In English, the verb "to drink", unqualified, means "to drink alcohol". You may be an obsessive tea or coffee drinker, you may imbibe gallons of fruit juice or mineral water, but "to drink" or to be "a drinker" means only one thing. When Father Jack Hackett (in Father Ted, surely the funniest TV series ever) shouts "Drrink!!", we know it's not Ribena that's on his mind.
I drink very little, nowadays. Much as I like beer, wine, and spirits, I now find the after-effects too unpleasant, even if drunk in moderation and in the correct order.* My doctor raises a skeptical eyebrow when I tell him that, on average, I drink rather less than three "units" a week, but it's the truth. I look like a street-person because of my genes, Doc.
Cat? What cat?
This wasn't always the case, it's true. It is a time-honoured rite of passage that a young person must learn to love drink, and one's education used to start early. Back in the 1970s ID checks were unknown, and I and my school-friends became regulars at certain trainer-pubs around age 16 or 17. This was normal, traditional, even. By my 20s, a day without at least one visit to a bar was incomplete. Again, totally unexceptional.
Of course, rather than the unpleasant industrial gin-palaces they have become, pubs used to be cosy social spaces where folk of all ages could nurse a pint or two through the evening. The Prof and I used to drink in a hostelry called The Phoenix where the elderly regulars would spontaneously start communal singing as the drink took hold. I doubt there is a pub left in the land, today, where 10 or more voices are raised together to sing "Delilah" or "The Lambeth Walk". In fact, I doubt whether two people could be found in the same bar who both knew all the words to the same song.
I am not the only one whose drinking has reduced dramatically. Not so long ago, work and drink overlapped in ways that are inconceivable now. Journalists were famously bibulous, with long, liquid lunches that shaded far into the afternoon. But to be able to hold one's drink and continue working was a badge of honour for men born before WWII in most occupations. My first boss kept a bottle or two of sherry in his office, and wasn't slow to bring them out. Now, however, the workplace is far more puritanical, and I suspect that to be found drunk in charge of a flipchart would be followed by summary dismissal.
My nanna C., Hemsby, 1956
There's still an awful lot of drinking going on, however. With few opportunities to drink at work, and with more and more pubs closing or becoming effective no-go areas for anyone over 30, the supermarkets are pushing a wide choice of cheap booze to an ever-expanding domestic drinking market. I am sometimes amazed by the number of bottles of cheap spirits going onto the checkout belt from pensioners' trolleys. But recently concern has been voiced by the medical profession about the drinking habits of -- gasp! -- the middle classes.
Apparently, it is not uncommon for middle-aged, middle-class couples to polish off a whole bottle of wine most nights -- if not every night -- with an evening meal. Not in our abstemious house, of course, where to open a bottle is an event in itself and will keep us going for several days (and where guests have been known to express disappointment at the paucity of alcoholic refreshment), but this is certainly the case in quite a lot of households. It seems the good doctors are starting to think half a bottle or more a night is rather a lot.**
Be warned, though, medics: it's one thing to stigmatize the White Lightning drinkers, quite another to take on the posh piss-artists.
* One of the most useful things I learned on a school German exchange was "Bier auf Wein, das lasse sein! Wein auf Bier, das rat ich dir!" i.e. Putting beer on top of wine is an ill-starred practice; putting wine on top of beer is the way to go.
**And that is why it is for your own good, AW, that there is never enough wine with a meal at our table. Same reason you have to smoke in the rain...