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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Disgusting behaviour at the Black Swan, Oxford

Sorry in advance - off topic post.... Science stuff will resume shortly!

In the world's mind, St Paddy's day is now deeply associated with the noxious national stereotype of the Irish as heavy drinking flagellants. Before we condemn the world for typecasting, it's probably fair to point out we're often a little too willing to live up to this role. While it's fantastic in one respect that the world celebrates the national holiday of a tiny western European nation, that this appreciation is often expressed as a dangerous level of intoxication probably isn't so great. In that spirit (pun not intended), I witnessed something Paddy's eve in Oxford that absolutely appalled me. I genuinely have no idea if what I saw was common or not, but it was almost certainly not legal and deeply ethically dubious. I have no idea how to parse it, so I'm writing this as an off topic blog-post and would welcome feedback from anyone on this.

Contrary to national expectation, this Paddy's night was a relatively sober affair for me - I spent the evening with the brilliant people at the COPE consortium (who do absolutely amazing work on organ donation and preservation - do check them out)  giving a talk on Science Media and bad statistics in the rather stunning settings of Balliol college. After the talk and chat it was about 11pm, and I headed off to meet my fellow Oxford Irish friends, Fiona and Leonie with the vague ambition to maybe get a drink in before bed.

Now, if you're familiar with Oxford pubs you'll know getting a drink in on a Tuesday night after 11 isn't all that easy. One of Fiona's contacts suggested that we go to the Black Swan pub, off Cowley Road for a drink. This was only a mild detour from my route home, so we met there. Of course the place was packed and near closing but we got in  and got a round in. The evening was drawing to a close, and the music stopped. One lady stood out - she was middle aged, heavily intoxicated and not firm on her feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her hit the ground hard with a degree of aplomb. She had fallen right in the doorway, and people started stepping over here to leave. A little aghast at this, Leonie and Fiona motioned to the two doormen in case they had somehow had some bizarre ocular condition which rendered the upended woman in the neon top a metre away from them invisible. They ignored her, shrugging.

Annoyed by this, we slipped through the crowd and tried to get her up. She was pure dead-weight, and it took quite an amount of effort to maneuver her to a chair. Fiona asked for her name, and tried to find out who she was with. I went to look for her bag and belongings. She was upset, unable to remember where she lived. Her bag and coat were gone, possibly misplaced or stolen. I went up to a member of the bar staff and explained the situation. They didn't seem particularly concerned, and I resumed my sweep of the pub for the rest of this ladies belongings. I didn't know this at the time, but Leonie had also explained the situation to the bar staff who seemed unconcerned.

At this stage, the pub had cleared out. The bar staff remained, plus a contingent of 3 or 4 drinkers at the bar who were obviously friends of the owner or bar staff, as they weren't being herded out the door by the bouncers like the rest of us, and were still being served. The only others in the bar were Fiona, Leonie, the lady and I. It now appeared she had been robbed, was unable to stand or remember where she lived. She was also on her own and quite emotional. At this stage, an older member of the bar staff roared at us to get out - I re-iterated that this lady needed some assistance and appeared to have been robbed. "That's not my problem is it? " she sneered dismissively and continued sweeping.

Now, I get that they're tired - I get that drunk people can be incredibly annoying. But you know something? This lady didn't get herself into such a state by wishful thinking - she had been supplied all night by this bar, despite the fact she was clearly in no fit state to be supplied. I did that laser-focused thing I did when I'm annoyed - "Actually it is your problem - you have a legal responsibility and duty of care to this woman. She's not even able to stand, can't remember where she lives, and has likely been robbed.". Suddenly, the chorus of favoured drinkers at the bar cocked their heads over and chimed in. A woman at the bar (who we'll call Scrappy in this story) yelled "Woz your facking problem you American cunt?" and got out of her bar stool, shaping up to me and prodding my ribs with her finger.

I ignored her provocation and continued engaging the woman whom I assumed to be the most senior staff member there due to her authoritative tone and age. Scrappy continued to prod and kept trying to get in my face. Scrappy's partner was now joining in, and his friends. Scrappy repeated the "American cunt" line louder again. I glared at her and said "I'm Irish, kindly get your fucking hands off me" , and then turned to walk off, realising this was a waste of time. That's when it all kicked off - Scrappy's partner lunged forward and threw a punch at me as my back was turned. It was a cowardly, sly and calculated move, and I would never have seen it coming only one of the girls yelled 'look out' quick enough for me to duck so the punch didn't land. Still, the follow through knocked me forward. I spun round to see him and his mates all standing up looking for a fight. One bouncer stepped in front of them and the other grabbed me, throwing me out the door. He then flung the girls out too.

Given my new-found friends were aching for a fight and we had no intention of becoming statistics, we retreated to a safe distance. We had lost the lady in the melee, but we did know she'd been ejected on her own into the freezing night unsteady on her feed with only a flimsy top, no money and no idea where she lived. We called the police and told them what had happened. On Paddy's night this must have been pretty low priority, as were were told the cops would arrive within the hour. Chiefly, we were concerned about that poor lady and worried about where she might be. I entertained the idea of going back around the pub and looking around there, but given those folks were still drinking at a lock in a police escort seemed more sensible than getting my head kicked in by a bunch of guys in an alley, so we waited.

90 minutes later, while still waiting for the cops, Fiona spotted the lady staggering out of a side street. I ran over to her - she was absolutely freezing, shivering with the cold. I wrapped my jacket around her, and Leonie grabbed a coffee while Fiona talked softly with her. She'd sobered up a little, and was able to tell us more; as soon as she was ejected from the pub, she staggered disorientated down Crown St and had collapsed on the road, where she remained for over an hour, with no thermal protection whatsoever and an unhealthy amount of booze in her system. I was outraged - she genuinely could have died, and the Black Swan in Oxford couldn't have cared less; they're also apparently happy to have lock-ins with people who try to start pub brawls but I digress...

The cops arrived 25 minutes later. By this stage it was nearing 3am - there had been freezing mist all evening and without a jacket I really was feeling it. The cops were polite, and the lady genuinely grateful - she kept hugging us and saying thank you, but she needn't have - any semi-decent human would have done the same. If I had gotten myself into a state for whatever reason, I certainly would hope someone might help me rather than leave me in a situation where I run a very real risk of death or disablement. The police checked her over, and she remembered her address at that stage. They insisted on getting her medical attention first as she was incredibly cold and that is never a good combination with alcohol. We got home a little after 3 am, sober as judges who don't partake in alcoholic exuberances.

But genuinely - what the actual hell is that? That lady should not have been served the amount she had, and the fact the pub were happy to take her money but nonchalant about the risk to her appalls me. All they had to do was keep her in a corner until she sobered up, or call the police about her stolen bags and let them take it from there. SURELY that is an operating hazard of the job? Simply kicking someone out who can't stand without their belongings is a violation of duty of care? How the hell does a dive like that even get a bar licence? The story ended alright, but realistically it could have been a lot more tragic. I'm sorry this post isn't as flippant or fun as usual, but I'm genuinely fluxxomed by this - did the pub break the law? Or were they without the law but still utter bastards? What kind of establishment does lock-ins with people who try to start fights?  I would plead with any of you in Oxford to avoid the place like the plague - there are plenty of good pubs in Oxford that don't engage in this sort of thuggish behaviour.

EDIT - Someone pointed out the me the actual Owner of the Black Swan was done for dealing cocaine recently. I don't know if the ownership has changed since - story here 






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