Lost in the mists of lunchtime drinking…

DEPTFORD High Street, 1980. The office, on the second floor next to the station platform, was a long room where the air was filled with smoke and the clattering of typewriters. The editor’s office smelt of cigars and, in the afternoon, spent Guinness.

Leaving the office at lunchtime, you walked past the switchboard lady/receptionist. All phone calls went through her and there was a board into which she plugged the relevant wires. Without her intervention, you couldn’t talk to anyone.

Down the stairs and into the street, there were assorted pubs left and right, including the one where the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe was said to have been murdered. He was killed by a man offended at his atheism, apparently. I didn’t know that then, but fortunately never went in there shouting my head off about God not existing.

Deptford was a rough old place in 1980, so heaven knows what it was like in 1593.In fact, an article in the Daily Telegraph ten years or so back described the place where Marlowe was murdered as a “modest and respectable dining house”.

It was the grotty old Brown Bear pub in my day, and from memory a stuffed bear stood somewhere in the bar. Or perhaps that was just a local who hadn’t moved in a while and had ossified into part of the furniture.

We rarely went in that pub, but instead favoured one at the end of the high street, on the corner with the road to Greenwich.

Everyone drank at lunchtime in those days, and hardly anyone seems to now. Even as a relatively modest drinker, I would often have a couple of pints. The editor had three or four pints of the black stuff sometimes, and in the afternoon his mood could turn, so you learned to keep you distance in the post-Guinness zone.

And if he wishes to dispute that version of events, sadly he can’t as he died some years back. He wasn’t exactly old, so perhaps Guinness isn’t good for you after all. And nobody ever said cigars were good for you, even though I smoked them back then, with a pint (but only in the evening as a rule).

The South East London Mercury was a good and busy newspaper all that time ago. Most of the reporters were young and we’d all go out together for a lunchtime drink. Sometimes we drove to Greenwich or Blackheath, and whoever was behind the wheel had a pint or two as well. People did that back then.

All this came back to me this week on hearing that Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market, has banned alcohol during the working day, according to the Financial Times.

This move brought accusations of big brother and so forth. Maybe it is heavy-handed, but to be honest I can’t really manage a lunchtime drink nowadays. Even a glass of white wine sends my head a little blurry.

People eat at their desks mostly now, and it is tempting to wonder if that is any healthier than leaving the office for a drink. Two of my jobs require me to drive, so that’s drinking out for a start, and the third job requires me to sit at home and either write or think up ideas. The commute would not be a problem with the third job, but the sitting around and thinking might be. I guess a post-pint nap could be passed off as creative cogitating, but to be honest I don’t want to drink at lunchtime any more, unless at a weekend party or when on holiday.

The flip-side to drinking at work comes when the bosses drink too much and return to the office later in the afternoon over-filled with beery belligerence, leading to rows and nastiness. We’ve probably all worked in places like that. I know I have. No names will be given here, but those who know will know.

At the other end of Deptford High Street was the pub where Squeeze once played on the roof, doing their own take on the Beatles’ roof-top performance. Opposite the office was a yard controlled by a rough-diamond type who would let you park there for a weekly fee. I forget the sum but do easily recall the car: my orange MG Midget, a costly treasure when it needed a new engine. What a long time ago it all now seems.

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