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Pubs are typically viewed as places of raucous ribaldry, or at least of cheerful conviviality. However, there is another side to them, as wooden wombs, a third space where people, couples and groups as well as individuals can seek temporary refuge from the stresses of home or work.
A pub is, of course, a “public house”, a hybrid of the two where anyone can walk in off the street and spend some time there provided they put a bit of money across the bar. If you behave yourself, nobody will question your purpose or your right to be there. It’s generally accepted that it’s up to you whether you engage with other customers or not, and the only people who break that principle are those like Archie the pub bore from The Fast Show with his catchphrase “Hardest game in the world”. This applies even in pretty small and cosy pubs.
However, that kind of privacy is difficult to achieve in the new generation of micropubs, where everyone is put together into a small common space and intimacy is hard to avoid. Many customers will welcome that atmosphere of companionship, but others may feel it’s something they prefer to avoid. And there’s sometimes the feeling of intruding into a private clique.
Matthew Lawrenson of Seeing the Lizards is, by his own admission, not the most gregarious person in the world, and he feels uncomfortable in micropubs for this very reason:
Personally, micropubs do little for me. I find them like drinking in a Panopticon. Everyone can see and hear everything you do. They don't provide even the modicum of privacy that a regular pub or even a Wetherspoons can give you.
Obviously strangers do talk to each other in pubs, and often it’s something you welcome. However, it’s usually recognised that if customers don’t want to engage, you leave them alone. There’s also an art to making conversation without appearing unduly inquisitive or prying. “What are you doing here?” or “Where have you come from?” are questions that I see as my own business unless I choose to open up about them.
And, of course Wetherspoons are amongst the best places for maintaining your anonymity, something that has been observed before, although not as a positive feature.