Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: notebook

Ever since I encountered a gentleman in a green shirt and jester's hat in the gold, white and green slumped pungently across a seat on the Tube on Sunday I remembered the best attitude towards St Patrick's Day: it's no big deal. If you are so inclined, you might wish to say a Mass. If you are in Ireland and have the day off, enjoy it. Not a day for proper drinkers, though. Too many amateurs about.

But excessive grumbling about it being a glorified marketing exercise aimed at plastic Paddies (which it is, outwith Ireland) is as foolish as going to Kilburn for the craic (an English word in origin, by the way). So when Eamon Forde writes in the Times (found via Harry's Place): "The celebration originally marked the arrival of the Catholic faith on Irish shores, but in an increasingly secular country, it now celebrates the futility of drunkenness" does make one wonder whether the bottle or the crozier has been a more harmful influence on Ireland. (Remember too that the Pope did sanction Henry II's conquest of Ireland from which a few, erm, difficulties sprang.)

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Worth remembering, too, on the day in which Guinness tries to turn Ireland into a marketing device, that there are other drinks. As I observed around this time last year:

There is a rather sentimental idea that Guinness tastes better in Ireland. It's not entirely true; for one thing the stuff you get in London is all brewed in Dublin these days. Besides, in Cork you should stick to Beamish or Murphy's… One's physical location, then, is less important than one's state of mind.

This theory might be tested by the news that the Beamish & Crawford brewery in Cork is to close this month. Production is be moved to the same place in which Murphy's is brewed (owned by Heineken). Apart from the sadness of an era ending, and the loss of 120 jobs, there is a vague unease about the loss of something else.

Rationally, there is no reason why changing the location in which the drink is brewed should affect quality. Guinness after all can be made in enormous quantities and, if kept properly, tastes superb. And yet this news creates a vague unease. The trend favoured by large brewers of consolidating production in ever larger plants has seen many fine beers lost, and many others have suffered an appreciable loss of quality.

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Worse is the latest affront: the minimum alcohol price. It seems that not even Labour is stupid enough to try and whack up the price of booze before an election in which it might struggle to win votes. I dolefully predict the idea will be dusted off after the election by whoever wins (okay, it'll be the Tories then).

It will not work, because people will find ways of getting drink if they must have it. Some other crude device will soon be found to bash the drinker over the head. If this blog has any purpose, and I try to avoid such fripperies, it is an implacable opposition to this sort of nonsense.

Leaving aside the shredding of the economy, which will probably see people drinking less (while wanting to drink more) the most curious aspects to this proposal are some of the unintended consequences. For instance, port and sherry - say at 20% alcohol - would most likely be among the drinks that would see the biggest price rises. (Someone at least has had a stab at the maths: a bottle of sherry could rise from £4.59 t0 £7.15 - roughly a third I make that.) Buckfast, of course, will not be affected: indeed its price might even fall. This isn't a way to tackle problem drinking.

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With nice circularity, then, a prediction. Tomorrow's Irish papers (north and south) will be full of hand-wringing about drink and violence. What does it mean? Simple, the press loves hand-wringing, lots of people in Ireland like drink and a significant minority can't handle it. Put them in a drunk tank, ignore them, or a combination thereof will be more effective in curbing their excesses than most other measures.

Except mockery. Remember The Simpsons: "All this drinking, violence, destruction of property... are these the things that we think of when we think of the Irish?"

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