Friday, February 4, 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.