The Yorkshireman Speaks: British Booze Culture

Congratulations, some of you reading this have almost made it to the end of “Dry January.”

A whole month without booze, there’ll certainly be a celebration when it’s over. Not just for you, but for the rest of your family too. They’ve had to endure a month of your miserable face sulking round the house, looking at all that left-over festive booze and moaning about not being able to touch it.

I think the British have a real issue with alcohol. As a comedian I often have to walk through city centres late at night and it’s like Dawn of The Dead. There are couples screaming at each other, men trying to pick up their mates in an impromptu show of strength, people rocking back and forth in the kebab shop hypnotised by a spinning slab of meat. Then there’s little old me, sober as Mother Teresa, trying to make it back to my car with my flask and tuna sandwiches.

Us Brits can turn any event into an excuse for booze. Wedding? Have a drink. Funeral? Have a drink. Finished the decorating? Have a drink. I was in an airport recently. Now that’s where we really go for it. It’s like everyone is on some sort of perpetual stag weekend.

You never hear this conversation anywhere but in an airport:

“What time is it?”
“Ten to four in the morning”
“Fancy a pint?”
“Why not? We are on holiday!”

No, you’re not mate. You’ve gone nowhere. You’re still in the East Midlands. What are you doing?

Surely the last place you want to be hammered is at 36,000 feet in a glorified tin can. What if you are the passenger who has to lead everyone off the plane? You’ve been drinking since 4am, it took you an hour to open that packet of crisps, how are you going to cope with an emergency exit and an inflatable slide?

We don’t do this with other forms of transport. You don’t see anyone drinking cans of Kestral at 6am before getting on the 38 bus to Long Eaton? Well you do actually. Sorry that’s a bad example, but to be fair if I had to drive that bus route too, I’d have a drink.

I do most of my drinking under the radar. I don’t mean laid on the runway. I mean when I’m cooking. Specifically Sunday lunch. I love cooking and drinking. It’s amazing. It’s like normal boozing but instead of a hangover you’re left with a slow cooked lamb shoulder and seasonal vegetables. Occasionally you have to chase the last few drinks with a shot of Gaviscon, but that’s as bad as it gets. To the outside world you’re a diligent parent providing a meal for your family, however in reality you’re smashing your way through that drinks cabinet like a teenager whose parents have left them home alone.

My night out starts at 10am Sunday morning. As soon as Andrew Marr says goodbye, I pour a sneaky glass of wine and tell everyone to get out the kitchen; I need space to create. It’s just me, Amazon Alexa and Delia Smith.

By half twelve I’m naked from the waist up, body shiny with meat grease, dancing around on the lino floor like Mr Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, ripping chunks of off the roast with my bare hands. At this point my wife always comes in. “I thought you were cooking?” I shout back at her, “I am, I’m doing a red wine reduction, I started with a full bottle and now it’s nearly gone.”

I start to get overconfident, experimenting with flavours. “You know what this mash potato is lacking? Vanilla extract!” I’m pioneering flavour combinations even Heston Blumenthal would describe as “a bit much.”

My portion control is all over the place too. “How old is she? 3? I reckon she’d eat a kilo of mash.” The alcohol makes you fearless, you start taking things out of the oven with no gloves. I once ended up with the Tefal logo burnt into my palm like Joe Pesci in Home Alone.

By two, I’m in the euphoric stages of the cooking binge. Most of the week’s shop has gone, I’ve got some Brillo pads browning under the grill and I’ve fried off my rubber gloves in garlic. I’ve used every single pan too, so I’m now having to boil the sprouts in a wok.

I rarely remember the meal itself, but I always think it went well. I’m often laid on the sofa, nodding in and out of consciousness. Behind me I can just make out the sound of smoke alarms and pans being scraped into the bin. “At least he tries to cook,” says my wife to the starving children, dialling the number for Domino’s, “and I reckon he’s onto something with that vanilla mash.”

Scott Bennett

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