I never thought I’d feel a connection with the randy old goat, or have cause to clunkily contrive an intro ripping off his catchphrase, but today I do: “Me, a time-served hack, old enough to remember when a lot of journalistic business was conducted in licensed premises, fond of a tipple unlike the profession’s current generation of snowflakes… here, in a public house at 11am, bashing out 1,000 words and, with a selection of cheeky ales on tap, this being deemed acceptable working practice? Are they quite mad?”
Actually, I don’t know if it’s acceptable as far as my editor is concerned. If there’s a blank space where this column should be, then WFP possibly has a bit to go in terms of credibility and trust. But it’s certainly acceptable as far as mine host is concerned.
WFP is work from the pub. What a wizard wheeze. And surely it must be better than WFH – work from home – because that’s only succeeded in turning us fat, smelly and mad.
In and out of the day’s duties, tell me if your WFH goes like this: mooch around, play music, trim nasal hair, rearrange bookshelf. Eat cheese, feel guilty about the cheese and turn on YouTube pilates instructor Lottie’s “15 mins abs+butt”, turn off Lottie after three mins. Plan the evening’s telly, eat more cheese, start up earnest conversations with the dog (even if there isn’t one around), wait for everyone to come home, wait for wine o’clock. Attend to the tasks not completed earlier, squiffily fire off some emails and, even more squiffly, online shop for more elasticated waistbands, one size up from before.
We’ve had WFA – work from abroad – at least for those who could afford to escape to the sun which last summer included Dominic Raab. But the hazards of suddenly finding yourself stranded thousands of miles from the office when required to deal with a major situation – while at same time infuriating colleagues with your shimmering azure Zoom backdrops – were cruelly exposed when the then Foreign Secretary chose to remain on holiday in Crete as Afghanistan convulsed, prompting calls for him to resign.
No, I think for the office-disinclined, and there’s still plenty out there, working from the pub could be the way to go – especially with these threefold benefits. One, you’d be saving on your energy bills by using your local’s heating and wifi. Two, you’d be able to enjoy human interaction again. It may take some time to re-learn the art of conversation but instead of talking to the dog, real or imagined, or yourself in the mirror during those grooming regimes, you could be indulging in cheery banter with fellow pub workers – actual, real people and not one-dimensional, pocket-sized figures buffering on a cloud-based video conferencing facility.
Three, you’d be helping save pubs. They really need rescuing. Each month that goes by in this cost-of-living crisis, 50 are calling last-ever orders. We mourn the closure of much-loved shops on our high streets which in truth haven’t enjoyed our custom, never mind love, for many years. Similarly we cannot cry into our beer over shuttered howffs if we used to frequent them but now prefer DFH (drinking from home).
Well done to those pubs renting out their tables for, typically, £15 a day which includes a modest lunch. It is unclear whether this might involve a scotch egg – the subject, you’ll remember, of wild dispute in Boris Johnson’s government as ministers preparing for the easing of Covid restrictions argued over what constituted a “substantial meal” – but unlimited tea and coffee are definitely on offer.
Not everyone will be suited to pub working but maybe journalists better than most. The deathly silence of being in the house has been unnerving for me and I’m sure others in the profession who miss the thrum of the office. Always keen to self-glamorise in our roles as writers crafting words, we will view the bustle of a busy bar as just another hurdle to be overcome en route to deadline glory.
Plus, we’ve got a tradition to maintain. Journos may not make great heroes in movies but there are a number of fine and funny novels about newspapermen on my ever-shuffled bookshelf and the drinking dens are always well drawn. In Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning there’s the Gates of Jerusalem (“Gareth Holmroyd, the Assistant Industrial Editor, was buying stout for Lucy from the Library and Pat Selig, the woman’s page sub”) while the Intercontinental in Gordon Burn’s Fullalove sounds a bit livelier with “seven topless, melon-breasted girls dancing to the sound of drums”.
In Stephen Glover’s Splash!,the Earl of Aberdeen for the Daily Bugle’s Arthur Pepper had always resembled “his conception of a brothel”. In Martin Amis’ Yellow Dog, the rendezvous for the washed-up footballer’s latest kick-and-tell exclusive is the Cocked Pinkie (the Morning Lark’s reporter, by the way, is called Clint Smoker after Amis sounded me out on the best name and I rejected Drinker).
In Gordon Williams’ The Upper Pleasure Garden, the pub is the Badger Inn, run by Liz Threlmount with “all the maternalism of a hooded cobra” and a line in suggestive chat which reduces men to “quivering masses of tapioca pudding”. Meanwhile Murray Sayle’s A Crooked Sixpence hails it as “the best book about journalism – ever”. So naturally the Earl of St Albans figures in the very first line.
Cheers, then, to WFP (assuming my piece makes it onto the page).