The Session #113: Mass Observation

The SessionThis month’s edition of The Session is hosted by Boak & Bailey and they asked us to engage in a little bit of research study (Mass Observation):

In the late 1930s a team of social researchers descended on Lancashire and spent several years observing the people of Bolton and Blackpool as they went about their daily lives. As part of that, in 1937 and 1938, they made a special study of pubs, which led to the publication of one of our favourite books of all time, The Pub and The People, in 1943.

What we want people to do for The Session is to recreate this exercise in 2016: take a notebook to a pub or bar — any one you fancy — and write a note of what you observe.

  • How many people are drinking?
  • Which beers are on tap, and which are people actually drinking?
  • What are they eating?
  • How are they passing the time?
  • What are the topics of conversation?
  • How is the pub decorated?
  • How many TVs are there and what are they showing?
  • Are there pot plants, parrots, spittoons?
  • How many smokers are there? And vapers?
  • Is there a dartboard, pool table or quiz machine, and are they in use?

I have to confess I didn’t do my homework on this one—as in, sitting in a bar with notebook, observing and writing. (It’s also Sunday as I write this, so my timing is off as well.) But yesterday (Saturday) I did spend a small amount of time in Deschutes Brewery‘s Bend pub, drinking their latest anniversary beer, and I can offer a few answers to those questions:

  • A lot. All of them.
  • The taplist looked something like this. Judging by the array of colors, people were drinking quite a variety.
  • Burgers, salads. Possibly house-made tater tots.
  • Many who were not engaged in conversation were watching the Germany vs. Italy soccer game on television, with lots of cheering.
  • Pretty standard “American brewpub.”
  • I saw three within easy view from where I was; two were showing the soccer game, the third golf I think.
  • “Pot” plants? Er, no. There might be some potted plants. There’s a spittoon behind the bar, that patrons can try to toss coins into.
  • None. There is no smoking in most places here any more.
  • No, no, and no.

What a great idea though, and a good exercise for writers (i.e., us). If I get a chance sit and observe in a pub sometime soon, perhaps I’ll revisit this with more in-depth notes.