So sayeth Mr Wilde, inverting the popular common perception from those who consider themselves the betters of said working classes. Having been both a worker and a drinker, I cannot say that I have ever found one to be a barrier to the other, but maybe I was brought up with a little more discipline than most. And, my parents were sensible. I was allowed to taste wine and beer at a relatively early age, along with the usual admonitions about the effect of strong drink on one’s behaviour and mind. Father once even took my out in the coach to tour some of the less salubrious dockside taverns of Chatham during the later part of the evening, just so I could observe, first-hand, what drunken debauchery looked like. Did it work? Well, that’s a good question. I remember being horrified at the time, and determined that I would never be so stupid. Well, not all lessons stick as well as others. Staying away from home in London, during my university studies, gave me the opportunity to experiment with drinking to excess, and I freely admit; I probably did so more often than was good for me. In my favour, I can at least say that I managed to get through my university years with only a few embarrassing moments, a black eye or three and just the occasional admonishment from the local constabulary. At least, unlike two of my room-mates, I never saw the inside of a gaol cell as a result of it. Perhaps the early exposure and warnings from my parents did have some effect after all.
The same could be said of my post-graduate drinking career. For all that I drank my way across numerous taverns, clubs, drinking dens and whorehouses in a dozen European cities, I never once caused major property damage, never got arrested, and only twice had to go back the next day to apologise for my behaviour (In my defence, how was I to know that the lady concerned was actually a vicar’s wife, ministering to the ‘fallen women’ of the parish?).
For all that I have had an extensive drinking career; I like to think I drink responsibly. Of course, nowadays, it is almost impossible for me to get drunk anyway, which helps. I don’t, however, think that it is a good idea to let children drink. Introduce them to wine and beer, yes, so they know what it is. Explain what it does to people; maybe even let them have a small glass with dinner on special occasions, yes. Drinking in taverns on a regular basis, getting drunk on the stuff, now that I don’t agree with. I don’t know what age should be the cut-off – maybe late teens, on the grounds that if they are old enough to go out to work, then they are probably allowed to spend their wages on drink. Or maybe it should be related to the voting age, or marrying age. I don’t really know. It’s purely arbitrary anyway. I know plenty of people my age who should not be allowed near a tavern, but until somebody devises a test, some sort of age cut-off is probably the best solution.
All this came out of a brief conversation with Aoibheann and Wren the other day. I decided to bite the bullet and do a thorough count of the bottles of spirits on the shelves. I check the stock-room fairly carefully, but have taken, of late, to estimating the bottles actually in the bar. It occurred to me as I was counting them, that I did not know what a lot of them even were. Tequila, for example, I knew from some customer a few months back, but others were a mystery. Most of them came from other countries, and from the smell of some of them, I suspect that many were dreamed up as a practical joke on tourists, and as a means of using up excess paint-stripper. Aoibheann came in just as I was debating the merits of something called Pernod, a sickly green liquid that smelled a little like absinthe. She was determined to taste it, but did not show much reaction. I am beginning to suspect she has no sense of smell or taste. That could account for her cooking and her failure to appreciate the finer points of tasting brandies. Wren had wandered in, so I gave her a cider, or at least, what she calls cider, which appears to be fizzy apple juice as opposed to the fermented kind. Aoibheann asked her to smell the Pernod, but she wasn’t impressed. She asked what the bottles were for, so I explained that I was just counting them, and that most of them contained drinks that were probably not for young people, telling her that even supposed grown-ups could drink too many of them and behave in stupid ways. This is where the subject of drinking ages came up – apparently 21 where Wren comes from. Aoibheann seemed to think that was stupid. When I suggested that maybe the age of 17 was a good compromise, she seemed to think that was wasting half your life. I guess that implies that life expectancy is not great in her homeland, which may well be the case, given the propensities of the dragons there. I maintained my position, albeit politely, trying to avoid angering the unicorn by getting into a fight over it. Fortunately, Aoibheann decided she needed to go tend to her precious Ardan before the discussion got out of hand. Soon after that, Wren had to run off too, chasing her pet rat again, so it was back to the stock-taking for me.
Next time Alec goes off on a trading mission, I need to present him with a list of the strange paint-stripping liquors, with a reminder to not buy any more of them, with maybe an exception for the coffee-flavoured ones. Either that, or insist I go with him; buying alcohol is, after all, an area in which I can legitimately claim considerable expertise.