The other day I helped organise an Old Boys lunch. Over 20 turned up at a smart, but not too smart West End restaurant , good food and great chat were had and more importantly copious flagons of wine were drunk. A grand time. I left home at around 11.30 and returned home at around 6.00. I left home with a sprightly spring in my step but on arrival back at chez nous I immediately fell over.
Now I have tried to convince my dear lady that this was because I was overcome with a deep and profound affection for the mother of my children. An emotion I could only express by swooning as a medieval pilgrim might in front of a scared object. But she was having none of that- I was drunk, dead drunk and I should be thoroughly ashamed.
Which of course I am. Few nights now go by without a painful sob in my pillow, it is difficult for me as the organiser of the street’s neighbourhood watch dedicated to keeping out disorder to face my neighbours, my children have long since given up on me. I am only allowed to see my grand child if there is another adult in the room. And who can blame them?
However it is also difficult to ignore that among my friends and men in general there is a desire to get drunk together. It is, I would seriously state, a reason why, for instance, our mixed school largely attracts only men to its alumni lunches and dinners.
Even though female drinking is statistically more of a problem than it was, attitudes to drinking are slow to change. A male drunk is comic and in extremis sad ,a female drunk is always tragic. Male drinking maybe part of some atavistic bonding reflex concerned with team building for war and hunting. But as many social movements in the last fifty years( relative positions of men and women, divorce, religious faith, job market, gays, immigration, authority) show ,we can change and change quickly. Put it like this ,our fathers and grandfathers did not have to worry about getting throat cancer from you know what.
I have long opined that the success of major sporting occasions is that they legitimize excessive drinking. If six white collar friends regularly took a crate of wine into the park and spent a day getting blotto and returned in the evening they would soon find the small print of their marriage contracts being examined. But if those six friends go off to a rugby or cricket match and drink all day ,then, that’s OK.
Now excessive drinking has long been part of the British(Northern European?) character. Samuel Pepys when he went to Madrid in the 17th century could not understand why everyone was so sober. A few years later Hogarth was drawing his famous Gin Alley series.
When I was in Argentina five years ago, given their macho image, I was amazed to see so many adult men socialising with soft drinks. I was given two reasons. One that it undignified to be seen drunk- my trip home the other day involved at least two falls but no submissions. Second that the traditionally authoritarian Argentinian police stamped down heavily on any street disturbance, drunk or otherwise. So the English concept of personal liberty may well be connected with our excessive drinking habits. But really, men in their late 60s falling off buses-is that why we won the war? Could be.