Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Where it all began

And tonight's subject, ladies and gentlefolk, is how this all began.

A chronological take on things is probably the most fitting as I can picture changes over time that are only really relevant to each other in terms of what happened before and after. So, I suppose this all began the first few times I went out with my dad.

The habits I formed then have stuck with me to this day. The things I'll list now do sound absurd, and I'll make the comparisons you might imagine yourself - but I'll also show the differences, the reasons why these things matter.
  • I imitated the speed at which he drinks. It took a while to catch up at first, but it was something I was trying to do as it seemed it was normal. I didn't have any concept that people drank at different paces... it was just pint for pint. So why didn't I just treat it like a coffee - people sup a brew however they like? Well, there's the physical act of getting up and going to the bar. There's also the querying of whether you want another pint. And there's the image pressure I felt of not wanting a comment about "struggling with my pint", like I was weaker than the others.
  • I drank as regularly as he drank. When I was very young this was five nights a week, but by the time I was 18 this was down to three at weekends. By the time I started drinking most of my friends had moved away so I naturally went out with my dad - Friday night was a big event, something I looked forward to after a week at college. And then Saturday was empty with another night out at the end of it, and usually Sunday too. Why didn't I just do this with him as little as I did everything else? - well, it was the first time I'd ever really done anything alone with him and been able to speak to him. I liked how the drink made it possible for us both to talk - we do have a lot in common.
  • I developed my sense of being "the organiser", the chief morale officer, the one responsible for the happiness of the group. Before this I was very individualistic but from this point on, my contentment became very closely tied in to how the group was doing. I would then put myself in situations that weren't the best for me, but for the group. He did, and does, the same. Why didn't my happiness just derive from myself? - that's just the way I am. I'm very sensitive to people's moods and don't feel happy until others are.
All of this isn't an attempt to blame him, or anyone, for the way things turned out. Short of someone pouring beer down a funnel into my throat (which only happened once at that frat party in San Fran, '04), the only person I can blame is myself. What I'm trying to do is look back and see how it happened - I'm genuinely curious of the process.

Now, all of this carried on for a few years, as I remember. I was mostly around Blackburn and I don't think things were too bad back then. This was right at the beginning of what we called at the time "the experiment", wherein Blackburn was the country's guinea pig for late licensing laws. Prior to this, 99% of nights would end when the club closed at midnight, frequently earlier. Post to this may well be what was the real start of my problems. You see, when the Napier began staying open later into the night, as well as a few other pubs in town, it became a viable option not just to get a taxi home and have supper before bed, but to get that taxi into town with a few other people and carry on the night.

And this just progressed, over time, into today's situation of entirely unpredictable opening hours stretching absurdly late into the night. That whole debate is for another time, but I can say it was not in my best interests. Prior to this I had been doing a reasonable job of drinking normally and going home, eating, having a brew and sleeping at a normal time - if, you will, the "old" way of drinking. Suddenly these extra hours extended that and none of us could resist it.

The constant argument that comes back when "cafe culture" is mentioned is that it's for the continentals and doesn't suit us. I firmly agree with this. Having been all around Europe I can attest that it's a great thing over there, where the culture has had centuries to adapt to it and has social rules firmly in place to work alongside it. But for the British? - we are historically a nation of hard drinkers who have needed to be controlled. See for example the 1830 Beer Act which was designed to end the gin plague the country endured at the time, with three quarters of London homes a dram shop. This in turn led to 40,000 homes turning into "public houses", the forerunner of today's pubs, which themselves had to be controlled during World War I with the introduction of "last orders". Historically, British drinking has needed control to avoid becoming self-destructive.

I digress. The point in question here is that the new late opening hours acted simply as an invitation, to me, to drink more. It was an easy way to extend the night and have more fun. From this time on, I think I've struggled with a sense of self-control any time after 11 or 12 - it's like the habits of those early years are hard-wired in to my head, and anything afterward is prone to end badly.

I'm fully aware that talking through these events can easily be interpreted as my attempt to rationalise and justify my behaviour today by events beyond my control. I'm not doing that. What I wish to explain is how events that at the time seem perfectly harmless or even beneficial, can in time turn out to be harmful. This early sequence of events in my drinking career (which is by far my favourite expression used among the beer blogging community) did, I think, set me on a path towards where I am today.

A discussion of the pro's and con's of that licensing legislation is well worth a post, even a book, on its own - I think that was really the beginning of the death of the pub scene, far before the smoking ban. But that's by the by. Tomorrow, I'll have a think back at the following stage of my career.

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