Home Page Changing methods of celebration could have serious effects 06/01/12

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Changing habits often pass us by almost unnoticed until they start to have more far-reaching effects than initially seemed likely, so it was curious to have one underlined over the holidays.


Haverhill police reported one of the quietest New Year’s celebrations on record as far as disorder is concerned. This, of course, is A Good Thing for all decent law-abiding individuals, and much to be welcomed – as, indeed, it is by the police themselves, who don’t enjoy seeing in the New Year with a bleeding nose or covered in vomit.


Nevertheless, there are some ways in which this can be viewed as rather worrying for the town. ‘What?’ you cry. How can there possibly be a down side to this excellent news?


Surely many of us remember a time when Haverhill High Street on New Year's Eve could have been littered with the bodies of drunks and fight victims? Well, maybe not. I’ve not seen it for a few years now, but my memories are that it was generally quite a convivial place to be with most people over-friendly, rather than over-aggressive.


But I do remember it being very crowded. You could hardly get into any of the pubs for people dressed up in the most outlandish outfits swigging beer as if it had gone out of fashion. In the street you would meet crowds of people of all ages and both sexes, swaying gently from pub to pub to meet up with other similar groups.


According to the police this year it was almost deserted by comparison. Police were made aware of numerous house parties all over the town, and the assumption is that, in the current economic climate, people have found it cheaper to buy some booze in the supermarkets and take it round to one another’s houses.


The same may have been true on Christmas Eve, which was also a lot quieter this year than I remember it in the town centre.


Only one house party caused any trouble this year over New Year, but there is always the potential for them to spill out and become a nuisance to neighbours. At least if people are in the town centre, any rowdiness they create does not impinge on that many residents less keen on celebrating wildly.


But that is not the main issue. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve have always been among the top earners for pubs and clubs, helping to keep struggling businesses afloat. Otherwise, why would publicans bother to give up two of the most coveted and anticipated evenings of the year to work their socks off, keep revellers apart and clear up after them?


So, what would a change of behaviour in this area mean for our high streets? Is it a threat to pubs and clubs? I shouldn’t be surprised.


I have long given up moaning about the general changes in drinking habits which have already ripped the heart out of the decent, old-fashioned pub.

If you look around Haverhill at the moment, you will see several either closed down for redevelopment as houses, or announcing in big letters that they are a ‘business opportunity’, a term which would need considerable examination and commitment before anyone could take it at its face value.


The younger generation consumes a wide variety of drinks which nothing on earth would induce me to put into my mouth, either because they taste disgusting or because they look disgusting. However, they provide business for landlords, so I don’t complain.


Then there is that vast national pub chain which provides food and drink for all sorts and conditions of men and women (and children in its family rooms), boasts a range of top quality ales and generally disappoints me beyond measure when I am unfortunate enough to be persuaded within its precincts.


Nevertheless, great numbers of people presumably do not have the same experience, as they patronise it regularly and enjoy the benefit of its undercutting prices. Faced with all this, decent pubs are up against it, and to lose some of their best earners could be quite serious.


But beyond this, it reflects a much more insular view of socialising to take drink to a party rather than buy rounds for whoever happens to be nearest in a crowded scrum – not that house parties are uncrowded, to judge from the fact that 70-80 teenagers came out of a single terraced house during the one incident police had to attend last weekend.


Not many young people nowadays look for the company of people older than themselves. When I was young, this was how you progressed into the social whirl, but nowadays age is a much bigger barrier than it ever was – and I thought it was quite a hurdle in my day.


Of course, the young people at many of these house parties are too young to be frequenting pubs anyway, but you can bet your life there’s plenty of alcohol about among many of them. I don’t really see how that represents any sort of social progress.

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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