Thursday, 16 April 2020

We never have drink in the house

I recently ran a poll on Twitter asking whether people were drinking more or less during the lockdown, despite being unable to visit pubs. The results were mixed, but despite my readership probably containing a considerably higher proportion of regular pubgoers than the national average, a rather higher figure said they were drinking more as opposed to cutting down. On the other hand, over the past three weeks I’ve seen a number of people saying that, since the pubs have been closed, they have pretty much entirely stopped drinking. For them, the two things are inextricably bound up with each other, and if you take the surroundings of the pub away, drinking becomes a pretty pointless exercise. Now, that’s an entirely reasonable point of view, and I certainly wouldn’t criticise anyone for a minute for adopting it. However, it’s important to recognise just what an outlier it is in terms of general social attitudes.

Over the past sixty years, the UK has seen seen a steady increase in the proportion of alcohol sold through the off-trade in comparison with the on-trade. In the 1950s, the on-trade accounted for over 90% of sales, but it has now declined to only 31%. Beer in fact was the last market segment to make the switch, with the tipping point not happening until 2015. A major factor in this has been the growth in the market share of wine, which typically is not associated with pubs, and is rarely done well by them.

There are a wide range of reasons for this which I considered in this blogpost from eleven years ago. One of the key elements is changes to lifestyles, with homes having become much more pleasant, and families doing a much wider range of activities together in them. The archetypal symbol of this change is a family sharing a bottle of wine over a meal, something than would have been unknown in ordinary households in the 1960s. But it extends into many other areas, such as entertaining friends and family, holding barbecues and watching TV sport.

There was an obvious aspirational aspect to this a trend. Drinking wine with dinner was a marker of a middle-class household, as was having a cocktail cabinet. Certainly when I was a small child, my parents would never keep alcoholic drinks in the house except for the Christmas period, but that had changed by the time I reached the legal drinking age.

It was also a question of changing gender roles. The households where all drinking was done in the pub tended to be ones where it was overwhelmingly done by the husband, who might take his wife along to the pub on Saturday evening. But, with couples wanting to share roles and responsibilities and abandon such rigid demarcation, that became less and less acceptable. That, incidentally, was one of the reasons behind the decline of the traditional Sunday lunchtime session, because women were no longer happy to stay at home cooking the dinner while their menfolk were in the pub with their mates. Back in those days, too, the woman who drank at home was often viewed as someone to be pitied rather than an example of emancipation. “Has she been at the cooking sherry, then?”

There was also a moral aspect to this, with “we never have drink in the house” being seen as a statement of rectitude, even from people who drank a lot in the pub. You still sometimes hear CAMRA blokes say “I never drink at home” as though it is a good thing. Yet, as I argued here, the attitude that somehow drinking at home is inherently less worthy than drinking in the pub is old-fashioned, silly and divisive. Each can be good or bad depending on the context. And the people who say that either tend to be single men, or older married men whose children have flown the nest.

The persistence of this view means that many beer enthusiasts fail to appreciate the reality of how the vast majority of ordinary people approach the subject of drinking. Most adults in this country probably do not visit a pub or a bar to have a drink (as opposed to eating) from one month to the next. They have no inbuilt loyalty or affection towards pubs as a concept, and on many drinking occasions going to the pub is not even an option.

13 comments:

  1. There's plenty of drink in the Bailey house, at the moment!

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  2. The illegality and increasing unacceptability of driving after drinking must also have had some influence, especially in rural areas where it is difficult to walk to the pub

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    1. In many rural areas there is much less unacceptability of driving to and from the pub. It's just becoming difficult as rural pubs either shut or turn into restaurants.

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    2. That's certainly a factor leading to people drinking more at home, as is the increased access to cars compared with the 1950s and 60s, which if nothing else makes it a lot easier to bring beer home in quamtity.

      However, I'd say it's tangential to the fundamental social change which I'm describing. People aren't doing more drinking at home primarily because they have no alternative.

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  3. Must admit I think I'd have gone mad had I not been able to have a bottle or two of beer of an evening in the house, or a glass or two of red. I am drinking a lot less though. I'm not sure I agree with 'Most adults in this country probably do not visit a pub or a bar to have a drink' though: I don't know anyone who doesn't use pubs and that goes for friends, acquaintances and work, and one friend who's teetotal but still loves going to pubs.

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    1. But your friends and acquaintances are probably to a large extent self-selecting. Do you know anyone who regularly buys slabs of lager from supermarkets, as an awful lot of people obviously do?

      There are some statistics here which suggest that around 55% of adults visit pubs as a leisure activity, but that doesn't distinguish between visits for dining and visits for just drinking.

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    2. I rarely drink at home, but having had good weather I've been enjoying a couple of beers in the garden with E. If it was pissing down, I doubt if I'd bother so much. Fridays are an exception. I'll have cask conditioned Pictish to go at. Best of a bad job really.

      I've never had to concern myself about the dead soldiers in the bin. Was slightly ashamed last week as it was two weeks worth, but hey ho. You got to try and enjoy life at my age. Well any age really.

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    3. Nope. No-one I know buys slabs of lager or smooth from a supermarket but they will get bottles of beer and loads of wine for home drinking. I get the self-selection thing, but work can't be affected by that and yet I can't think of anyone I know that doesn't go to pubs primarily for alcohol, even if they're infrequent visitors.

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  4. I have drunk more at home since the pubs have been shut - but only slightly. Very noticeable is the fact that I'm saving a lot of money; but this is not the thrill it might be, because I'd sooner be spending it in a pub. Someone said to me that people might not return to pub-going after realising the money they are saving. I take the opposite view: people will rush back to the pubs in droves having missed them so much. I can't wait. There will be no holding me!

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  5. Jukka Tolonen Carnival, let's get this you know what on the you know what, road! Said in a Geordie accent.
    https://youtu.be/NgJwzqarmak

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  6. There was a point (before my time!) when beer in pubs was cheaper than stuff you could drink at home. And certainly in my lifetime the gap between prices in beer bought in pubs and shops has been steadily growing.

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  7. The Stafford Mudgie18 April 2020 at 15:35

    If I say “I never drink at home” it's a statement of fact NOT "as though it is a good thing".

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  8. Amongst my family, friends and colleagues there's a mix of pubgoers and home drinkers. One teetotaller, several ale drinkers, a few lager drinkers, and my other half who would usually drink wine. The pubgoers (like me) are missing it, but have stocked up (thankfully a local brewery does deliveries), the home drinkers carrying on as normal.

    I'm drinking about the same: my overall lifestyle hasn't changed as mush as others- I'm still working, just not commuting. I don't usually drink in the week because I sleep better and cope better with work if I don't drink. I'm *really* missing the couple of pints in the pub on a Friday before a curry, and the couple to extend Sunday evening. I do know a couple of people that never drank at home who have now started, given the present situation.

    As to the changes in pub use? Mudgie is on the money. It's societal, for the reasons mentioned, largely.

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