‘Camaraderie is forced on men’, 1988

Stools at the bar in a pub.

Camaraderie is forced on men. They have little else in life. Forced especially on the desperate, the unimaginative, who must drink the same drink in the same place every day.

How to be alone in the midst of fellowship? One can turn the other stool, try to indicate with the shoulder one wants privacy. One can snap like a little animal. But this breeds suspicion. In the end one is never left alone.

But neither does camaraderie really exist. It is a creation of racists and war-novelists. Rather, there is an erotism about men drinking together.

Come. Come, you must come with us into our happy love cloud. A public bar is the boudoir of a comic-opera seductress…

That’s an extract from a piece called ‘Drinking Men’ by American writer Todd McEwen. He moved to Scotland in 1981 and this story is set in a pub called the Auld Licht. It portrays the relationships between the public bar and lounge, and between the regulars who drink in them.

It’s funny, bleak, and rather sour, capturing a time when pubs were overwhelmingly male, everyone smoked, and the cardboard backings from which packets of peanuts were sold were items of everyday kitsch erotica.

Having recently written about masculinity, beer and pubs for BEER magazine (see the latest issue here) we found plenty to chew on even in these few hundred words, and would certainly consider include ‘Drinking Men’ in that anthology we’re hoping someone will ask us to edit one day.

If you want to read it in the meantime, it can be found in Granta 25: Murder, published in autumn 1988, which comes with an added bonus: Graham Smith’s grim photo portrait of Middlesbrough pubs.

4 thoughts on “‘Camaraderie is forced on men’, 1988”

  1. I wonder how his subjects, assuming it was based on real life examples, would have reacted to his musing.

    I frequented male-only working class taverns in Quebec in the 1970s, where everyone smoked, me too. I was a college student and later, low level office worker and the tavern offered value and cheer for an hour. At that time, the law mandated the gender exclusion.

    Like that author I was an observer but my conclusions were quite different. People sat a table (equivalent of standing in a
    public bar nook) alone if they wished. Most seemed avid for the company of a friend or two. They chatted, laughed and drank, most not to excess. I rarely saw a fight.

    I got to know some of the patrons, say a waiter or two who would join a table for a drink after his shift. Most were family men. Some had worked in police work or been soldiers or other military, and had interesting stories to tell.

    There were almost no amenities in these places and finally the pace of social change rendered them, in that particular form, obsolete, but the bar doesn’t change in its essentials.

    In sum, the old style tavern, as I knew it in that era, was never only benighted or only benign. Closer to the latter though. I think most of the customers would have agreed.

    P.S. Haven’t read the magazine article mentioned.

  2. Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner has some great descriptions of pub drinking in the old days. Very much a Withnail and I and Her story, it didn’t make me nostalgic.

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