Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Drinking for Scotland - establishment drug dealers and a country's shame

I gave up drinking for 31 days, once. Made a radio programme out of it. And then I went back to my Friday night red wine, my couple of whiskies a week, my beer and skittles. Without the skittles..

The occasional binge, too, in the sense of  combining beer, wine and whisky in doses calculated to leave me slumped in an armchair, dribbling and snoring while Jools Holland once again elbows his mediocre piano into some hapless, desperate performer's arrangement. Later. And later, and later, and later...

But in Caledonian terms, my binges do disservice to the word. I am, to put it mildly, a lightweight these days when it comes to booze. I hate, always hated being drunk, and now, when I find myself in social gatherings where alcohol is being taken, I usually safeguard my exit route before even beginning to imbibe. I ensure there's a way home, or out, and when the boredom begins to seep through, when dehydration starts to sandpaper the thrapple, I make my excuses and leave. Or switch to Ribena.

I hang out with connoisseurs, sometimes. People who drink professionally, or who, to be more precise, describe whiskies for a living. Indeed, I have done this myself, though I always have to fight back the giggles, as there's something essentially ridiculous about the striving to differentiate single malts, one from Glen t'other. Yes, they are different, but in the way grades of heroin and cocaine are different. The taste is not the point of whisky. It's meant to do a job on you, enliven, inebriate, dull, destroy. Like Keith Richards' obsessive hailing of Merck pharmaceutical 'fluffy' cocaine in his recent autobiography. Push comes to sniff, dirty lumps of Bolivian or Columbian crack or factory-made Swiss snow are drugs that deliver the same message to heart, brain and body. Whisky is a delivery vehicle for alcohol.

They are, for the most part, lovely folk, the dope dealers of the whisky trade. They are more than respectable, occasionally hilarious, often charming. It's an area of Scottish life absolutely awash with money, and the marketing of  uisge beatha has always been cutting edge, from the days of Tommy Dewar onwards. Doubtless he would have been happy to be called a brand ambassador. Maybe not an evangelist.

Whisky is now so suffused with lore, mythology tall tales, anal-retentive male compulsions and downright bullshit that you'd think it was some kind of art. It's not. It's a drug, disguised for its many niche and mass markets in the form of a social badge, a collector's trophy, a mind-blowing display of wealth (silver, gold, platinum and diamonds encrusting a bottle? You got it) a signifier of coolness, of belonging.

Expertise has become the latest marketing tool. Whisky clubs and societies have sprung up worldwide, whisky festivals (I admit it. I participate. I talk phenols and oakiness, caramel and esters, washbacks and mash tuns. I judge whisky competitions, for goodness' sake) see wise heads, young and old, slurping and nodding over rarities in hotel function suites. Notes are taken, words are slurred, stairs fallen down. A great deal of fun is had. Money changes hands. Lots and lots of money. Mantras? Excess is good. Greed is good. throw the cork away. Moderation is for sissies.

Elsewhere, the same companies slosh alcopops and factory-made sweet spirits into underage bellies. industrial scale drinking is encouraged at the annual alcofest-with-music that is Pee in the Dark, or T in the Park. Scotland goes out on a Friday and gets rat-arsed, crashes cars, kills pedestrians, freezes to death in a park. Slashes, burns, abuses, fights, smashes, damages. Does the same again on Saturday. Maybe a a few Smirnoff Ices on a Sunday to ease the way back into work on a Monday. Or just miss Monday out, why not? Internationally, countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas are targeted. Drink this, it'll make you...richer, more attractive, it'll make you belong. One glass makes you bigger, one glass make you small...

Hey, let's not forget the weans. Foetal alcohol syndrome, anyone? Och, how can you have sex anyway if you aren't pished? Brain damage. Shrinkage. Fits. The meaningless rubbish that's sold only to mess you up, like Carlsberg Special, originally brewed specifically for Winston Churchill's visit to Denmark after the war, now the tipple of  choice for oblivion merchants everywhere.

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament will vote on party political lines and eradicate the proposed bill that would set a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland. Spurious arguments will be advanced that raising the price of a unit of rotgut cider will cause terrible damage to the economy, and won't stop folk boozing unwisely anyway. Education is all. have a wee dram. Smell the history, the geography, the culture.

I don't believe that for a moment. I am afraid that the drug dealers have once again  flexed their considerable muscle and quashed the first serious attempt to tackle the shame that is Scotland's relationship with alcohol. Gutless, ignorant, hidebound politicians have cowered before them.

So. That's that, then. Might as well go out and get pished, eh? Just remember this salient fact: Two single malts: that's enough to destroy your ability to appreciate their quality. After that, you might as well switch to Old Gumripper or Glen Haemorrhage. Slainte!


laura said...

well,what a refreshing article...emperors new clothes etc..very brave,as its part of how you make your living.

Bill said...

Totally agree. Minimum pricing would put a big bottle of heidbanger cider at about six quid. A pint of White Wife (at less than 4%) would cost roughly 90p but can you see a pub selling it for that? (They couldn't buy it for that) It wouldn't hit moderate drinkers in the slightest and it would be good for pubs. Any additional profit for supermarkets and the like could be dealt with via the tax system.

Auld Rasmie said...

I wish this post could be read out at Hollyrood before the alcoholics of the opposition parties make a complete fool of themselves. ;)

Congrats on a well written rant. :) :)

carrew said...

You succeeded in making your points while making me laugh. A really well written article Tom. I'll be publicising it further on FB and Twitter. If only Nicola Sturgeon had had you address the numpties in Holyrood before the vote was taken.

Shame on us all.