On New Year’s Eve 2006-7, something unexpected happened. For most of the previous two decades, most of the pubs where I live had operated a system where they gave tickets to regular drinkers in order to limit the number of people seeking entry. This was a problem because one couldn’t secure tickets for guests. And since my relatives only stayed over for the holidays, it left us to seek out the few pubs that did not operate a ticket policy. And in most years, these pubs would be packed to the rafters.
When we set out in the last couple of hours of 2006, we fully expected the same crowds as the year before. So did the pubs, apparently, because they had hired security to control entry – something that was common for British nightclubs but rare for pubs. What none of us had anticipated though, was that the pubs would be almost empty! Nor was it just one or two pubs. Everywhere we went it was the same story. Indeed, on one occasion the security staff hired to keep the masses out tried hard to encourage us to come in. Quite simply, tens of thousands of people who had previously gone to pubs to celebrate New Year, stayed at home in 2006.
To me it was a warning sign that something unpleasant and dramatic was about to happen to the economy. It wasn’t that the beer had risen in price – although supermarket beer had long been cheaper than pub beer. It was an indicator of something much more profound. Coming on the heels of rising fuel prices and the central bank decision to begin jacking up interest rates, it was a signal that people’s standard of living had been impacted to the point that discretionary spending was being seriously curtailed.
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