I was spurred by this post from Raedwald to think about my own days of adolescent drinking. I grew up in an industrial town in the North-West, but having passed the 11-plus, attended a grammar school seven miles away out in a more rural area. I made many friends from that area, and most of the socialising I did in the 18-21 period, in the latter period of the sixth form and during university holidays, tended to revolve around the rural side. The usual pattern was that we would get in one of our fathers’ cars and go out exploring the pubs in the rural areas around a fifteen to twenty mile radius, and also the nearest cathedral city.
It was a journey of discovery – we would find grotty pubs, snooty pubs, dull but welcoming pubs, interesting but unwelcoming pubs, and plenty of pubs of genuine character that we would return to again and again. We knew we had to be respectful to the locals and regulars, so we moderated our behaviour accordingly. One pub in particular, hidden away up a rural cul-de-sac, with two tiny rooms, a quarry-tiled floor and beer straight from the cask, really sticks in the memory. It isn’t like that now, of course.
This was the late 1970s, when the breathalyser had been in place for ten years, and it was drummed into us by our fathers that to be OK we should stick to two pints. In those days, when virtually no draught beer was over 4% ABV, that simple maxim made more sense than it does now. Sometimes we might push it to two and a half, or three over the course of an evening, but I doubt whether that would have led to a failed test anyway. I can honestly say I can never recall an occasion when anyone took the piss with the drink-driving law. On recollection, it seems to me that as a confident driver who passed his test first time before he was seventeen-and-a-half, I did more than my fair share of driving, but I didn’t really mind. And even those who weren’t driving would never have more than four or five pints, and weren’t puking in the streets.
Nowadays, young people just don’t do that – they go on pub crawls around trendy bars in town centres and get arseholed. The rural pubs have in many cases gone over entirely to food or closed down for good (although most of those I recall visiting, to be honest, survive in some form). I think we are missing something in terms of young people being socialised to the ways of pubs and finding out just what is out there on their doorstep.
It is also striking looking back how few of even the up-market pubs served evening meals, yet they were still busy, generally far more so than today. We may have lots more beers nowadays, but I can’t help thinking that the pub trade as a whole is a thin echo of its former self.