|Acoustic songs in the Mason's, Southport|
This time of the year, Christmas and New Year, can actually deepen feelings of isolation because, if you're alone, it can look as though the whole world is having a party to which you're not invited. To be fair, there are occasional messages reminding us not to forget people who are lonely at this time, but the problem is not seasonal phenomenon: for many, this is a year-long struggle.
Pubs are one obvious answer, as you can enter and buy a drink without having to pay for admission, join or sign in, and it is acceptable to speak to strangers, but it's not necessarily as straightforward as CAMRA seems to suggest. First you have to find a suitable pub: not every pub is a community local, and some may cater more for specific age groups so that even a regular pub goer of the 'wrong' age might feel out of place. An older woman may not find it easy to go into a pub on her own, especially as she may be of a generation that did not readily accept women doing so.
When you are a regular pub goer, as CAMRA members are almost by definition, walking into a pub is simple, so it's easy for us to forget that some may find the prospect daunting, partly because of the fear that you may end up sitting sadly on your own, perhaps compounded by simple unfamiliarity with pubgoing in general.
I'd suggest that people try to find out about suitable pubs before venturing out: for example, from other people, from the local papers and on-line. It may be an idea to go when there is entertainment on, because that can be the ostensible reason for being there, and it doesn't matter if you're watching, say, music alone as people will assume that's why you're there. Music and quiz nights are probably the most common forms of entertainment, although some pubs put on comedy acts. If music is your thing, a loud rock band doesn't help if you're hoping to speak to people, although not all amplified music precludes speech. Increasingly there are unamplified acoustic music sessions, some held during the day and therefore clearly suitable for retired people. Pub games, such as darts or pool where you can challenge whoever's playing to a game, may be another way of breaking the ice. It is not even necessary to drink alcohol: in my local, one of my friends whom I've known for decades drinks only diet Coke. If, like me, you are not drawn to soft drinks, tea and coffee are often available nowadays.
Pubs aren't a silver bullet that can solve all the problems of loneliness, and some people may genuinely not like them anyway. The propaganda of the anti-alcohol brigade has had a corrosive effect on the perception of pubs, as have media stories suggesting our town centres are like the Wild West at weekends: I go out every weekend, and they're not. Having said that, CAMRA is basically correct in suggesting that pubs can help reduce isolation for many people.