Outdoor World

Its not just theyoung whohave a drink problem | Ian Jack

I consume 100 times more booze than my father did. Now Ive became aware that harmful drinking affects older people most, I seem I need to do better, says Guardian columnist Ian Jack

Recently I calculated that every year I drink about 100 periods as much alcohol as my father did, and at least 200 times as much as my mother. The annual total in dad’s case came at most to a dozen small bottles of brew plus a whisky at New Year, while over the same 12 months Mum might have two or three glass of advocaat mixed with lemonade, and at New Year a pair more of sherry. These tiny amounts have to be measured against my own domestic uptake of getting on for three bottles of wine a week, or let’s say 150 bottles a year, which takes no account of the uncertain number swallowed outside the house at restaurants, farewell parties, burials and the homes of friends.

I console myself with the fact that I hardly ever drink feelings or beer, instead like the brandy-befuddled shepherd whom Richard Hannay satisfies in The Thirty-Nine Steps, who can’t understand his condition: the shepherd considers himself a teetotaller because he” keepit aff the whisky “. In fact, compared to the good and sober habits of my parents, my intake is shameful. They would be worried by the ritual that occurs more evenings than not: the creak of the corkscrew, the glug of wine into glass, the question:” Oh, shall we have another ?” In their day, the booze that was kept in the house hardly ever left its little cupboard. A bottle of cognac and a bottle of Glenlivet, given to my grandparents at their wedding in 1899, lay there unopened. Slowly their gilt labels (” Bruce& Glen, wine merchants, Dunfermline “) became black with the passing years.

I don’t think my mother was ever in a saloon, and my father entered them only reluctantly after pressure from his workmates or brothers-in-law. We were a respectable household. Some father-gods in the neighborhood drank on a Saturday night. Others-” family boys”- took their wives and children to the pictures. The typical Scottish bar hid behind painted or heavily curtained windows; when the door swung open you glimpsed a proscribed interior of talkative men and tobacco smoke. Later, on the last bus home( from the Regal cinema, in my lawsuit, from the Volunteer Arms in his) one of these men might be sick, the yeasty liquid changing its course across the floor as the bus ran up or down a hill. Or there would be someone in overalls-” still in his working clothes”, other passengers might say sorrowfully- who needed the conductor’s help to get down, having stayed in the pub till 10 pm instead of going home to have tea with his wife.

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A tavern in London’s East End in the 1960 s.’ It was possible to see scenes like these as dwindling remnants of a darker past .’ Photograph: Steve Lewis/ Getty Images

In the 1950 s and 1960 s it was possible to see scenes like these as the diminishing remnants of a darker past, when the industrial working class regularly anaesthetised themselves with brew and whisky, to add to the squalid chaos of their surrounds, the inattention of their children, the bruise of their wives, etc. Out of this time had come the temperance motion, which taught my mother as a schoolgirl to write” booze is a poison not a food” in her exercise books and equipped my 16 -year-old father with an ornate credential from the Christian charity Band of Hope on which he signed a pledge” to abstain from all intoxicating sips as beverages”- the last two terms presumably exempting a medicinal shooting of brandy.” Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation ,” is inscribed between illustrations of women who sit draped and coiffured like Greek goddesses, one labelled Knowledge and the other Temperance, and each with small children at her knee.

Clearly, my mothers had entered lure- advocaat, India pale ale- but it was very slight. Others had fallen much further. As well as the men on the bus, there was the old boy who lived with his family in the flat downstairs, who after a Saturday night in the pub would be towed homewards by his puppy to ignite scenes of noisy disharmony. But to many people of my parents’ generation, alcohol is indispensable seemed in general recede. My father-god recollected how his mother had stretched” vinegar cloots[ cloths ]” across her husband’s forehead on a Sunday morning after the nighttime before, and how his maternal grandfather had died of guzzle, alone in an Edinburgh lodging house.

It’s easy to detect in this history a pattern of act and reaction- drunks in one generation, abstainers in the next- but in the past century larger armies were also at work. Youth movements such as the Scouts inveighed against booze. Other forms of recreation, chiefly the cinema and the dance hall, began to change young men’s ideas of an evening out. In the interwar years, intellectual and physical pursuits such as night school classes, hiking and cycling became enormously popular: Charlie Chaplin and the Cyclists Touring Club probably did more to moderate booze intake than the worldwide temperance motion. Male-only pleasures such as an evening in a pub began to look as quaint and outdated as the music hall. In the early 1960 s, even in a Scottish provincial township, the coffee bar reigned as the fashionable place to meet and be seen.

How, then, did we get from there to here- to a world in which 17 -year-old girls develop pancreatitis as a result of excessive booze, where, to quote its chief executive in England, the NHS is becoming the” national hangover service “; but also to a world in which” overage alcoholics”, people like me, are encouraged to change their habits.

According to Drink Wise Age Well, a charity headquartered in Glasgow, harmful drinking is increasing more amongst the over-5 0s than any other age group. This week I watched a video put under by the charity that showed us either happy and careless or sad and heedless, drinking” a little more than we should” to cope with retirement, bereavement and the empty nest disorder. A memorable little movie that got through four lives and three different problems in 167 seconds. There was Kevin with his cans of lager” who didn’t think his long-anticipated retirement would leave him quite so bored “. There was Liz with her gin and tonic” increasingly isolated since losing her life spouse Frank … once the life and soul of every party “. And there used to be Jackie and Derek, unloading their weekly half-dozen bottles of cherry-red from the boot of their little car and soon loosening with full wine glass” increasingly enjoying their evening tipple as the long evenings stretch out without the busy chirruping of family life “.

There was a grim undertone of as yet undiagnosed cancers; it seemed no coincidence that Frank, who died of bowel cancer, had liked a drinking. As I watched, I noted with a little relief that Jackie and Derek were red wine drunkards whereas I hardly ever stray from white. Then I built my calculation that suggested Dad drank only a 100 th of what I do, and swore to do better quite soon.

* Ian Jack is a regular Guardian contributor

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/ 2018/ jun/ 02/ middle-aged-alcohol-drink-historic

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