi darkness eating crisps and swigging warm white wine, whilst whispering through a face mask and swatting off the midges.

Of course these rules are ridiculous, formulated in Whitehall by civil servants and advisors who have never visited a normal pub and who probably drink in themed cocktail bars in Shoreditch anyway. According to Tim Martin, boss of Wetherspoons, the UK’s biggest pub chain, the government have ‘lost the plot with control freakery’ – and he’s right.

Independent, owner-operated pubs – like hedgehogs, could soon be extinct at the current rate. Five thousand of these small family run businesses in England and Wales have closed since March 2020, almost 2,000 in the last two months alone. 

Two thirds of British pubs can’t open on April 12th because they have no outdoor space. On May 17th, when indoor service returns, people will still have to be seated and socially distance. Pubs can’t survive at half capacity and by only serving cheap beer. These rules favour the big chains like Wetherspoons and so a special part of British culture will be stamped out by the health and safety brigade.

In the meantime, are we that starved of human contact that we’ll settle for lukewarm food in arctic conditions? 

The government has two choices – make a trip to the pub a decent experience, one that accepts the limitations of our weather – or admit that most pubs (in their present format) are like the British High Street and have had their day.