Years ago, when I watched soap operas I learnt that the pub was the focal point in British communities. EastEnders has the Queen Vic and Corrie (Coronation St) has the Rovers Return. Though the occasional fight or drunkard would present, these two pubs were on the whole a place used throughout the week in the evenings, for locals to meet friends and family, and have a drink. The general usage of the pub was not to get drunk, but to meet socially in a comfortable environment outside work or home.
I believe there is a growing shift from this regular habitual moderate drinking at pubs towards drinking at home, or, drinking less regularly, at the end of the week, and drinking a lot more to make up for it!
Our drinking habits are considerably affected by our life-stage:
Most teens will have had some experience drinking alcohol. Whether that’s drinking at a meal with the family, or going to a house party, or even stealthily convincing a barman you’re old enough (though I think that’s had a huge crack down since the days when I was a teenager).
As a young adult, suddenly you have the freedom to go drinking. Often people are less familiar with their limits, or enjoy getting drunk as most of their best tall stories will relate to being in a drunken state. Often most social gatherings will be around drinking. This is especially typified by university students -where deals will be specially directed to student offers, with ‘freshers’ events centred around getting drunk as fast as possible. At this most inexperienced and liberated stage in a young Brit’s life they are at their most vulnerable. One of the main elements in rapes and attacks are drunkenness; A&E is full of people who are either drunk or have been involved in an accident or fight involving a drunk.
Firstly women whilst pregnant are advised by the government to limit their intake of alcohol, the boundaries are vague -the NHS says to try to avoid it altogether, but if you still want to limit it to 1-2 units once or twice a week. Drinking whilst pregnant can cause harm to the unborn baby.
When people become parents they find all ‘me’ time seems to be lost (one reason why I really don’t want children for a good while!) Luxury’s like sleep, social activities, two-seater cars and even finding time to feed or drink yourself go out of the window. Ok so I’m exaggerating a little, but a lot of these are really true! Drinking in the pub becomes a rare pleasure. Finding venues which are baby friendly and are easy to wheel you pram into are a priority -some pubs will be quiet enough and the right atmosphere for this, others not so. If you don’t choose to take your sproglet with you then drinking becomes several times more expensive and time consuming as you find a child-minder and pay for their time. Other than physical limitations like time and money -new parents often seem to mellow out -they have less of an urge to go out on the town.
Parents of older children: easier as they might want to stay over their friends at the weekend, sleepovers provide the best time for you to have time with your partner. Maybe one child is old enough to look after their siblings if you pop out for a few hours. Or certainly drinking at home (in moderation of cause) is a good way to introduce the concept of adults habits in a controlled setting where they can see a role model for consuming drink responsibly. Parents of older children are more likely to also have a more mature career, more income, yet less impetus to spend on activities around drink but on more long-term items like upgrades in household items, mortgages, etc.
And parents of older teenagers: after all the years of my parents driving me to Drama, Choir, friends houses, school, the doctors….. everywhere….. I finally learnt to drive at the age of 17. With the little time I had left before I left for uni I drove them to the pub to enjoy a rare drink where the pair of them could drink their alcohol of choice rather than the usual pint for me and Coke for my partner. We lived out in the sticks -that’s the general term for countryside for those that don’t know- so walking to the nearest pub would take an afternoon!
I noticed during the phase between my older sister leaving for university and me preparing to for university, my parents were a little more spontaneous in their leisure, perhaps due to a sense of their own personal freedom, anticipating an empty nest.
Adults (childless or otherwise)
Certainly in the City (my own example is London), our jobs tend to require that we go socialising in a pub or bar after work on a Friday; and often quarterly drinks are even subsidised by firms. With the exception of Muslims who really miss out on this social interaction with their colleagues. Granted, we should make more of an effort to provide more social outings which aren’t centred around consuming alcohol when we live in such a diverse multicultural society today.
Perhaps in the countryside this is a less common ritual, and is more frequently a case of meeting friends outside work.
The older generation are perhaps the most in tune with this moderate and often attitude towards pubs. We have ‘old man’ pubs in Britain -however I think the lager drinkers often call any pub without a massive flat-screen for sports an ‘old man pub’. Maybe its because older people have the time to sit and enjoy a pint, maybe out of all the social activities this is the most appropriate for them -price and activeness- maybe they have learnt from their youth that drunkenness only gets you a few unexplained bruises and a massive hangover, so enjoy drink wisely….
A Common Flaw
After viewing documentary programmes on British terrestrial channels recently I have noticed that middle-aged adults -of all classes- are also over-consuming drink, not just Britain’s teenage and young adult population.
BBC2 ‘s ‘The Tube’ shows footage of suited City workers and women in clubbing outfits on the way home on a Friday night. Most of these people are inebriated, which has some horrible consequences. A tube worker comments that it wouldn’t be Friday night without a fight happening; a cleaner mopping up sick said, that never has she had an apology from drunks who vomit, who act as though they aren’t even embarrassed by their behaviour.
Channel 4’s ‘Making Bradford British’, as I have previously mentioned, shows how understandable it is that Mohammed, an Asian taxi driver, believes that British behaviour is about getting wasted on nights out in town. This view from people of cultures outside my own has made me feel embarrassed to be British -from people of other faiths, countries, or born into this country from immigrant decent.
A further programme recently on BBC 3called ‘Sun Sex and Suspicious Parents’ is focused on documenting young British holiday makers having their first holiday without the parents -only their parents were watching…. this documentary is not for those without strong stomachs. Though I believe this is showing the most extreme cases of what teens get up to, it did show an element of what is expected as an entry ritual into adulthood.
What does all this say about us as a Nation?
Seeing these documentary footages -and also seeing it in real life at uni and generally in city centres- made me feel sure we’re on a downward spiral, with our culture being centred on morally abhorrent behaviour rather than on the values we held say 50 years back -when our British pride was about courage and valour, make do and mend, and politeness.
Drunkenness leads people do be careless, have less awareness, exaggerated emotions, and leads to violence, rape, accidents, general harm to health etc.
Though this dark side is present across many ages, classes, life-stages, genders, etc., I believe that there is still a large percentage of people who do not often abuse alcohol in this way, and simply enjoy moderate and light consumption as a way of social life.
Furthermore we should be proud of our brewing heritage, and our gorgeous old pubs and the sexy new ones. This is our social sphere -yes it can be abused and consumed in excess, and yes its not perfect now we live in a more diverse nation, but it’s a character and a tradition Britain has had for centuries.
Our famous poets, novelists and playwrights drew inspiration from them and wrote in them.
And all through the ages its something that’s bound us as a nation because its accessible to all classes. And its offered the little bit of pleasure that lets us escape from the drabness or difficulties in life, or, has aided us in celebrating the life events we come by -graduation, weddings, engagements, job promotion, new years.