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Beer and wine

The levels of reserve in this film are inconceivable today—and are so extreme that I find it hard to see the pubs (admittedly theme pubs, on “best behaviour” for film) as real places. These are just film sets to me, like a Hammer studios film set (roughly contemporary with this news report). It shows you quite how formal Britain was in the early 1960s (before “the 60s” began).

It’s this environment that progressive liberals really hate. At about this time, liberal social democrats—men like Roy Hattersley and Roy Jenkins—would castigate pub life and extol “the continental cafe”. A government report was produced that lamented the fact Britain doesn’t have a “cafe culture” or a wine-drinking culture (and suggested measures to bring this about—lots of parasols and awnings). This obsession with “continental beverage culture” carried on into the 1990s, with “cafe culture” as an empty catchphrase—perhaps reaching its apotheosis with Tony Blair, a man of cappuccino and Chianti.

It has only been forgotten because national cultures have now collapsed to such an extent—become one global consumer melange—that there is no longer much mileage in British politicians hankering for “the continent”. It just doesn’t make sense. Adidas, Apple, Tesla, Starbucks—and then a hipster cafe which looks like every other “independent” cafe from Tehran to Brooklyn. That’s it.

So Britain has many cafes today but these are not what Jenkins and Hattersley meant (they didn’t mean Starbucks and Costa)—they meant those cafes you get in Paris with little wicker-work chairs where you sit on the street and have a tiny little coffee, a café au lait or cafecito in Spain. These have never existed in Britain and still don’t—because we don’t have the weather for them. But they’re so sophisticated, not like these vulgar lager-guzzlers in their vile sweaty pubs. I agree. But the French, Spanish, and Italians have them because they have the weather for them.

There’s something limp-wristed about the whole idea, though. It’s the idea that “the continent” is high-status—even France, that “distant undiscovered country”, is high-status for an English liberal, just as a “well-spoken” English accent is for an American. This progressive liberal infatuation with “the continent” is also to do with a fear of the masculine. It’s about the idea you can sip wine (middle-class, sophisticated, implies narcissistic knowledge “oenophiliac”) and a have a lively convivial conversation about Sartre and existenz with some men in polo necks (much better than sipping tepid beer with some miserable gits who just grunt at you, tug their whippet, and tell you to “shut up, you posh twat” when you mention Sartre).

Of course, the French and the Spanish and the Italians are macho—it’s just their machismo, which is arguably more pronounced than with the Anglos, is the stiletto to your neck and “I’ll fuck your mother like a whore” and it doesn’t manifest in their alcohol culture so much. In Britain, alcohol and masculinity are connected—with the idea that mass consumption of beer is an initiation of a sort (the same goes for all the Nordic countries—think about German student societies).

So progressive liberals always promote “continental drinking culture” as the ameliorative remedy to this “beastliness”—usually backed up with “scientific research” that shows the French benefit from a single glass of red wine per day and some sentimental homily about how a Frenchman gives his child a glass of wine at four and it “trains them in”. Whether or not the typical customer in a Parisian bar, who knocks back a quick glass of wine on the way back to work at midday, is like an Englishman from Manchester with his five pints of Stella is a question that goes unanswered.

It’s a projection of Puritanism onto very Catholic countries—suddenly the French, the Italians, and the Spanish become models of austerity (as regards alcohol, anyway). Views diverge on sex, since men like Hattersley and Jenkins would never say we should have sex like the Spanish, the French, or the Italians—that smacks of lack of prudence, of Protestant foresight (these Catholics just have children without thinking about it—shameful, irrational). Similarly, although they will make remarks about how much more “grown-up” people on the continent are about sex (“non-judgemental”, with mistresses) they do not endorse that view fully because to have a mistress is “cruel” and “irrational”.

The Puritan-progressive wants to reform Christian sexual morality but it must be “rational” and “humane”—it must be easy divorce, remarriage, teen sex, a “partnership”. To do so is rational and “avoids cruelty”—rational serial monogamy is the prescription (with state-mandated lectures about condoms and STDs and “taking precautions” or “being sensible”, i.e. not Catholic). Mistresses are Catholic and irrational—they go together with countries where juries will acquit a man who shoots his wife’s lover.

