Friday, 4 February 2011

A small tincture

Although alcohol consumption has been falling in recent years, it’s often said that in Britain we have lost much of our ability to drink in a moderate and controlled manner. An “all or nothing” approach is increasingly commonplace, and people are heard to express the sentiment “there’s no point in starting if you’re not going to finish.”

Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get bladdered once in a while, but surely the best way to appreciate alcoholic drinks, and to consume them responsibly, is to drink them in such a manner that you feel no more than a warm glow or a mild buzz. We all know that, with the best will in the world, one drink can easily tempt you to have another, and another. In the past it was very common for people’s drinking to be controlled by adopting a routine pattern of consumption, or by surrounding it with little rituals.

People would get into the habit of having a couple of pints with their lunch, or on the way home from work, or before their Sunday dinner. They would have a glass of wine with their evening meal, or a sherry before it, or a tot of whisky before going to bed. And they would often engage in social rituals like saying “Cheers,” or “Bottoms up,” or “Good health,” phrases you rarely hear nowadays.

It used to often be the case that you would see older regulars come into pubs, have what they regarded as “their ration” and then leave again, something that is much less common nowadays. Sometimes, of course, this was in effect forced on people by driving, but very often it wasn’t. I remember one old boy who used to come in a pub on Sunday lunchtimes, buy two pints of bitter and a half-pint bottle of lemonade (all at once), consume them over a period of about an hour and a half and then go home again.

Also, to some extent, the traditional licensing hours with the afternoon closure had an effect on limiting people’s drinking, especially when the 10.30pm closure applied from Monday to Thursday and there were only two hours on Sunday lunchtime.

Obviously there can be no going back to the restricted and hidebound world of the 1950s, but there can be no doubt that we as a society would have a more responsible attitude to alcohol, and that people would appreciate alcoholic drinks more, if they introduced more ritual and routine into their drinking and weren’t so willing to abandon all restraint.


  1. Nice post, this is something I've thought about a bit too. It has occurred to me that one heavy drinking session a week rather than a couple of pints a night can easily lead to lower overall alcohol consumption, yet more "binge" drinking- unfortunately giving the anti-alcohol lobby more ammunition, and at the same time making the drinks industry a more vulnerable target due to lower sales.
    I wouldn't be surprised if rising alcohol prices actually make this worse- if people feel they can afford fewer nights out, they may be tempted to drink more when they do go out.

  2. A fair point well made. Yes I think the culture of the UK might have altered in the sense that a lunchtime pint is frowned upon and banned in many workplaces and the nature of work has altered. Jobs are no longer long term, so there is little need to socialise with colleagues and when you do you tend to have to remain in professional mode. You can only let your hair down at weekends and be yourself in the company of friends or a lover. And yes, drinking at home may have been less common. I say all that but I cannot compare a world a didn’t live in to one I do.

    Having said all that I cannot see how binge drinking is something new. Was every 1950's pub a bastion of social responsibility? Were there no examples of a factory worker pissing his wages away every Friday night, having a fight and leaving his wife with no money to feed the kids? Were the grim northern kitchen sink dramas of the 60’s fictional and not inspired by the writers experience? Was every pub a responsible and controlled environment back then? I doubt it. The same problem exists that has always existed; some cannot take their drink and are arguably better off knocking it on the head. What is different now is the pub industry seems to think it can deflect attention by pointing the finger at Tesco

  3. I do feel this is a rosy view of the past. I've been drinking in pubs since the 70s, and there have always been people who got bladdered and were noisy. In fact, I'm sure the sight of two drunk middle aged men squaring up to each other in the street was much more common than it is now. They were called 'boozers', a term that wasn't entirely derogatory, unlike 'binge drinker', which is the language of the neo-prohibitionists, so perhaps we shouldn't use it so readily.

    Drinking is different from the past, such as many more places catering for younger drinkers, for example, which can lead to a level of boisterous drunkenness that wouldn't be accepted in most pubs. The only places with bouncers on the doors in Southport are the kiddie bars and night clubs, not the pubs.

    I've read an account of drinking in Blackpool in the 1930s and it reads just like a Daily Mail shock-horror story from today.

  4. ".....WE have lost much of our ability to drink in a moderate and controlled manner." ....Have WE?
    Surely WE have had it taken away through the demise of the local where respect for community and personal reputation were valued. Thanks to the smoking ban, enormous price hikes etc what 'locals' are left lack customers and an atmosphere that only improves after a few extra pints. The alternative is one of the increased number of booze/food barns that offer no atmosphere and little more than cheap booze or cheap food.

  5. @ Cookie and Nev: I'm certainly not saying that people didn't get bladdered in the past, it's just that ritualistic routine consumption of alcohol is noticeably less evident than it once was.

    And I doubt whether the guy who buys a 24-pack of Carling from Tesco rations himself to one a night ;-)

  6. @Mudge Some will, some won't. I rarely drink more than 2 cans of any given grog on a school night. Drinking a whole box of lager is no more common than people getting drunk in a pub. Most people handle their booze, some don't. Tesco may sell me big box, and a pub one pint at a time, but a pub will sell me enough to get wrecked.

    On this occasion I necked 4 cans.

  7. All of my local pubs now are dreadful. They all sell food and have about 3/4 of the pub permanently reserved for meals.
    So often you get a totally empty pub with a cramped corner only allowed for 'boozing'.
    To be honest. I just don't bother any more, they don't cater for me so why should I pay for expensive beer, be shoved in a corner and then told to stand outside for a cigarette. They are no longer my pubs.

  8. The old (pre-all day opening) Sunday lunchtime sessions used to be great. It was the one day of the week when all the pub regulars would be present, and you'd be almost guarranteed to meet up with your friends. It was definitely a session not to be missed. (Mind you the pub I used to drink in operated "lock-ins", and it wasn't unusual to roll out at 4pm in the afternoon!)

    That all seemed to change with all day opening.

  9. Yes, in the days of 2 pm Sunday closing, many pubs were heaving throughout the two-hour session. I think to some extent, once people realised they didn't have to go between 12 and 2, they realised they didn't have to go at all.

    I'm sure my local pub in the 1980s sold more beer in two hours than it now does in seven.

  10. A small addition to my earlier post ... I've thoroughly enjoyed an early evening at my existing local BUT 'capable management' was absent when the gas ran out on (sorry to all you real ale folk) the Tetleys. The alternatives, Stoggs and Tribute are not to my taste but what could the basic wage barmaid do .... Nothing!
    No one had a torch to see what was going on in the cellar: no one had the knowledge to change the gas BUT the tried.
    Gone are the days when we entered the owner's home -- we now enter a business where the knowledgeable one pisses off for the night and I'm sure will slag me off since I drink a less important brew!
    Sorry, am I paying too little for him to care!!!!!
    Still, I got someone to sort out my plumbing problem, the loan of a dongler and and an anvil for some body work on one of my old cars.
    BTW. - Anyone want a Mk 1 spitfire - I can't love more than one classic.


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