Publicans are witnessing a return to profitability, thanks to the ban on bear baiting being lifted. Pub landlords have long blamed the ban for a decline in custom, but new guidelines have brought the tradition back to life, this time replacing physical assaults by vicious dogs with personal remarks and ridicule from the regulars.
"This is good news for us, and good news for bears", announced Andy Fulton, a landlord at the recently revamped 'Sticks and Stones' pub in Norwich. "We've seen a real decline in attendance since the knee-jerk ban of 1835. Sure, we tried to replace it with some tamer games: it’s a lot of fun to get Dave’s guide-dog drunk, for instance. But when it comes to male bonding, there's little that can top the thrill of making snide remarks about the sexuality of a 700-pound bear dressed in a tutu."
Bear baiting takes place every Tuesday night, normally a quiet time for Fulton’s business. "Compared with the quiz nights, my takings are up 4-fold", claimed Fulton, "That lot used to nurse a lemonade all night and then moan about me making the answers up. Bair baiting is a lot more lucrative, most of my customers need to drink a massive amount before finding the courage to take on Bruno. Take Kev last night: he walked up to our bear, slapped an L plate on it and drenched it in cider before yelling ‘How long’s it going to take you to sleep that off you lightweight, all winter?’ You wouldn’t want to try that sober."
Mocking Bruno’s limited ability to metabolise alcohol is a recurring theme. Barely a week goes by without someone proffering a fluted glass of continental lager to his massive paws, before taunting him with ‘what’s the matter, can’t hold your drink?’. This sort of physical comedy is loved by the regulars, it’s an easy swipe to make and has helped sales of bandages and dressings no end.
At first glance, Bruno seems happy in his modified amateur boxing arena, thriving on the attention and the odd gnawed-off limb. But welfare groups claim his confidence is rock-bottom. "You expect a bear to be pretty thick-skinned, but a lot of it is just fur", complained Janet Trump, founder of the charity that aims to silence bear chuckle boxing. “Frank Bruno has agreed to be a patron of 'Ringpeace', he agrees that this is just organised bullying, small wonder these poor creatures are so grizzly.”
The sport may be controversial, but it has plenty of followers. Alf Hawley, a ginger-haired halitosis sufferer and chairman of the local bus spotter's club, will talk at length about his passion for the ‘bearaters’ with anyone that he can corner. “I don’t partake myself, I’m a passive baiter: my main love will always be buses and numbers and routes associated with buses. We've met in here on Tuesdays for as long as I can remember and it used to be us that got the abuse, but now we all have a too-cross bear.”
Hat-tip to Al OPecia