The correct and rational way is to say, “I understand your position and that’s why, since it’s best for the children, we will separate and find new partners—the children can have 1.2 units of time with me per week, it’s what the psychologists say is best these days. Then we can move on with our new partners”. There’s no dragging your partner round by the hair (at least you don’t admit to that) like a Spaniard (who also mistreat donkeys, lamentable). Hence the progressive liberal is always more interested in continental alcohol habits than sex.

So Anglo progressives only like the continent in a selective way, insofar as elements from continental life that are contextually effeminate can be promoted in Britain (America) as exotic and high-status. And the way they like these habits defies common sense—Frenchmen, Italians, and Spaniards have a different relation to wine because they grow these drinks themselves and are gestalt with the way you drink them; and there’s something inherent in the drink itself that means it’s not really bingeable. The Nordic countries are beer countries and beer is just the type of drink you chug—that’s what it’s like (you chug because of the weather, in fact—to get the heat inside).

In fact, many of the problems progressives attribute to “British beer culture” emanate not from the way people drink but from liberal social policies that they themselves promote. Hence men like Hattersley and Jenkins would point to English hooliganism as being tied up to our beer culture—so that if people just drank wine, engaged in narcissistic competitive discussions about grape varietals, there would be no more violence. But the violence wasn’t to do with pubs—it was to do with social liberalism, with the fact men like Jenkins and Hattersley abolished the death penalty. The continent has its own “hooliganismo”, being as liberal as us—it just manifests in a different way. You’re not going to convert Tottenham Hotspur to Chianti, anyway.

The standard conservative take on the film above would be to wax lyrical about the formality, politeness, and the fact there’s no music blaring in the background—you can hear yourself think etc. That is the Scrutonian take. Even the language is more reserved, more upper class—the narrator says “fect” not “fact”. You never hear that pronunciation today, like “feck”—“a fect of life”. Very clipped, very RP—reserved even in the way it’s said, it sucks the vowel in and doesn’t let you have it. And a drinker is described as “a gay dog”—which today would just mean a Bassett Hound that is literally homosexual and is a mascot in the San Francisco pride parade, suitably draped with the pride flag every year. It couldn’t possibly mean a slightly risqué but fundamentally good-natured man.

Your occupation makes you “a jazz-man”, “a sports-man”, “a press-man”—it’s masculine, “man”, and objective “That’s Smith, the resident jazz-man”; just compare that level of objectification to today’s language, many young people are so feminised and narcissistic they can’t even tell you where they come from (their home town) because to be that definite is too objectified, too hierarchical, too essentialised (gives them nowhere to hide, no tools to manipulate you to make you like them).

“So you’re a jazz-man from Oxford, Smith? Very good, very good.” “I’m from all over, I guess—I don’t think I should answer that question, really...” (this is no joke, I met an American just graduated from college who wouldn’t tell me where he was from, “I don’t think I should answer that question,” he said with reproach—yes, they’ve got you well-trained, boy, well-trained to be from “nowhere”, no offence).

I’m not a Scrutonian—I don’t hanker for this world. I find the pubs dead, just like a film set—and somewhat unreal (like a Thunderbirds marionette—the patrons float on their wires to the bar). Progressive liberals would say that is because it needs to be “more lively” like on the continent—it needs to be made more “sophisticated”, less “gammon” (indeed, I imagine you could literally eat a gammon steak at the Sherlock Holmes pub-restaurant, perhaps garnished with a single slice of pineapple—a triumph of the English kitchen).

The opposite temptation is to imagine that it would be more alive in Merrie England or in a Viking hall—this is the deadness of modernity, the ice buckets are already plastic in 1960, and the mass consumer society already sells you back “Sherlock Holmes” and “Gilbert and Sullivan“ kitsch for your “dining experience” (the society of the spectacle etc).

In part, the problem is the media itself (which is the left). Today, an equivalent contemporary film would concentrate on London pubs as diverse, vibrant, and tolerant—“the first black publican owned The Pig and Whistle in Tottenham in 1786” or “Soho’s Laughing Caviler was the centre for gay ‘polari’ culture in the 1950s” or “O’Saughnessy’s bar has served London’s immigrant Irish community since the 1840s” but it’s no less fake than British Pathé’s “Pip, pip, it’s awfully spiffing what-ho, nanny, isn’t it grand to British?” routine. The media is bullshit in general, always has been.

In reality, the deadness is not to do with the future or the past—it’s to do with the nature of the human condition, the way we kill life, and the impossibility of genuine communication with another person. The political solutions and fantasies are just evasions as regards the perennial question, “Is there life before death?”.


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