You know what makes me think tabloid headline-writers might be right after all and Britain really is heading for hell in a handbag? No, not Brexit. I adore Brexit next to life itself. Not urban gangs: most wiry urchins can be put in their place with a poke of one’s umbrella. Not teen mums. My mum was a teen mum and I turned out OK(ish).
No, it’s that a majority of Brits think it’s unacceptable to have a tipple at lunch on a working day. Really. This one-time land of the lunchtime pint, once led by a man who’d sink a bottle of Pol Roger champagne over lunch, and reported on by hacks who were seldom sober after 11am, is turning its back on daytime quaffing. Lunch in these dull times is smashed avocado on rye bread rather than getting smashed on fermented rye.
Last year YouGov near crushed my faith in my fellow citizens when it found that 60 per cent of them think it’s wrong to have a drink with your lunchtime meal on a working day. As to having a drink without a meal — what used to be known as a ‘liquid lunch’ but is now probably called ‘a signifier of alcohol dependence’ — 74 per cent think that’s bad.
Workplaces are banning this small joy of life in the capitalist machine. In February, Lloyd’s of London banned its 800 employees from consuming booze during the working day. If they so much as take a sip of plonk they’ll be had up for ‘gross misconduct’. What tyranny is this? What’s really gross is the thought of the City without its brash, posh, half-cut bankers pouring out of bars at 2pm as they remember they have to run the economy. It’s the Tower without its ravens.
The war on lunchtime booze has been going on for years. Back in 2006, the Beeb reported that 57 per cent of businesses had outlawed it. Brighton & Hove Council, the most prissy political entity in Britain, banned it in 2005. ‘The council didn’t want frontline staff smelling of alcohol when they met the public,’ said a council spokesman. Mate, a glass or two of wine with your veggie wrap doesn’t make you Oliver Reed; no one’s gonna smell of booze.
The Health and Safety Executive — typing those words always makes me yawn — warns that ‘if someone drinks two pints of beer at lunchtime… they will still have alcohol in their bloodstream three hours later’. We know! That’s why we do it!
The institution of lunch is being colonised by bores. Where I work in Shoreditch, you walk past sushi outlet after sushi outlet, wrap cafes, vegetarian hangouts and four million Prets before you happen upon a pub. And what’s everyone in the pub doing? Eating lunch! With Diet Coke! You have to hide your pint behind your menu to avoid people whispering: ‘OMG, that guy’s having a liquid lunch. So retro.’
Even journalists — well, the younger ones — don’t do lunch booze anymore. They tweet. They sit there brain-farting into the ether. That’s a far greater lunchtime crime than getting trolleyed.
I got an early intro to the wonders of lunchtime intoxication. It was the summer of 1990, I was just 16, and I went to work on the building sites, as all London-Irish males do at some point. Drinking between 12 and 1pm. was virtually mandatory. And I discovered it’s good both for you and your boss.
It’s good for you because it beautifully, hazily, slices up the working day. The mornings fly by in giddy expectation of that shot of cold beer to your bloodstream. The post-pub afternoons bounce along in a happy blur.
And it’s good for your employer because a bit of booze sharpens the worker’s mind. Scientists at the University of Illinois found that two pints of beer or two glasses of wine ‘may significantly enhance problem-solving skills’.
We all know this. We all know that moment between being sober and being slaughtered when you feel cleverer and more confident. So employers petrified that a worker might get whammed at lunch are losing out on the buzz of creativity that springs from the civilised levels of lunchtime drinking that most normal folks stick to.
So — in the name of productivity and freedom and that human emotion most feared by bureaucrats, joy — let’s fight hard for the right to a working-day tipple.