Why my pub won’t be closing its doors
On a Friday night, eight years ago, I was home drinking wine, sitting on the sofa ‘chatting’ to friends via Facebook. Someone, it might have been me, it might not, said ‘this is like a virtual pub’. This tickled my imagination and that of my friend, Liz Steer, so we set up the Sofa Arms. As a Facebook group with multiple admins people could invite their own friends down the pub and chat amongst themselves or the other regulars. It was those regulars that really made the pub work. They didn’t all know each other but many were connected by being disconnected. Isolation and social distance aren’t new. Many people become isolated at different points in their lives, parents of new babies and young children, people with long term illness or disability, or those temporarily disabled by injury or disease. One of our most ebullient regulars is an archaeologist who spends nearly every summer on digs in remote parts of Turkey, for her the Sofa Arms was a little taste of home and a place to unwind and be silly.
I’m not sure how I ended up by being landlady (how Liz got away with not) but I never thought the Sofa Arms would still be going strong. Recently we’ve been very busy. In fact we haven’t been this busy since the London Riots in 2011. This is not surprising, suddenly everyone is feeling isolated, disconnected and also in need of a bit of silliness. Our current isolation and social-distance comes with a big hint of ‘death’ and I think that is driving people to find distractions. On Friday we experimented with our first live Happy Hour via Zoom. Not without its technical glitches but patrons are keen to give it another ago and are already talking about pub quizzes and play readings, a poetry night is currently scheduled for Monday. But it is about more than social interaction.
The popularity of the pub is down to the regulars and their collective imagination and creativity. They have created the pub and all its fabulous features. They have made for themselves and for others the comfort of a perfect place – a pub-topia – where the loos are always clean and stocked with loo roll, where every kind of food and drink is available. Long running imaginative threads have woven the pub into a kind of shared reality. There are rogue camels that sometimes, ineffectively, serve behind the bar, there is a Colin Firth look-a-like waiter, a Pimms fountain, the heating for the Winter Bar is provided by mulled wine running behind the wainscoting which can be sampled from small brass taps set into the panelling. The games room is big enough for jousting and has also hosted Zumba. Mrs Thinge the cleaner has had much written about her and has emerged as a character somewhere between Mata Hari and Flash Harry.
Dropping into the Arms is about dropping into a nicer world, one that is fun and easy, away from all crises. Although it does provide a place for social connection I think it is that shared vision of a good place to be that will keep it open for the duration. I work for the charity Magic Me, our director recently wrote a blog about ‘Where we are today’ her final lines really resonate with me and I’m planning to have them painted above the door to the Ladies’ Snug: