Saturday 4 December 2010

The Demon Drink

“What’s particularly interesting ... is the sense something previously thought of as a working class problem, actually has resonance across a broader social spectrum.” Frank Sooden of Alcohol Concern, Evening Standard April 4, 2008

“Few things mark where we stand in society more clearly than our attitude towards instant coffee.” cookery writer Nigel Slater

Upwards, Weybridges and Teales unite in condemning binge drinking, and youths (read chavs) taking over town centres at night. They are furious when statistics show that the worst soaks are the middle class heavy drinkers of the Home Counties.

Chavs are more numerous, and like living in public. And as Teales, Upwards and Weybridges age they go out a lot less and forget what other people are like. Chavs form crowds, which the middle classes find threatening. They like to go out in a crowd and raise their voices in public - one of the many ways they resemble the upper classes. At the same time Upwards moan that the British have lost the art of street life (they do it so much better on the continent), and that we should revive the spirit of carnival. They’re the ones who put on patronising local street festivals and wheel out the same old stilt-walking fire-eaters year after year.

Upwards got very into wine snobbery in the 70s. Now they just crack open any old bottle around 5pm. They used to look very askance if one of their number wanted to buy a takeaway coffee on a train journey (it would be the wrong kind of coffee from a common outlet and it would cost). You were just supposed to dehydrate for the entire journey. In the past 20 years, thanks to Starbucks, they’ve changed their minds and spend far too much on overpriced lattes.

The middle classes drink weak tea and strong coffee. Teales and Definitelies drink strong tea and weak coffee. Do you put the milk in your tea first or second? Samantha and Caroline put milk in tea last or not at all. Teales used to drink milky coffee with food - now they drink Snapple, or Innocent smoothies (Sam makes her own in an expensive retro Osterizer).

Mrs Definitely puts a PG Tips tea bag in a mug, pours in boiling water, mixes it around, pours in a lot of full-fat milk and mixes the bag around until the whole goes the colour of an old stocking. Sam forces her guests to drink Earl Grey tasting of sun-tan oil and adds milk so that it looks like dishwater. The strongest tea in her cupboard is English Breakfast. Her idea of a strong cup of tea is a cup of weak English Breakfast with not much milk in it. Caro offers Earl Grey without milk, or Darjeeling with. Arkana has a collection of herb teas which have passed their sell-by date. None of them would refer to “a tea” or “a coffee”, or “a drink” meaning tea or coffee. They’d say “a cup of tea”, and a “drink” is alcohol. Definitelies say “Time for a cuppa”.

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