pub life
IF YOU thought the new Sunday opening hours were all about families frolicking in beer gardens, and cricket matches ending early to get a drink in before sunset, you will have been as depressed as I was by the response from Taylor Walker, proprietor of 700 pubs. "Sunday is a key day for leisure spending," announced its marketing director, "this will give us access to the leisure pound".

This is not what Sunday opening is about. It is about the lifting of a law against having a drink after lunch on Sunday. A harmless pursuit prohibited for no better reason than "because I say so".

In London, the pubs have been packed and "wet sales" are soaring. But what about beyond the metropolis, where the tentacles of the leisure marketeers do not stretch?

Last Sunday I was near Exmoor. As the domestic routine began to tire - around 4.30 pm - I felt that old irritation at not being allowed to go to the pub. A moment of reflection, a small "hooray", and off I went.

But at the Badger's Holt at Bridgetown there was not so much as a half of shandy to be had. I headed on to Brompton Regis where the George Inn, to my misery, slept peacefully in the sun. A man watering a patch of thirsty grass suggested I try the Lutrow Cross at Upton. Wrong again. So to Dulverton, foot-weary, approaching an hour when I could have had a drink any other Sunday of the last 79 years. But not at the Rock House Inn, nor at the Tap Room.

Finally, at The Bridge Inn, I came upon a landlord, his wife, and six men talking about motor racing. I ordered my drink and looked forward to a long winter of cosy pints.

"Not in here," said landlady Norma Summerville. "This is just an experiment. But if we want the regulars to come back at night we'll have to shut as usual in future, otherwise they'll be drunk by mid-afternoon and crawl home and crash out till Monday. The old hours gave them time to go home, sober up, and come back for an evening session." It is all very well for London, with its 10 million inhabitants and hordes of tourists. But with a limited, regular clientele, greater rustic cunning is required to maximise their separation from a pocketful of leisure pounds.

The lack of enthusiasm in the countryside may be down to this application of the soft sell. It may also be that we have got used to not drinking on Sunday afternoons. Like a rabbit released from captivity that has a sniff at the garden and then comes back to its hutch, we don't know what to do with our new-found freedom. And it will probably take us another 80 years to get used to it.