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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