‘Dozens of pubs are disappearing every single week, capitulating in the face of supermarket competition and an ever-developing range of leisure choices.’ Photograph: Alamy
Hardly ever a day passes with out yet another horror story about the UK’s consuming dilemma: alcohol-related violence, debauchery in city centres, record demand on A&E assets, a liver condition epidemic and families wrecked by addiction. Criminologists, well being experts, sociologists and politicians appear on information programmes, pointing the finger at individual more than-indulgence and calling for ever stricter measures: minimum pricing, tougher consumption tips, charging drunkards for health care support and limited pub opening hours.
This is all quite worthy and sensible, as the grave expenses of alcohol abuse can be readily quantified. And but, our strategy to the difficulty is partial and (historically) brief-sighted. The common public may possibly be excused for believing that the scenario has never ever been so bad, but similarly extreme issues have been voiced ahead of. These days, a single successful response might be to go beyond tighter controls and to bolster a time-honoured British institution: the pub.
Taking a long-term see, regular consuming volume figures were truly considerably increased in the past, with at least 600 litres of ale or beer consumed per head every yr on typical in the Renaissance (as calculated from surviving family accounts), compared with a mere 74 litres in the United kingdom in 2011. Offered the query marks over alcohol volumes and information recording, this kind of comparisons can by no means be exact, but the simple observation stands.
Rather than a exclusive crisis, what we are witnessing nowadays is the latest of a series of moral panics which have gripped Europe because the Middle Ages, most notably in the Reformation time period of the 16th century (spurred by religious fervour – no lesser figure than Martin Luther preached towards the “piggish” excess of his compatriots), in the course of the Enlightenment (boosted by a utilitarian concern about human wellness) and in the industrialisation of the Victorian age (out of fears for the destitution of the operating classes). Invariably, the extremely foundations of society appeared to be at threat.
Two principal attributes, I would argue, distinguish the current scenario from historical precedents: the growth in personal domestic consumption and the better visibility of hefty female drinking.
In pre-present day times before 1800, there were hardly any stores marketing alcoholic drinks and consuming was above all a convivial action. Considerably associated research points to the “optimistic” social functions of sharing a pint: hardly a organization deal and undoubtedly no feast day passed with out a gathering at the nearby alehouse. And during these feast days, as we can inform from the written and visual proof, youthful and old people, males and females, wealthy and bad congregated in and close to these communication hubs. Sole consuming, away from the public gaze, was frowned upon and extreme indulgence (particularly when top to violence) was topic to informal social handle. There were several tensions, undoubtedly, but the all round impression is of a problem contained.
Now we have huge numbers of folks drinking heavily at home, often alone and without any checks on volume or behaviour. The habit is facilitated by (not just cheap) booze stacked on supermarket shelves. In town centres, on the other hand, we see the unprecedented phenomenon of collective female drunkenness. In pre-contemporary instances, ladies had been expected to drink moderately, in line with period beliefs in their weaker bodily constitution and social strain to sustain their sexual honour. Such gender prejudices and inequalities have largely been consigned to the historical dustbin (although they persist in some quarters), but – from the stage of view of alcohol research – the apparent peer acceptability of hefty female consumption is a striking innovation.
Rather than currently being viewed as a result in of the difficulty, the pub should be observed as a answer. At current rates, dozens are disappearing each and every week, capitulating in the face of supermarket competitors and an ever-increasing assortment of leisure alternatives. Apart from residence consumption, consuming has shifted to specialised, group-certain contexts like bars, clubs, parks and purchasing malls.
Is it mere nostalgic romanticism to get in touch with for sustained efforts to stem this trend?
As an alternative of putting all our believe in in government/coercive measures, we may well just have to go to the pub more frequently, reclaim it as a socially inclusive room, carry our buddies/enterprise partners/relatives/children and restore its historical role as a local community centre. So, yes, let us preserve banging on about overall health hazards and social costs of extreme consumption, but we also need to have to remember that without having a good pub – this broadly-recognised “icon of England” – no village or neighbourhood is very likely to prosper.
In excess of the centuries, publicans have learnt to climate storms and adapt to changing demands, but today they genuinely could do with a helping hand from responsible patrons.