A few lines on Cooking Lager’s recent blog post “The Puritans are winning”, about a workplace tradition which has fallen by the way side, served to remind me that this is one particular custom I don’t miss. I am talking, of course, about the Friday lunchtime pint; that one time of the week when whole work’s departments would decamp to the pub for a few jars, a quick bite to eat and the chance to let their hair down.
This practice was very much the norm in offices, shops and other workplaces up and down the land. If some of tales I’ve heard are true, it was even quite common amongst people who had no business mixing drink with the safety critical work they were supposed to be carrying out. I also remember, not that long ago (alright it was actually 20 years ago), when I was “between jobs”, and working as a Christmas casual at the local Royal Mail sorting office, my amazement on discovering that postmen could walk straight in after their shift and have a quick bottle of brown ale in the bar attached to their restroom.
Times have obviously changed, along with people’s attitudes, and I know Cookie was trying to put this argument across on his blog. No-one in their right minds would disagree that excessive drinking has no place in the modern workplace, but now it seems that many organisations have taken things a whole stage further and banned staff from consuming any alcohol during work time altogether.
An old friend of mine, who is a retired railwayman, used to regale me with tales of horror about five pint lunchtimes, and whilst him and his colleagues were thankfully not employed in “safety critical” roles, he openly admits that they were not exactly giving their best when they returned to their desks on a Friday afternoon.
Matters came to a head on the railways, following a number of fatal incidents where drink and/or drugs had been involved, and the authorities (British Rail in those days), quite rightly clamped down hard in a determined bid to stamp out a culture of drinking which had been endemic in certain parts of the rail industry. A total blanket ban was imposed on staff, prohibiting them from having so much as a shandy whilst at work.
|Still the norm for many City workers|
The ban applied to all staff irrespective of where they worked or in what role. If you were just sat behind a desk you were still barred from consuming alcohol, in exactly the same way as train, track or signalling crew were. If, for example, someone in your office was celebrating a special occasion; birthday, getting married, retiring etc, it was necessary to book the afternoon off, and take your coat, brief case etc with you to the pub. You were not allowed back in the office/booking hall etc, under any circumstances, that same day.
This policy was obviously sensible, and managed to call time, if you’ll pardon the pun, on an activity which had once been commonplace on the railways. But what about other industries and other areas I hear you ask?
I have spent my entire working life in the private sector, and there I have to report a rather mixed bag. However, even though none of the companies I have worked for over the years expressly forbade employees from having a “swift one” at lunchtime, it would definitely be noticed when people made this a regular occurrence or they overstepped the mark.
It was quite common when I began my career to go for that Friday lunchtime drink. Many workers regarded it as the start of the weekend, and it no exaggeration to say productivity suffered on Friday afternoons. In my second job after graduating, I got into the habit of going for a Friday.lunchtime pint with a couple of colleagues from the engineering department. Except it wasn't just the one pint; three blokes, meant three pints, as we all felt obliged to get a round in, and I honestly can say my work suffered when I got back in the afternoon, and I’m certain my colleagues did as well.
|A lunchtime pint whilst walking the South Downs Way|
It wasn’t really until the early 90’s, when a forced job relocation saw me working down in Lewes, which was the best part of an hour’s drive from my home in Tonbridge. Thankfully there was far less temptation in my new place of employment, to sneak off to the pub for a quick lunchtime pint. The factory was sited on the edge of town, which meant a drive into Lewes would have been necessary in order to grab a pint. The factory also had a decent canteen, so there was no need to go off site in search of something to eat.
It must have been around this three and a half year period of my working life that I realised I didn’t miss lunchtime drinking, whilst at work. I could also add I’m not a huge fan of it when I’m not at work either; with the honourable exception of when I am on holiday, or out on a ramble.
There are two pubs within walking distance of where I work now, but I seldom visit either of them. If we have customers visiting, then it’s not unusual to take them for lunch at the larger of the two pubs. This is accepted and nobody bats an eyelid. I also know that should I wish to call in for a swift pint at either of these pubs, no-one would say a word. It would be different if I was to return the worse for drink, but I wouldn’t do it, and in fact don’t like going back to work after just a single pint.
I don’t know if it’s down to advancing years, but I find it difficult enough staying awake after lunch when stone cold sober. A couple of pints therefore would probably find me nodding off in front of my computer screen, so unless there’s a particularly good reason to go for a lunchtime beer (visiting customers, someone retiring etc), it’s nothing stronger than tea for me these days.
As I said above, I don’t miss going out for a lunchtime drink and, without sounding too sanctimonious, I feel my health and definitely my bank-balance are all the better for my abstinence.