Recently I was telephoned by my doctor about something that had showed up in the results of a blood test.
‘You have elevated liver enzymes,’ he told me.
‘Terrific news, Doctor,’ I said, ‘This calls for a celebration.’ He gravely informed me that this was not something to be celebrated. And certainly not with a glass of bubbly.
‘Can I ask if you’d consumed alcohol before the test?’ he asked, and I cast my mind back to the previous week.
‘Yes, as a matter of fact I’d had a right skinful at a barbecue the day before,’ I said, adding, possibly unnecessarily, ‘Two Thumbs Tony’s.’
‘On a Monday?’ he replied. Cheeky bugger.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘On a Monday.’
‘Well, I’d like you to come back in for a follow up test in one month’s time.’
‘Fine. No problem,’ I said, trying to sound in a hurry because I think I knew what was coming next.
‘And this time, don’t have any alcohol beforehand.’
‘OK. The day before?’ I tried.
‘The fortnight before.’
‘Oh, Jesus,’ I breathed.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Nothing, Doctor. Thank you, Doctor. Love you, Doctor,’ I said, and rang off with a grimace. I handed the barman my pint. ‘You’d better stick a top in this, Jesse,’ I said.
The month passed, I’m pleased to say – if rather slowly and uneventfully – and after my repeat test was completed I caught the train to Crayford to break my fast with a beer at the Penny Farthing and spend the afternoon at the dogs with some friends. I met one of them on the train and he presented me with a vodka miniature to celebrate my period of enforced sobriety. That’s the sort of thing friends are for, I thought, as I pocketed the gift and promptly forgot all about it.
Some weeks later, I hooked up with one of the leading lights of the UK broadcasting industry and after a late meeting, he and I strolled out onto the South Bank for a riverside smoke.
‘Darn, we should have picked up a pint first and brought it out here,’ he said.
‘Well, I’ve got this,’ I said, producing the vodka from the pocket of my jacket, in which it had been jiggling around ever since Crayford. My companion shot me an, if not concerned, then certainly quizzical look and I began the challenge of explaining how, in fact – and yes, possibly contrary to appearances – the presence of vodka in my pocket only went to prove that I wasn’t an alcoholic.
At length, he accepted my position. We cracked open the little feller and took it in turns to suck down a mouthful of the fiery potato-juice, neat.
‘Well, this is nice,’ said my friend.
‘You’ve got to love a bit of public BYOB,’ I said.
‘Yes. Where are the best places for it, do you reckon?’ he said, and we fell into a deep and meaningful discussion about one of life’s simple pleasures.
You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t look over at bench-drinking park hobos and wonder where your life went wrong. Look at them, out in the fresh air, cackling and gesticulating wildly, with their mad hair. They’re having the time of their lives. Not for them the daily travails of alarm clocks, ablutions and achievement. I mean, you don’t need to clean your teeth if you haven’t got any, right?
I’m not advocating it as a daily routine, just to be clear, but a few tinnies in the park – or a bottle of wine if you’re feeling classy – is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, especially if the alternative is Jonathan’s Customer Retention presentation.
My personal favourites include Crystal Palace, Brockwell and Greenwich parks where the holy trinity of elevation, isolation and inebriation is attainable. Heaths and commons, like those of Blackheath, Clapham and Streatham, have the advantage of 24-hour access, important in the winter months when parks close at dusk.
At Battersea, in the summer, you can even take a boat out onto the substantial lake there. Half-life enjoyed the experience so much he wanted to land on one of the islands and start a new civilization with the girls who worked in the cafe. I wasn’t invited. Be warned, though, that the insufferable funsuckers in charge of the boats stipulate that no alcohol is allowed on these jaunts, so you’ll need to get creative with a bottle of pre-prepared alcohol-infused pop, known as a Fantamper.
The National Theatre on London’s South Bank is a softly-lit warren of escape and dreams, with plentiful seating areas and several delightful balconies on offer. The only problem is that the bars don’t open till five. And when they do, a decent bottle of wine is £30.
Far more sensible, is to pick up a bottle of something nice from the Costcutter on York Road, nab a couple of glasses from the thoughtfully provided water points, and drink in the wine and the river views with some like-minded muckers.
The only drawback with this approach is that it’s a bit of a trek for the next round. Best get two bottles.
There are plenty of majestic licensed riverside spots for a pit stop pint, but this summer why not venture down to the river bed itself. At low tide, a number of beaches present themselves, offering hitherto unseen views and a sense of wilderness right in the heart of the bustling city.
Look out for clay pipes, glazed stoneware and dead dogs in bin liners.
Alcohol is, cruelly, banned on tubes and buses. But on the trains, they can’t touch you. There is even a little table provided on some services, proving that there is a God, and that it’s Bacchus.
Treat yourself to a four-pack and a snack selection and it’s like being in a moving pub. And whenever there’s a lull in conversation you can gaze upon green and pleasant land. Or, even better, grime and buddleia. One of our favourite trips is the Charing Cross to London Bridge service. Sometimes we don’t even get off.
Somerset House, with its Neoclassical piazza and inspiring views of South London, is a must-do for the public space boozer. With plenty of tables provided there is the opportunity for a leisurely picnic lunch, finishing up with a nice port and a shop-bought cheese board.
I liked it so much, I held my wedding reception there, attended by 50 or so bottle-wielding guests. Saved us a fortune.
Dirty South loves to get high, and so it’s no surprise that one of his favourite places to pause and reflect with a glass in hand, is up on the roof.
He was particularly intrigued by the new plans unveiled for the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, which include, above the drab residential offerings, three public roof terraces for ‘recreational use’.
‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ he asked. And I was.
As covered before on these pages, the cemetery can provide a gloriously peaceful drinking/thinking rest-stop. Much is made of the benefits of sober reflection, but drunk reflection is a lot more fun and provides deeper philosophical certainty.
Cemetery drinking may be frowned upon by some, but no-one’s going to actually come up and bother you as you pay your respects to the dead. By sitting on a bench with a tin of gin and tonic. Just try not to piss on any graves.
The Three Mariners, Sailortown
You won’t find this little beauty on any lists of recommended pubs. There are no reviews on Trip Advisor and don’t bother looking it up on WhatPub?. That’s because it’s in a museum – the Museum of London, Docklands.
Here’s the drill: As you enter the museum, with ale concealed about your person, each one of your group picks up one of the folding stools provided (for pausing to enjoy the museum’s video displays). On arrival in ‘Sailortown’, a wonderfully recreated street scene from mid-19th Century London dockland, head into the Three Mariners pub, set up your stools at the bar, crack open the beer and have as much fun as you can before security arrives to escort you from the premises.
‘Get your ’ands off me!’ I heard myself exclaiming to them last time I was there. ‘I was working on these docks before you were even born!’
Bringing your own booze can not only save money but also means we can enjoy the magic of booze in hitherto dry and unforeseen places.
Last year I was invited out by some young folk who were proposing to spend the evening in a Peckham car park, around the corner from an offy. It underlined for me that, really, with the right people, anywhere will do for a BYOB gathering. You just need to use your imagination, what’s left of it. Here are some other ideas: