You’re having a great night. I say night: you started at 3pm and you’re well on your way to chattering buffoonery by about half six. But it was always planned to be a get-together where everyone fell over at least once and only the lucky made it home, so things are well on track.
You look around at your friends and think: they’re a great bunch, I’ve done well here. You get a bit misty-eyed for a minute, wondering where your life would be without this rogues’ gallery of berks, widening and wizening with you for as long as your elbows can still be raised.
Then one of them says “I’m going to have to eat something at some point” and the rest nod in agreement.
That’s that fucked then.
There’s not one thing that will ruin a good drink-up quicker than some fucker switching the focus to food. If you’re past 30, you’ve not had a night out where it hasn’t happened. There you are, uploading your fifth or sixth pint, when someone you once considered a pal starts on that he’s not used to the pace any more. He just doesn’t go out as much as he used to since little Oliver was born, plus he’s been trying to slim down a bit lately. He’d better eat soon or he’ll be howling by seven.
Yes, mate, that’s exactly the point of all this. The purpose of a proper drink is to blot out that part of your life where nurseries and carbohydrates exist. I came here to temporarily stick two fingers up at the fantastical mess around us, to pretend there isn’t a killer virus rampaging through the populace and that this business about a permit to get into Kent is a wind-up. We drink to forget the faces of those bloody government scientists we all wish we’d never heard of, and that Ann Widdecombe is somehow still this side of the grass.
When we introduce the concept of food to a solid session, all is lost. It fucks up the rounds system as people split up into the group of those staring at a ¾-full glass and wondering whose round it is, and those clutching their stomachs and wailing that they only had muesli for breakfast. All proper conversation is put on hold – put food in front of a hungry person and the animal instinct to jam each mouthful home before any other fucker can get their hands on it tends to shove aside rational thought.
And worst of all, people get tired when they eat. Drinking slows to a snail’s pace and the notion of sliding off a stool at half nine before getting back up and flatly denying it happened is replaced by glancing furtively at watches and wondering whether you can make it to Farringdon by 20.21. It’s scientifically proven that people who’ve eaten in a pub are 93.1% more likely to check their phone for no acceptable reason than those invincible pioneers shouting over each other about Joe Root’s captaincy and how far they got through The Shield.
Let me explain how a night out is meant to work. People begin drinking at an agreed time, and they sink too much, too fast. Some can’t keep up the pace and sneak off for a little doze behind a curtain somewhere. Some disappear to the khazi for a couple of minutes, returning with stomach acid on their collar, suspiciously full of beans and suggesting shots. An unspoken agreement is made early on who the serious drinkers are and the game is afoot; a win in this contest is to be the last to be able to say “One for the road?” without throwing up on the quiz machine. The dubious prize is to be the shepherd, getting anyone else still standing to a station or into a cab.
And then everyone makes their own culinary arrangements on the way home. How and when you fill your face should be of absolutely no concern to anyone else you’ve met up with that night. At no point during the evening’s imbibement do we contemplate saying out loud any of the following: “I fancy a cheeky burger”; “They do great pizzas in here”; “Shall we get a few bowls of chips for the table?”
The main reason given is the hangover. Since I’ve been largely cured of hangovers this might suggest a degree of hypocrisy on my part, though my past experience of staring at my own face in toilet water is extensive.
But I challenge any of these eaters to prove that swallowing solids halfway through an evening is any better for your hangover than pushing a massive burrito into your head at the wrong station late at night. I’ve not said you can’t eat, just eat at the bloody end. You heard me say that and you’ve heard I’ve done that countless times as I pick the doner meat from my chest before I’ve even opened my gluey eyes to greet Sunday. Has it done me any harm? What?
You must listen to me: drinking is not about tomorrow. Sure, for the moment there’s probably still a tomorrow, that can’t be dismissed completely. But drinking is about living in the now by putting all your worries and most importantly your responsibilities into a little box, being sick all over it a few hours later and leaving it on a train.
If you want to have dinner out, there are husbands and girlfriends and parents for things like that. But if you’re out with mates, come on now, precedent was set years ago and it’s incumbent on us to uphold the traditions of our forefathers by becoming heroes, just for one night. Let us blather inanely and roar in each other’s faces and enjoy those moments where we know in our hearts this is as good as it’ll ever get. Let’s get battered, without a haddock in sight.
Of course most of this is temporarily irrelevant given pubs’ hours are being squeezed like a goat’s teat and we’ll soon be drinking through straws in the holes in our gas masks. But despite the gloom I believe classic British drinking will survive this crisis. The world may be a bafflingly different place, but there’ll still be squads of commandos trooping into whatever pubs remain looking to get lit up like a church window.
But there’ll be changes. So let’s get the positive changes in now, and implement the only suggestion I’ll make for life after Covid.
Have a big lunch, yeah?