Tim Martin of Wetherspoons wants government to offer visas to EU workers to help out in pubs

File photo dated 16/10/20 of founder and Chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin. The pub giant is se

Founder and Chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin - Credit: PA

Last Sunday I visited London for the first time since March 2020.
I kept it cautious, car rather than train, and only visited the football pitch in Chiswick where my team of the last three and half decades (all now 60, or close) drew 3-3 with one of our ancient foes. Two strange sensations. The first was the massive planes roaring overhead on the Heathrow flightpath. An unfamiliar sight to us distant Devonians.

The second was the comedy of old men trying to order beer via an app afterwards, struggling for their reading glasses, and panting like thirsty dogs when it took ten safety-conscious minutes for drinks to arrive at our outdoor table. And a general nervousness too. No handshakes or hugs when meeting or after scoring. This caution we have all acquired is now thoroughly ingrained.

Afterwards, the team photo was taken on an iPhone of one of the four under 30s each side agreed could carry their wheezing fathers through a full ninety minutes. I looked at it just now. On the face of it, the ten oldsters were born and bred Londoners, our accents a touch suburban, a bit sarf of the river. English to the core.

And yet, given recent seismic geopolitical events, I took a second look. There was Vijay, Orpington born, about to retire after 35 years as a GP, but with Indian immigrant parents. Matt, from Forest Hill originally, but with an Argentine/Welsh mum. Eric, formerly a major executive in world advertising and research, Arsenal to the tips of his toes, but also from a Jewish migrant family. And me, of course, like Morrissey of The Smiths, Irish Blood, English Heart.

You wouldn’t surmise any of this if you met us – just a bunch of aging geezers from the smoke. Yet for the last 50 years we have spent as friends, and without us ever having commented on this, or felt the need to, we had been part of the rainbow nation of the United Kingdom all along.

This short prelude tees me up for a quick word about one of the most infuriating mouths-for-hire on the pro-Brexit side, Exeter’s own Tim Martin, of Wetherspoons pubs. Enticed presumably by his tight polo shirts, and the last remaining mullet from the 80s, if producers couldn’t book Nigel Farage or Jacob Rees-Mogg for their TV debate, they got him. Last week I wrote of the arrogance of Dominic Cummings, but he is a shrinking violet when contrasted with Mr Martin.

Now, I am not about to re-litigate Brexit. The deed has been done and even those who regard it as an act of national self-harm need to deal with the reality. Not doing so just about destroyed the poor old LibDems from 2016-20, in a principled but doomed-to-fail last stand. However, all non-Brexit fans reserve the right to offer criticism when things go wrong.

The Ancient Greeks had a great myth for all this. Hubris – excessive over-confidence and pride - would be followed by Nemesis which, like an ego-seeking missile, had one function, to take out those guilty of Hubris. Narcissus was the best example of this, so in love with his own reflection when he saw it reflected in a pool that he stayed gazing at it forever until he died.

So, last week, Tim Martin took time away from his blow-dryer to lament that his pub chain was now so short of workers that he wanted the government to offer special visas for (mainly) young Europeans to come over to pull pints. To which there was a chorus of “but that’s what you campaigned against, Tim. You wanted an end to the free movement of labour from the EU, but now you need to keep flogging pork scratchings you come bleating to the government.”

We could have gone for our drink after the game to a ‘Spoons in Chiswick. Non merci, Monsieur Martin.