Open letter to Spike

Spike is a lifelong friend of my grandson, Steve, and as I have not been able to contact him, to thank him for generously sending me a bottle of Irish whiskey, something that I am very fond of and with which I will be toasting his health, when Stephen and I get together, I am using the blog to send my thanks. In consequence then I thought I would also give an account of how I personally see the changes in the drinking habits of the British, over the last 90 years. However, seeing that we are talking about alcohol, you might find it interesting to use a search engine, typing .’Passing out parade’ on this blog to seek where alcohol was inducing some strange results. In one case I was put in irons and dropped into the tiller flat, an unpleasant part of the ship. To start with I want to say that alcohol is really a social drink, and I find living by myself that I do not have the pleasure I once had, nightly, with my glass of scotch. There is no one to discuss the merits, to talk instances and brands. Instead one is reading, or watching television or dozing, while the glass sits there unheaded.

My experience goes back to when I was in Africa in the British Raj, but my knowledge goes further back as a result of conversations, and expressions of disgust, by different members of the family under certain circumstances when I was a child and a young man. The television has shown the horrors of the 14/18 war, the horrific needless loss of life, and the unbelievable conditions under which those men lived, Introducing words like trench mouth, and trench foot into the English language. If those men became alcoholic, and I believe many did, it would be understandable. In Africa in the 20s, the civil servants in the Colonial service were living well above their means, subscribed by the government, and would meet every evening at five o’clock in somebody’s house for Tiffin, the locked tantalus, would be opened and everyone would be drinking spirits rather than beer or soft drinks.

However the interesting thing that I have found was that drink, and especially the type of drink taken, varied across the social boundaries. Among the general population, leaving aside the Lord’s in their Manors, there were roughly 4 classes in society. There was the working class, the lower-middle-class, the upper-middle-class, and the upper-class, unsurprisingly what people drank in each of the classes depended on two things, habit and money.. I can remember as a child hearing my grandmother give off, when she would see a pram with a child left outside a public house while the mother would be inside drinking one of the regular drinks that women drank in those days, such as ‘Gin and it’,the ‘it’ being Italian Vermouth, Port and lemon, and any other combination that was in vogue.

The working class mainly drank beer, the lower-middle-class, in general, had aspirations to become the upper-middle-class, and they rarely drink at all, except as a mild celebration on high days and holidays. Then, the sherry bottle would come out with a good deal of theatre, but very little sherry. The upper-middle-class sampled the wine list, and if invited to a party by friends in the lower middle class, might be horrified to discover that they were expected to drink ‘Fruit Cup’, made mostly with a bottle of cheap wine.

Then came the Second World War, when young men were introduced to alcohol, the quality of which varied on the depth of their pockets , and the contents of the pub that was on short commons because of the war. Use the search engine on this blog by typing in Southend, you will find a typical wartime drinking session and the outcome. Any time I was on leave I saw little or no evidence of excessive drinking at home. and a trip to the pub on a Sunday was an occasion.

Like with everything else, the 1960s was a time of change when new experiences were the order of the day, but I believe that the level of intake of alcohol, was more to do with money than it was with change. In the 70s, there was a great change, making home-made wine and beer became common, and some of the chemists shops sold ingredients and equipment.

I can remember in the 20s and early 30s it was quite common to see men staggering home on a Saturday night having their one evening’s drink of the week’ .But to repeat myself I have to say that money in the pocket has a great effect on the ability to buy alcohol. We now live in a time when children seem to have unlimited pocket money, and recently in Bangor, Northern Ireland,we had two nights of expensive entertainment by American bands, and it was reported by those who knew, that the excessive drinking and drunkenness by teenage and young people, was staggering to people of a mature age, Especially as it was coupled with a tremendous amount of the most unpleasant swear words taken as part of the sentences.

I’m not a prude, and I work on the principle that everyone is responsible for themselves when they reach a certain age. It’s not up to the individual to dictate to anyone, but what I think is obvious to us all is that there has been a vast change in what Victorians would have called moral standards, in behaviour and our total way of life.

Thank you again, Spike, for your kindness and generosity, yours sincerely John

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