Scotland isn’t a country usually associated with overt displays of emotion. Taciturn grit is the de fault setting for myself, and my fellow Scots.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted that she ‘could have cried’ when shown images of thirsty drinkers lining up to get served in boozers across Aberdeen.
Now the pubs in the city have all been forcibly closed and the tears, if any, are most likely emanating from landlords today, once again deprived of their customers.
What’s particularly striking is the sheer number of venues in the city that NHS Grampian listed as having been visited by people linked to this new Covid cluster.
The Howff, The Justice Mill, The Marine Hotel, McGinty’s, McNasty’s, Malmaison, Moonfish Café, No.10 Bar, O'Donoghues, Old Bank Bar, Prohibition, Soul, Spider’s Web, The Draft Project... The list goes on and on and on.
Clearly, many of the good drinkers of Aberdeen chose this week to partake in that long standing British tradition of the pub crawl, an age-old pastime that could now become extinct.
It’s a rite of passage for many young drinkers; a random, incoherent group swagger through half a dozen boozers in the course of a night where, come 11pm, less than half of the original group should remain, someone should have lost their phone, at least two people should have had an argument about whose round it is and everyone is united in their desire for an immediate half kilo serving of chips and kebab meat in a polystyrene tray next to an over-burdened mini-cab office.
I remember small parts of my own very first pub crawl. I was 16 and the memories have the jump-cut blurriness of a VHS home video. A Jaeger bomb shot with a German tourist. A dancefloor that started wobbling. A snog with a girl who smelt of candy floss. A rising feeling of nausea. Waking up on my friends sofa with no memory of what happened to one of my shoes. Happy days indeed.
The pub crawl seems like a good idea because we Brits are, at heart, rootless creatures. Our long history of invasion, expansion and highly dubious colonialism suggests that, much as we may dream of the fireside hearth of home, we’re perhaps not as tied to that Albion ideal of ‘the local’, with its friendly landlord and personalised tankard, as we might think.
Beer engenders a desire to see new places, have new experiences, drink strange brews and, almost certainly, take the wrong night bus home to a far-flung suburb at 2am.
Alcohol, as we all know, is the great lubricant that rids us Brits of our instinctive (when sober) awkwardness and shyness in social situations. The pub crawl is the drinkers equivalent of a pop star going on tour for the very first time.
The more locations we enter, the more our confidence grows. The concomitant drinking along the way gives us (or, at least, we like to think it gives us) the kind of social elan that enables us to talk to strangers, chat up people we fancy, become more articulate with our anecdotes and engage in social largesse by being the one to ‘get this lot in’ without worrying about who paid for the peanuts in the last pub.
No longer. Our ‘on tour’ drinking nights are endangered.
Because how can the pub crawl withstand the restrictions of Covid? What with the demand to book your pub table in advance, the dangers of overly enthusiastic social mingling and the high probability of losing your face mask somewhere between staggering from the Nags Head to the Red Lion, the crawl no longer seems sustainable.
We may be safer for being confined to our local pub barracks. But the loss of our boozy wanderlust leaves me feeling sad at the end of a pointless, drunken yet strangely noble tradition. Even if I’m now far more likely to wake up still in ownership of both of my shoes.