Gloomy news all around, but pubs are coming back to life

Customers enjoy drinks in the Soho area of London

Customers enjoy drinks at tables outside the pubs and bars in the Soho area of London on April 12, 2021. Gloomy times all round, it seems. However, there does seem to be one shining light in the bleak national landscape – our public houses are coming back to life.

Photo credit: Tolga Akmen | AFP

Early on the morning of March 22, Kenneth Shadbolt, aged 94, a retired factory worker, got out of bed to go to the bathroom, but slipped and fell. He injured his hip and could not get up.

Reaching for his mobile phone, Kenneth called 999 and asked for an ambulance to be sent urgently to his home in the village of Chipping Camden, where he lived alone.

“How long will it be?” he asked. As soon as possible, but ambulances were very busy, he was told. The time was 02:58.

At 03:13, Kenneth called again, saying he was getting cold. “When I rang 999, I thought I would get treatment straight away,” he said.

His third call was timed at 04:12 and he sounded frightened. “I’m terribly sick,” he said. “I need an ambulance because I’m going to fade away very quickly. Tell them to hurry up or I’ll be dead. Or send an undertaker, that would be best.”

An ambulance reached Kenneth’s home at 08:10, four hours after his last call, and found their patient unconscious. He was rushed to Gloucester Royal Hospital, where he died at 14:21 of a bleed on the brain.

A spokesman for the ambulance service said many hospitals were still struggling with capacity issues in the wake of the pandemic and this resulted in handover delays. A call handler who talked to Mr Shadbolt said ambulances were queuing up at the hospital and waiting for long periods to unload patients.

Kenneth’s son, Jerry, 66, said, “The question is, If my dad had been seen earlier, would he still be here today?”

* * *

So, an ambulance crisis to add to the other critical problems I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, including a shortage of nurses, air travel cancellations, inflation and soaring prices.

The most urgent was a three-day train strike across England, Scotland and Wales last week (on June 21, 23 and 25) by rail unions demanding a pay increase of seven per cent, an end to redundancies and better working conditions.

Network Rail, which owns and manages the railways, suffered a huge loss of income during the pandemic and says it can offer no more than two per cent with a possible one per cent tied to increased productivity.

It argues that if the railwaymen accepted streamlined new work methods, it could save money and make a better pay offer.

Both sides seem entrenched in their positions and the main rail union even raised the spectre of a general strike, saying it would support one if such an eventuality emerged.


Gloomy times all round, it seems. However, there does seem to be one shining light in the bleak national landscape – our public houses are coming back to life.

Pubs have been in decline for years and the pandemic wreaked havoc on the trade, with more than 2,000 closing during the first year of the lockdown. This loss was felt particularly in rural areas where the pub acts as a centre for social life in the village.

The answer to the downward trend has been the community buyout, where local people come together, raise funds to buy and staff a pub that is about to close, and often offer additional facilities such as a shop or postal and basic banking services.

Already, 179 pubs are run by their communities and there are 70 community campaigns currently under way.

Said Nik Antona, chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale, “The last few years of restrictions and closures have made us all realise just how vital our local pubs are and how important they are to bringing people together as we recover from the pandemic.

“We are seeing a resurgence in pub-saving campaigns, with people coming together to save their local pub from closure or demolition.”

Cheers to that!


People in the news business usually call them Nibs, i.e. lots of little items published under the headline, News In Brief.

They cover a host of topics and often reveal an intriguing, if rather cock-eyed, picture of the nation. Opinion polls are a good source for Nibs, like these I chanced upon last week:

Accountants have been rated the UK’s best kissers. A poll by the dating site, Plenty of Fish, put them just ahead of medics. Last were civil servants, branded as “slobbery kissers”.

How often does the word “no” resound in the family home? According to research by the firm, PGL, parents tell their children “No” 8,395 times a year on average. The question which gets the most negative responses is, “Can we stay up late tonight?”

Broadband provider Konnect reckons that Britain has become a nation of broadbandits, with as many as four million households sneaking on to their neighbours’ Wi-Fi network. A poll showed that one in 20 carried on piggybacking for at least a year.