Home Page As the young drink more, the pubs close down 31/08/12

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

There are rarely many weeks go by without the subject of change being in the spotlight in Haverhill because, in many ways, it is a fast changing place. Only a few weeks ago we saw how the pace of change is deceptive and not noticed as much by those of us who live here as by the occasional visitor.


It is a fast changing world, so Haverhill is not alone, but this is a town where we talk about it more, either impatient for it or regretful of it. Other towns, such as Bury St Edmunds, are more concerned with preserving what they have because they are, or have been, very successful down the centuries.


In Haverhill, where, outsiders tell us, no one has ever been very successful, the wish must be for progress. This is rubbish, of course, because we who live here know just how successful the town has been at many times in its history, and particularly now, but that has not been the prevailing view, and change in that area is slow.


The curious thing is how the physical changes in a town reflect changes in society, or not, as the case may be. If they always did that, presumably every town would change at the same rate, but we see this is not the case just by comparing, say, Haverhill and Saffron Walden.


In fact, a visitor from outer space, observing the rapid rise of the supermarket in the last five decades, might assume that people had become less concerned with personal fitness. And then he, she or it would notice the rise in popularity of the gym and become confused.


After all, if people used to keep fit naturally through the physical demands of work or providing for their families, why would they stop doing that and then pay to keep fit artificially in a gym?


A similar conundrum would face our alien visitor with regard to alcohol consumption. Assaulted by numerous reports of binge drinking, drink-induced anti-social behaviour and drink-orientated health concerns, the space traveller would assume all premises selling alcohol would be among the most successful of businesses in a town.


And then the spectre of closed pubs would rise and cause more confusion.


The association of alcohol and conviviality goes back to the beginning of time and usually coupled with hospitality and a general sort of get-together. People who drank alcohol alone or in small groups would be seen as not participating.


You only have to watch history or archaeology programmes on TV to see places described as somewhere ‘the community would come together’. There would be feasting, and consumption of alcohol is implied.


It is difficult to know what we in the 21st century mean by ‘community’ any more. It has become one of the most over-used and misunderstood words in the English language.


In politics it nowadays seems to mean everybody. We have community voting, community responsibility and, Lord save us, community budgeting. The community must have a say, the community must have control.


I heard one benighted individual on the radio the other day putting the success of the Olympics down to the continual interviewing of athletes which showed ‘the community’ that they were just like them and nothing special.


That sort of egalitarian clap-trap is becoming more and more common. Of course I’m not like Mo Farah and, as hard as I may like to train (assuming I am 12), I am never going to become as successful as him at running long distances because I don’t have any East African genes.


But, much as I may admire and cheer him on, not only in running, but in the wider issues which he represents, I don’t necessarily want to know what he watches on TV.


I would rather go down the pub and talk to the people in my local community – in the true sense of the word – about what they have been watching, or about Mo’s exploits.


Sadly, fewer and fewer people are going to pubs for these reasons. As far as I can make out the main reason many of them go is to get tanked up before they head for a nightspot, which is why price is such a huge driver in their choice of venue.


Haverhill no longer has any pubs left outside the town centre, except, I believe, the Suffolk Punch up on the Clements estate, which perhaps says something about that close-knit ‘community’, in the real sense of the word.


At present the Australian Arms is awaiting conversion into homes, the Black Horse conversion into two homes is almost complete, the plans for converting the Rose Tavern into new homes is going through, and there is a scheme afoot to turn the Vixen (formerly Scarlet Pimpernel) into a mortuary and undertakers.


Other fondly-remembered watering holes, such as the Plough, the White Swan and The Standard went long since. Clubs have fared little better, with St Felix long gone, Mount Pleasant more recently and the snooker club site likely eventually to go for housing development.


Life is not easy for those that remain, in many cases, despite their town centre locations. In place of all these we have The Drabbet Smock, The Haver Arms, Bar Vu, the new football club, the rugby club, the golf club, the arts centre and the cricket and bowls club - all very well in their own way, but not, by any stretch of the imagination, premises which I would call pubs.


We have no true off-licence left in town either, and must use the supermarkets and the mini-markets or ‘convenience’ stores.


And yet, for all the health warnings which bombard us, I bet young drinkers now consume more alcohol, and spend a higher proportion of their disposable income on it, than I ever did at their age – and I must admit I was no slouch. So how much of this wealth is staying in town?

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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