Over my life I've watched as several valued friends and many acquaintances have destroyed their lives with alcohol. All the while I've thanked providence for an immunity to addiction; whilst I'm quite happy with a three-day bender (though stamina flags with age) or a bottle every evening, I find that sometimes I go for days, even weeks without a drink; not intentional abstinence, just casual disuse. Yet I'm always up for a session - it being the prospect of good well lubricated company rather than the booze that attracts.
The casualties have fallen away. An exceptional raconteur and indefatigable drinker, a man of warmth humour and erudition, lost first his solicitor's partnership then his marriage. Another collapsed in debt. A girlfriend who was a secretive and devious drunk and though I loved her it destroyed us. Dan Farson, Bacon's biographer, immensely talented, was a monster anytime after 11.00am. I think it was Farson who recounted the anecdote about he and Bacon visiting a subterranean afternoon drinking club in Soho; as they descended into the noxious gloom one of their party asked "What's that smell?" "Failure" responded Bacon, quick as a whip. And indeed the Colony Room Club, the French House and those other Soho haunts that have given me so much joy, such gales of laughter, such fine friends and lovers, are also peopled with the flotsam and jetsam of lives sunk by alcohol.
Many men find a sort of semi-disciplined equilibrium with booze, like a car with engine running continuously at idle. But it never takes much for them to hit the gas and I've delighted in many unexpected and ad-hoc sessions this way; we seem to recognise eachother in much the same way that I suppose homosexuals do, and in no time you get a trio, a four, a sextet of middle aged men with voices rich as dundee cake and gravelly with smoke all equipped with a full wallet and an inexhaustible supply of quips, anecdotes, bonhomie and smile-creased eyes all chuckling and boozing away at half throttle as we create our own club wherever we are.
Those that remember the days when pubs had to close by law in the afternoon - a pernicious restriction and a needless one - may also recall the few remaining signs in bars that ordered 'No Treating'. I was puzzled for years as to the meaning of that until I found in the PRO, whilst looking for something else, the original 1915 Alcohol Control Orders and correspondence. The same laws that closed pubs in the afternoon also banned the buying of drinks for others, rounds or 'treating', all in an effort to reduce alcohol consumption. One of the cases in the file referred to the prosecution by the police of a man who had bought a drink for his wife.
It didn't have to be like this, our joy constrained by Great War measures to keep munitions workers sober, as I found as a youngster when I visited a chum newly up at Edinburgh University. He met my London sleeper at Waverley Street and at 8am, not five minutes from the platform, we were in the Halfway House, drinking dark ale and scotch chasers in a throat-stinging fug of smoke. Lazy afternoons, when English pubs were closed, were spent in bars around the Regency new town watching videos and quaffing. I was blown away by Scots liberality - this truly was the city of the Enlightenment, whilst my poor England was like some Calvinist theocracy.
But no longer.
Over more than forty years of drinking, years during which alcohol has been a good friend to me (given my immunity to its addictive effects), when alcohol has enabled, coloured, enhanced every major event of note in my life, I cannot think of any circumstance in which minimum pricing would have lowered consumption, either mine or of those about me. It will work no better than did those 1915 measures - when also, incidentally, spirits were reduced in strength by law down to 40% abv. That's still one century-old restriction with which we are lumbered.