Observe & Report The Next Session

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For our 113th Session, our host will again be Boak & Bailey. For their topic, they’re asking everyone to Observe and Report, a very specific Session mission, which they more fully explain in their announcement, Mass Observation: The Pub and The People.

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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.

We’re hosting the 113th edition of The Session in July and we’re asking you to go to the pub, observe, and report.

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.

This is an extract from a typical entry from the original observation logs, probably from 1938, describing the Vault of a pub in Bolton:

13 men standing, 8 sitting. 4 playing dominoes. 2 of the sitters are postmen.

2 men, about fifty, short, sturdy, caps and scarves, shiny worn blue shirts quarrelling about politics. One keeps saying, ‘If ee don’t like the country why don’t ee go away? No one stops me getting a living.’ Then he suddenly shouts ‘Why shouldn’t the king and queen be there. I’m for them! They should be there.’ … Barman comes round with a small canvas bag, jangling it, asks me if I want a penny draw for a pie. So I put my hand into the bag and get out a worn brass disc about size of a half penny, which says Riggs Pies and has a number in the middle. The draw takes place somewhere else. Number 9 wins… and he gets a small hot pie, the sort you can get for fourpence.

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?

Over the years, people have fretted about Mass Observation’s attitudes to privacy and so, in line with original Mass Observation practice, you might want to anonymise the pub — city centre sports bar, suburban dining pub, industrial estate brewery tap, and so on. And it’s bad form to give names and details which might allow individuals to be identified from your descriptions.

And an Optional Extra

As a chaser, after your observations, write whatever you like spurred by the idea of ‘The Pub and The People’. Really, whatever you like, as vaguely related to theme as it might be. Or instead of making any observations, even. The main thing is that you feel inspired to write something.

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This is what my copy looks like.

If you’re curious about the book, The Pub and the People: A Worktown Study (Mass Observation Social Surveys), used copies of two versions are available on Amazon, the original and Cresset Library reprint, or you can read excerpts on Google Books.

So anytime in the next couple weeks, get yourself to a pub or bar with your checklist, and start observing and reporting. Then post the results on or around Friday, July 1. Let the hosts know about your participatory Session post by either posting a comment to the original announcement or by tweeting the link to @boakandbailey. They’re playing fast and loose with the deadline for submission, so as soon as you get around to it in early July is probably fine.

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