It’s a slow news day today. You can always feel them in the air — tumbleweeds roll through editorial meetings and bleary-eyed reporters stare at their shoes and mumble “Uhm, what about… mmm, nah, got nothing.” Today’s Crikey will still be its usual stellar self, of course — we aren’t so married to the news cycle to provide our sparkling and insightful analysis — but when not too much is going on in the world, journalistic Spidey senses collectively fail to tingle for hacks across the country and we all sigh as we reach for the third, fourth, fifth coffee before midday.

Anyway, the point is: it’s a bit quiet on the western front. And that’s when stories like this get a lot of traction:

A mother of four is facing up to five years in a Thai prison after allegedly stealing a bar mat from an Aussie-theme bar in Phuket.

In a statutory declaration to Victoria Police, Ms Smoel’s friends said they had played a “silly joke” on Ms Smoel that had backfired.

“We would like to apologise for any harm, inconvenience or any lack of respect on our behalf. This was truly not our intention.

“We were all out drinking and became intoxicated. We put the bar mat into Annice’s handbag and she was unaware that we were playing a joke on her.”

Like many young(ish) people, I spent several years tending bars when I was studying, and truly there are few places better for observing the human condition. One thing that repeatedly confounded me was people’s attitude to property theft when inside a licensed venue.

You probably wouldn’t even consider pocketing your latte glass when enjoying a coffee and focaccia at a local cafe, but nabbing pint glasses is just a normal part of having a drink to many pub-goers. And not in a “Ooh, aren’t I cheeky? I might sneak this home with me, tee hee” kind of way, but usually a far more cavalier “I like this; I’ll take it” way. Plenty of the la-di-da “we only serve European beers hand-made by blind monks” venues around now require punters to leave a credit card or deposit while they sip from any of the really fancy glasses, because they know they wouldn’t last a night if they left it up to honesty and trust.

And it isn’t just glasses — I caught punters trying to casually walk off with barstools, paintings, ice buckets, beer taps, ice scoops, chalk-boards… if it’s housed near beer, for some reason it’s considered fair game to most people. I once stood and watched a woman stand on a chair and take down 24 novelty teaspoons that were on the pub’s wall one by one, casually putting each into her handbag. When I asked why she thought she could just steal our decor, she said quizzically at me like I was a total moron and replied: “Because… it’s a pub!”

And yes — bar mats (“bar runners” to those in the trade). Everyone wants a bar mat, imagining in their inebriated state that a manky piece of felt and rubber emblazoned with the VB logo will make the perfect addition to their kitchen bench. But, as any bartender will tell you, the joke’s on them: picking up a bar runner any time after about 6pm is a guaranteed way to give yourself a good shower of stale beer, vodka-and-raspberry runoff, peanut crumbs and God knows what else.

There is an art to removing bar mats without getting coated in the evening’s dregs, and if you’re trying to nab a crusty old beer-sponge from you local, trust me: you don’t know it.

Anyway, it’s hardly a crime that warrants five years in prison, but it is, y’know, a crime.

Pro tip: Bar mats actually come free from the distributors. If you really want one, just ask the publican. Nicking them isn’t annoying because it costs money, it’s annoying because not having enough runners means you’re constantly wiping down the bar. Ask politely and, when they get a new bunch in from a brewery, they’ll probably be happy to offload the old scungy ones onto you.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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