Yesterday, I read an article headed, “Man Gives Up Drinking for One Year, Loses Three Stones”. Impressive, but as I read further, it was not quite as straightforward as the headline made out. For a start, the man weighed in at twenty-one stones to start with and was given a stern warning about his health from his doctor. Getting down to eighteen stone is not exactly knocking it out of the park, but it also transpired a change in diet and a new found enthusiasm for exercise, including the gym five times a week, running half marathons and sea swimming (the latest exercise fad) also played their part. So, cutting out alcohol probably only played a small part in this “transformation”. His drinking diary did make me think, however, that how much alcohol is a part of British culture.
From the cradle to the grave, alcohol marks every milestone of British life. When a baby is born and the phone call is made, “It’s a boy (or a girl)!”, the usual response is, “Great! When’s the head-wetting?”. At the other end of life’s cycle, at every funeral in every draughty old church up and down the land, the black-clad congregation itch and fidget, urging the reverend to hurry up so they can get to the wake, where the deceased’s life is celebrated with a good old-fashioned booze up. Every life event between those two momentous occasions is marked by alcohol: that proud moment when your dad takes you to the pub for your first legal drink on your eighteenth birthday. Freshers Week at university is a booze fest; indeed the whole of your time at university is basically a three year course in managing hangovers. Your first pay cheque is marked by a big night out with your mates with you in the chair showing off your new-found wealth. Once in work, birthdays and promotions are traditionally marked with a liquid lunch or after work sesh. Even the day before you zip off on holiday, a “sunshine drink” is largely expected. You probably meet your other half in a pub, bar or nightclub. Of course, when you get engaged, there must be a party and ahead of the nuptials an obligatory stag/hen party where alcoholic consumption must reach biblical proportions! Weddings are rated by the amount of champagne drunk.
Hot weather is marked by garden barbecues where the beer outstrips the burgers. Cold weather is mulled wine and hip flasks. Skiing is all about the après ski and beaches are all about cocktails. Friday nights are pub nights and Saturday nights are for romantic meals, where the wine list bears as much importance as the menu. Sundays are about a bottle or two of red with your roast beef, before heading to the pub to watch the football with the boys. Even actually going to a football match requires beers before, midway through and after the game. Same with rugby, where it is the law that you have to start drinking at Richmond after stepping off the train then making your way via various hostelries to Twickenham Stadium. And cricket, well, it’s just one long drinking session, especially at grounds like Trent Bridge or Old Trafford, where the tv cameras are quick to find the “beer snakes”, twenty foot plastic tubes made up of all the empty pint glasses, discarded by thirsty fans.
Of course, the use of drink at all these occasions is to help loosen that famous British reserve.Other culture find it easier to express themselves, whether it is by eating a series of foot-long hot dogs, cramming all your friends and family into a battered old Peugeot and heading into town to beep your horn or maybe stand proudly on the roof of your house firing an AK47 into the night air. Abroad, local people are always surprised at the British national pastime of imbibing alcohol. Some will embrace it, even sensing an opportunity in places such as the Costa Brava or the Greek islands, where local bars will entice those British Euros with jugs of beer, bottles of Prosecco and Jägerbomb shots at rock bottom prices. You see, your usual British holiday maker is not really interested in lapping up a bit of local culture, picking up a bit of the lingo or sampling the local cuisine; holidays abroad are judged by how often you can drink (that includes check-in at the airport) and how cheap it is, compared to back home. And just where you can get a full English breakfast too.
So clearly, alcohol consumption is a big part of our DNA and the grand claim of that newspaper article is misleading. Giving up alcohol for a year will not make you drop three stones. Diet and exercise will do that. Giving up drinking will make that one year seem like ten, you will become even more reserved, less sociable, more boring and you’ll lose all your karaoke abilities and on Saturday afternoons, you would not be able to scream “City”, “United” or question the referee’s solo sexual habits.
Anyway, it’s Friday, the sun’s out, I just got a new job, so I’m off down the pub with the boys. “Who are yeerrrrrrrrrrrr????”.