No set of guidelines is so perfect that someone, somewhere won’t see a loophole and someone else won’t see a joke. A bar in Nottingham sees both.
As usual, we need some background before we go on. Remember how Julius Caesar divided all of Gaul into three parts? No? Well, I was kind of young back then, but I swear no one talked about anything else for months. And here we are a couple of thousand years later with all Britain divided three tiers.
It’s so exciting. We’re following the example of the Roman Empire. We haven’t elected a horse to Parliament yet, so we may not follow every detail, but we haven’t ruled it out yet.
But back to the bar: Britain’s just come out of a lockdown and the tiers are about how many Covid cases each area has. If you have more cases, you have more restrictions, and if you have more restrictions, you have a higher tier number.
Nottingham is in tier three. That means that bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, and social clubs are closed “except for takeaway, delivery and click and collect services.”
Bowling alleys, casinos, and movies (not being able to do click and collect) are also closed, along with everything else you can think of that’s fun (or that someone you know thinks is fun even if you don’t) and indoors and a handy place to trade viruses. So are some things that are outdoors, and I have no idea what the logic there is.
Places of worship are open, along with hairdressers, massage parlors, tattoo parlors, gyms, and a few other things that don’t like to be seen rubbing shoulders in a single category.
So what’s an enterprising bar to do? A tequila and mezcal bar called 400 Rabbits has applied to be recognized as the Church of the 400 Rabbits. Its website says:
“Join us as we begin our journey to answer absolutely none of life’s big questions. Such questions as why are we here, what’s the meaning of life, why didn’t they just fly the eagles to mordor and why did dominos stop making the double decadence pizza base?!
“Our aim is simple, to offer a place of worship to our deity the mezcal bunny. A place where you can drink mezcal without having to order a carvery dinner alongside it, a place where you aren’t kicked out into the cold heartless night at 10pm, a place where you can get away from the busy gyms, supermarkets, shops, beauty salons, massage parlours, cinemas, theatres, sports venues, xmas markets, schools, universities, betting shops and literally everywhere else that will be allowed to remain open while pubs and bars will remain shut.”
[I think their list’s of what’s allowed to stay open is off a bit, but let’s not quibble.]
“Our application to be recognised as an official place of worship and open our doors has been submitted to the registrar general. You can support our application by joining our congregation. Choose to be a ‘Bunny Believer’ or become ordained as a ‘Reverend of the Righteous Rabbits’ by signing up below.”
Membership costs £10 and gets you a T-shirt and an invitation to attend worship “if our application is granted (it definitely won’t be).”
The money will go to the Emmanuel House Support Centre, which works with the homeless.
How do you become recognized as a religion in Britain? It’s not easy, because England doesn’t have a central register of religions or any way to formally recognize one. (I think that’s true of the rest of the country but I’m not sure–sorry.)
What it does have, though, is a handy Form for Certifying a Place of Meeting for Religious Worship under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, and that’s what the bar owner is working with. The form asks about the building you’ll be using, the faith and denomination of the congregation, and whether it meets regularly for worship (“daily until late,” the 400 Rabbits wrote). That seems to be about it.
Given that the government hasn’t put itself in the business of deciding on any religion’s legitimacy, I don’t know if they’ll have any grounds to turn down the Church of the 400 Rabbits.
The church is also on Facebook, and its page says, “We’ve had an absoloutely [nobody ever claimed rabbits could spell] overwhelming response to the church with hundreds of sign ups to the congregation from all over the world, from Kazakhstan to New Zealand, Russia and the USA and of course right here at home. And that’s before we’ve even officially launched the site!
“. . . Thanks to everyone for showing your support and helping us highlight the plight of hospitality businesses under the government’s batshit new tier restrictions!
“Now i’m off to have a hearty scotch egg for dinner!
“Praise be the bunnies.”
I’m pretty sure I’d disagree with the owner–James Aspell–about opening bars in the middle of a pandemic, but he’s damn funny. Even if he and his rabbits can’t spell.
What’s this about scotch eggs?
I wrote about this before, but hey, this is important, so let’s come back to it. The government’s tying itself in knots over scotch eggs (which, it turns out, don’t take a capital S) and the definition of a substantial meal. The definition matters because a pub can sell alcohol to anyone buying a substantial meal. But all a government has to do is tell that to the press (or the pubs) and they’ll start asking what a substantial meal is. Is it a scotch egg? A ham sandwich? A sausage roll?
The environment secretary said a scotch egg would qualify if the pub had table service.
Then the prime minister’s spokesperson said the government wasn’t going to get into the definition of every possible meal.
Then the minister for the cabinet office, Michael Gove, said scotch eggs would make a starter but not a meal, and after that he backtracked and said they were a substantial meal. He also said the government was relying on people’s common sense.
That’s safe enough. They’re not using much, so there’s plenty left for the rest of the country.
This came up before, in October, when the housing secretary said a pasty was a substantial meal if it came with side dishes, and also when the Manchester police stopped a pizzeria called Common from selling single slices, although Common argued that the slices were “f*****ng massive.”
Full disclosure: That may have been the Manchester Evening News, not the restaurant, being coy about spelling out fucking. Or it could have been the rabbits, although I wouldn’t expect them to be coy about that.
The police, someone from Common said, told them the slices “don’t fit the substantial food brief,” but ”couldn’t tell [them] what substantial food was.”
All this matters because businesses face a £10,000 fine if they sell someone alcohol without a substantial meal. That’s enough money to focus your attention on exactly what a substantial meal is. Common is now serving only whole pizzas. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t started a religion, although I just might join one that prayed for pizza.