Pub watching is a quasi-legal enterprise in the UK in which people are paid to stay in abandon pubs until they change hands. Watchers usually stay in a pub for a few weeks, sleeping in the vacant pub and hanging out with locals until they’re given cash and told to move on. “This is in case I have to deal with any intruders,” said the unwashed, unshaven, stoned employee of a legally-questionable pub watching service as he handed me a five pound, rusty, 19th century sword. We met in a working pub in Harleston, known each other for 20 minutes, had a beer and ambled down the road to the pub he was “watching” until his elusive boss found a new one for him to occupy. “Do you use that thing often?” “Not too often. I usually only need it when I’m in the roughest neighborhoods in London.” The drug deal/squatter took the sword and motioned to his elaborate tech setup, which took up an entire wall. “Any music requests?” I shook my head. He put on a British rendition of dueling banjos, rolled a joint and preceded to tell me how he’d avoided state aid, a real job and rent for two years by getting paid to squat in abandoned UK pubs.
Depending on who you ask, approximately 50 pubs close in the UK every day. For pub culture, it’s a horrifying statistic but for directionless 20-somethings living in the UK, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to squat, drug deal and avoid work. I assume my pub watcher’s boss didn’t return interview requests because his business model revolves around providing former pub owners with property insurance in the form of scraggly young squatters but I can’t be sure. Therefore, everything I know about pub watching is based on the confessions of my stoned friend. My pub watcher said he gets paid on a sliding scale determined by type of pub, location, the danger factor associated with watching the pub and time spent squatting. On a good week, he makes 220 pounds. Lodging, of course, is included. I got the impression that he saves a good deal of this by living off his supplemental income, which he earns by wheeling and dealing in nearby pubs. After a few more songs and a twinge of panic, I thanked him for his time, jumped over his blow up mattress, maneuvered around his three portable heaters and hustled down the stairs, through the broken bar, ripped up floor boards, unlit front room and out the door.
His calling card is a crooked sheet over the upstairs window of a pub with a wireless Internet router poking out of one corner. There’s 60,000 pubs in the UK, more than 2 million marijuana smokers and more than 2 million unemployed. Pub watching is where they intersect. What a fantastic intersection.
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