Whitbread, once renowned for brewing, but now an authority on pizzas, has released the findings of the “most comprehensive study of British drinker behaviour ever undertaken”.
After observing 3,000 drinkers aged 18 to 50 over 18 months, the researchers identified seven distinct types whose drinking techniques were labelled steaming, posing, homing, savouring, brooksiding, breezing and adapting.
The breezer, for instance, is a “confident drinker who believes getting drunk is merely a side effect of a good night out”. The steamer, on the other hand, believes that to get hog-whimpering plastered is what Friday nights are all about. The brooksider, poor fellow, has a swift half after work before rushing home to catch the soaps on TV.
I do not propose to question the purpose of this research, as in all probability there is none, but rather its accuracy. Whitbread’s assertion that its study is the most comprehensive ever undertaken is plainly wrong. Casting aside for a moment the modest stillness and humility for which I am a byword, I alone have observed many thousands of drinkers aged 15 to 90 over more than 30 years and, at the last count, had identified no fewer than 27,820 disparate types.
Whitbread’s methodology is at fault in narrowly categorising people on the basis of their intentions. Thus the poser goes to “trendy city centre bars where bottled beers are the order of the day and the point is more about being seen than about enjoyment”.
That may well be true, but it gets nowhere near to anatomising drinking behaviour because it disregards the effect of the alcohol on the drinker. My research shows there is a marked difference between the man in the street and the man in the pub, even though they are the same man. To step on to licensed premises is to embark on a voyage of self-discovery which, paradoxically, is selfless because it is shared with every other person within earshot.
So, although the poser may enter the trendy city centre bar with the aim of being seen, once he has imbibed a designer-labelled lager or two by the neck, he may abandon his original intention in favour of a more press-ing and hitherto unsuspected priority, such as learning to yodel.
For just as no man is a hero to his valet, nor is he to a barman. Regardless of socio-economic grouping, age, and, increasingly, gender, many thousands of individuals, each with an immortal soul and each so different, become, when seen through the prism of a glass, reducible to one of a few recognisable, homogeneous types.
So, although Whitbread set off in pursuit of the right quarry, it lost the scent and shot wide of the target. There are indeed seven different types of drinker and (here I am at one with Stewart Gilliland, Whitbread’s marketing director) it is not unusual for an individual to exhibit characteristics from each. They are the humorist, the debater, the pugilist, the boaster, the crooner, the orator, and the amnesiac.
Although the humorist has only one joke (usually something like “Marriage is a great institution, but who want to be in an institution?”) he laughs loud and often at anything that is said or done by others in his company. He is the life and soul, but beneath his jester’s exterior lies a deep melancholy, which he displays after the fourth or fifth drink, at which point the others begin to enjoy themselves.
The debater has a questing, curious mind that obliges him to take issue with any statement, however incontrovertible, made by any other person. His method of disputation relies heavily on interruption, repetition, deviation and a cunning refusal to complete a sentence, as in, “Tell you what… Tell you what… no, listen… that’s a complete load of… no, look, listen.”
Sooner or later, the accomplished debater is bound to attract the attention of the pugilist, especially if he (the debater) is big. For the pugilist is usually of below average height; often, though not always, Scottish; and drawn by some primal force to take on the biggest man in the bar. Minutes later, after the pugilist has been ejected from the premises, the street outside echoes to receding, defiant cries of “See you, Jimmy”.
The boaster, of course, would have sorted out the pugilist in short order, had he not been putting on record his triumph over adversary, his skill behind the wheel, his ability to pull, and his gift for solving the more intractable problems presented by DIY. “All you need is a bit of savvy and a basin wrench…”
After a few drinks, the crooner confuses the bar with his bathroom and begins, quietly at first, to demonstrate exactly why the warbling of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Perry Como was deceptively easy. He usually finds himself drinking on his own but is sometimes invited to countervail the debater and the boaster with a few ill-remembered snatches of Volare.
The orator, although similar to the debater, is a solo artist. He speaks on a subject of his own choosing regardless of whatever else might be under discussion and will brook no interruption. He is often called the landlord.
The amnesiac likes the joke about drinking to forget, but forgetting what it was that you were trying to forget, but he can never remember it.
Should a Whitbread researcher walk in, however, all seven categories would be killed in the rush for the exit.