Saturday, 14 March 2009

a pint of view

I am a product of the pub; the sum of perhaps a dozen cosy inns in England, Wales and Dublin. I was called to the bar to be educated in them, taught manners and the meaning of friendship. They have been my workplace, my university, and for much of my early manhood the nearest thing I had to a home.


My generation learned the etiquette of drinking from fathers who took us for a pre-lunch pint on Sundays. The central rule was that getting drunk was a sign of immaturity. The ability to hold drink was prized. There was no swearing in the presence of women. If you were bought a drink, you bought one back. There was no need for bouncers. Discipline was maintained by the customers themselves. The proper rate for drink consumption was a pint every fifteen minutes and the usual “session” lasted an hour. Anyone who drank from the bottle was to be avoided.


I was trained in the Red Lion and The Grove in Manchester, the Wellington in Doncaster, The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea, The Pearl Lounge in Dublin, The Bulls Head on Anglesey, The Bear and Billet, The Boot, The Beehive, The Swan in Chester - and a number of other public houses scattered about the country.


None in Scotland where drinking is a serious business, like so much else in that unhappy country, the New Puritania.


Why are wet blankets woven in bright tartan?


 Not content with creating a near dictatorship at home, Scotland has exported some of the worst politicians in history. To its own corrupt Establishment we owe the ban on hunting with hounds, the death of smoking in pubs. Now that Maelstrom of Misery is howling round the “Wee Hauf”. Or even more bizarre, a tax on chocolate drops.


The sad truth is that we are the product of our genes and the genes of the Celt are a rich harvest of melancholic addiction. My Scottish blood has made of me, as it has my son, my father, my grandfather and most of my uncles, a drunk. Even now when drink is no longer attractive I am still by nature a drunk. It ruined a career, a marriage and goodness knows how many friendships. For all that, I remember my roaring days with pleasure and no little regret. I still get incensed when, despite the fact the Government admitted that its “safe units” measurement of alcohol was bogus, it continues to trot out the same fictional warning.


My old drinking chum Bill Hagerty, Eisenhower’s spin doctor, reviewing a Michael Frayne book, loved this quote: “There is no-one (like a journalist of the old school) with that astonishing ability to drink until the floor tips and still write a thousand words on the shocking decline in standards of behaviour”

Pubs are not necessarily bad influences. I was reminded recently of that moment when they are at their best in this from The Long Goodbye. Terry Lennox tells Marlowe:

"I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar."


Alas, like England, the pub which nurtured me no longer exists. In its place I have The Computer which opens its welcoming Arms and offers many of the joys of the pub. Many rude things are said about this Wonder of Our Age. Like the local of yore, it has disadvantages which it shares with the pub.. Far too many jokes, the ever present danger of stumbling on a bore; though it must be said that, as in the pub, so on the screen: arcane knowledge is there for the searching


Like the pub, there is always someone ready to sell you something, to enlist you in lost causes and to provoke bright anger. There are programmes one would hesitate to enter as there were pubs. There are others, like You Tube, which provide the best of entertainment: Ella, Sinatra, Garland, Durante and all the jazz greats on the same programme.


A great joy of the pub was the conversation of like minds. Now I get a much higher quality via E-Mails. Surely the most intelligent form of communication yet devised. Made for those of us who think of the right thing to say several minutes after it is no longer possible to say it.


At the luxury end, pubs had copies of the daily papers. Every morning I have my cup of tea in bed, riffling through facsimile issues of The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent. Brought to my laptop among a thousand other English language titles by


Goodness knows how many trees I save.


I do most of my shopping at my desk. I have CDs of the great paintings of the world and a library of music.


My heart will always be leaning on a bar somewhere but my brain is more at home at my computer desk.



Seven weeks is more than enough time to waste on cancer and to find the same answer as Damon Runyon to the question of “Why Me?” It is “Why not?”


Yesterday the pump finished its healing work, the umbilical cord has been disconnected and I no longer feel like a heavily anchored Bionic Man, though I will always carry my own Ty Bach, the little house that used to stand at the end of every Welsh garden, though in winter the seat was kept in the kitchen fireplace for purposes of central heating.


 Next week I go for my final interview with the surgeon, who will no doubt tell me again that further operations are out of the question, even if I have lost four stone from my top weight. Since I celebrate eighty years of ducking and diving in May, it is not news that concerns me greatly. If cancer is a hell of a way to lose weight, there is no better indicator of where your loving friends are.


Thank you.

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