They Walk Among Us

BY NIALL MCCRAE

Kicked out of a pub in Brighton – what ignominy! This is not a tale of drunken misadventure, but a troubling encounter in the ‘new normal’ of Covid World. Although most restrictions have been relaxed, the government’s behavioural psychology campaign has had lasting impact, marginalising and demonising sceptics in a moral crusade.

Five of us had attended a small freedom rally, protesting against lingering elements of the covid regime, proposed laws curtailing individual liberty, and also the looming cost of living crisis. We decided on a drink before going our separate ways. On the hilly terraced streets near Brighton railway station are numerous traditional but now gentrified pubs, but it took several tries to find one with an unoccupied table and seats.

Eventually we sat down at The Edinburgh. We cheered a good day out with a clink of glasses and then for prosperity posed for a photograph. The latter act was a mistake on our part. To give context to the gathering, one of our group held a flyer stating that ‘kids are not guinea pigs’ (a message against the launch of covid vaccination of young children). We were taking the first sips of beer when the drama began.

A man sitting at the end of the bar looked down at us, then proclaimed to those around him: ‘Anti-xaxxers’. A smug chap in the corner responded: ‘They walk among us’. In a hostile manner the second man told us that his father had died of covid. As any sceptic knows, there is no point in engaging with someone who feels that their bereavement was somehow caused by those who defy the narrative and refuse the vaccine. So we ignored the accusatory remark.

Before we could resume our conversation, a woman strode over to us, shouting aggressively about our ‘political’ activity. We were so stunned by this that none of us reacted, until I tried to calmly explain that we were only taking a quick photo of ourselves.

‘No you weren’t – you were causing trouble with your politics. We don’t want you here.’

Then the star of the show appeared. A tall, stocky, bearded landlord loomed over us and ordered us to leave, his invective embellished with foul language. None of us contested our drinks being removed or the expulsion, but as I was sitting on the inside of the table, I was last to rise and became the target of this oaf. When I mildly suggested he stop the unnecessary swearing, he unleashed a fresh volley of unprintable and puerile insults, saying that he could do what he wants in his own pub. Perhaps surprisingly, he deigned to repay our bar costs, holding aloft two notes. Meanwhile several regulars were cheering our fate, like a baying crowd at the Colosseum.

Outside, the landlord continued to berate us, joined by his female accomplice who was shrieking at me from the side. I feared that we were only being teased with the money, but after giving us a sufficient verbal beating the lexically limited publican handed me the twenty and ten pound notes (actually to our profit). But he left a parting gesture: heftily shoving me in the back and telling us to ‘F*** off and die’. A round of applause greeted his return to the pub.  

We had remained impeccably calm in the face of this provocation. The problem, on reflection, was our complacency. Around the country most folk have moved on from covid, but in some places it remains a way of life. The puritanical zeal was always strongest in posh county towns such as Winchester and hubs of ‘progressive’ middle-class values like Brighton, where covid is a morality construct.  We had ventured behind enemy lines, and forgotten where we were. 

Niall McCrae is a Registered Nurse and officer of the Workers of England Union. 

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