Why don’t you hear people talking about meeting for coffee at Starbucks, then moving on to Costa for a quick frappe before congregating with a bigger group of friends at Nero for the evening? Coffee doesn’t form the centre of people’s activity in the way that alcohol does. You would be written off as a nutter if you sent out an invitation along the above lines.
But over the years I have had scores and scores of invitations that included meeting at a named pub before moving on to a bigger drinking venue, and ending up at a party via a pre-planned visit to an off-license or mini-mart. Everything centred around alcohol and nobody questioned it.
I’m not sure that our 18-24s still plan like this. Alcohol is too expense. The big brewers have shot themselves in the foot in their greed, and now young people are turned off pubs (save Wetherspoons, perhaps). Back in the 90s, pubs thought they could lure kids with sweet alco-pops, as young people started to turn their backs on traditional beer swilling boozers. It failed.
I really hope it’s true that young people are less interested in drinking than we were growing up. It’s in youth that the damage is done. I saw alcohol as a rite of passage. It was a mark of adulthood. It also made me fearless. If I did stupid things, it didn’t matter. It was the drink’s fault – although I never wanted to blame the drink in case it was taken away from me – I always took responsibility for my own drunkenness. That was my biggest problem in the end. I tried too hard to protect it at all costs.
Films have played a major role in my drinking career. Here are the 5 films that encouraged and inspired my excessive drinking in some unusual ways… (It starts with Schindler’s List)
- Schindler’s List. I was in my early 30s when this profoundly disturbing film came out. But setting all that aside, what Schindler’s List really did for me was suggest that drinking at work is fine. In fact, far from getting in the way of work – it positively helped one to get on with it. I dreamed of having a hip flask and a little set of shot glasses, just like Schindler’s. It was no ordinary set. Schindler was the inspiration behind my venture into drinking vodka at my workstation. I decanted it into a 500ml bottles of Strawberry Volvic water from miniatures bought at the newsagent close to work. It wasn’t as glamorous as Schindler’s exquisite hipflask and shot glasses, nor as openly consumed – heaven forbid – but for me, it was rebellious, fun and it cheered up a boring day in the office immeasurably. In my mind I felt exonerated by Schindler, who after all, was a saint.
- Porridge (1979) starring Ronnie Barker. The denouement of this feature-length film, based on the iconic 70s series, sees Fletch and Godber having to sneak back into prison, following their earlier escape as unwilling hostages of fellow prisoner Oakes. Fletch is desperate not to let his prison parole be jeopardised by what will look like his compliance in Oakes’s bolt for freedom and so he persuades Godber to re-enter the prison with him by whatever means they can, undetected. So, he and Godber (Richard Beckinsale) break back into the prison and end up in the Officer’s club storeroom where they get drunk for 2 days before being discovered and eventually exonerated. For many years, I contemplated myself in Fletch and Godber’s shoes and envied them. They had nothing else to do but drink their way through as much of the stock-pile of booze available to them. On the outside of prison, they had no money to go to a pub or shop, where they would have been turned in by the public anway. A terrible dilemma for them. Their self-inflicted incarceration in the alcohol store of the prison was their best available option and I day-dreamed about such a thing happening to me. I often thought of this episode whenever news stories appeared about people in captivity. I imagined the day of release from such ordeals, and what I would do to celebrate my own freedom. I remember being very worried about poor John McCarthy at the time of the Beirut hostage crisis. My sympathies kept focussing on how he coped in captivity without a drink. And then one day they announced his imminent release, and I speculated when he might be allowed to have some alcohol. I thought about his flight home in a military plane and whether such a flight would have a drinks trolley and if it did, would he have to be careful not to get too drunk before being interviewed in England. It was the same with things like land or space explorations in the news. I would wonder if the explorers had any alcohol on their voyage and how they coped without it. My mind usually came round to Fletch and Godber in Porridge.
- Borat. The film has nothing at all to do with drinking, but in my memory, the night I saw this politically incorrect farce was a microcosm of my drinking world. The occasion of its first viewing was mid-week, when I went to see it with a group of close friends. I was excited and excitable. I had one or two drinks at home before heading out to the cinema. I bought two bottles of white wine in quick succession in the Odeon bar and acted as host to the group as they arrived, refilling their glasses repeatedly in an effort to get everyone into the same state of excited intoxication as me. My over-enthusiasm for the occasion was a cover for my over indulgence with the wine. One was an excuse for the other, and everyone went willingly along with it. And why wouldn’t they? Enthusiasm is infectious. Most of my friends would drink a bit more than usual when I was around! I brought as much booze into Screen One as I could carry. We whooped and gaffawed through the film (well I did) and afterwards I pleaded with everyone to stay for a last drink before heading off home. They stayed and I laughed and drank some more. Several years later I saw Borat again. It wasn’t quite the same as I remembered it. It had a layer of irony which had gone over my head the first time, and in so doing I had missed the central point of the film. But the night had gone down in my mind as a classic.
- Arthur. Starring Dudley Moore. If you had to make a case for alcoholism at its extreme – Arthur would be the principle witness for the defence. I wanted to be Arthur. I dreamed not only of his fabulous wealth, without responsibilities of any kind, but I envied his light-hearted outlook, harmless sense of fun, and affectionate delivery. His was the perfect life. I envied his every drink in every location. I couldn’t think of anyone who was having more fun than him. He was a role-model!
- Sideways. This film is unashamedly about alcohol and very funny. There’s some great acting and plenty of hilarious drunken scenes. It’s probably on many drinker’s lists of favourite films about drinking. It was the last drinking film I watched before quitting. I liked it so much because my partner loved it too. Her love of the film was a sort of exoneration of the things I loved about drinking, which by association had her approval. And as my drinking had become more and more of a problem in our relationship, this film helped me to feel accepted by her, and that was very reassuring to me. I loved hearing my partner’s admiration of the film, as it felt like a second-hand admiration of me.
I haven’t seen any of these films again in sobriety, but I don’t think they would stir the slightest temptation to drink again.
So much of the drinking that appears in TV and in film is sexed up that I would have to stop watching all entertainment if it held any temptation for me. Thankfully, it brushes over me. But if ever I feel a twinge, I just remind myself of how many times I have tried the drinking thing in the past, and how much I don’t need to do it again. Ever! And I’m very happy about that!