Great Britain

Going by Michael Gove’s advice, coronavirus knocks off at 10pm and won’t follow us home for the after-party

That Michael Gove really knows how to party doesn’t he? He has given official sanction to groups of friends getting bevied up at the pub before it shuts at 10pm, and then everyone piling back to continue the session at someone’s else’s place. Presumably until dawn or until they are exhausted from their bacchanalian excitements. At least being “encouraged” to work from home means you can cut out any painfully hungover commuting, and Zoom can be very forgiving, after all. 

Of course the virus doesn’t knock off at 10pm, and the longer you hang out with anyone the more chance you have of getting infected, whether you’re out on the lash or not. After about midnight the rules on social distancing will get steadily more blurry and you won’t be able to remember what Chris Whitty said about taking risks with other people’s lives.  

The Covid Alert Levels will start spinning around the room, your mask will fall off and you’ll be swinging your way to a couple of weeks on a ventilator. So it’s probably, on balance, probably not a good idea to get pissed on a pandemic. Drink and doing the right thing don’t generally mix well, and the police and ambulance crews will have better things to do than pick up pub crawling lushes.

It is a strange thing, liberty and how we come to feel entitled to it. Boozing used to be a much more restricted affair. It is only a few years (well it feels it - 2005 in fact) since pub licensing hours were liberalised and all-day boozing was legalised. Tony Blair, bless him, thought that the reform would lead to a more continental style “cafe culture”, with less binge drinking and violence breaking out on the streets around closing times. I think we all know what happened to that dream. 

For those who just wanted to get sozzled at home it was a rather more expensive affair than it is now with the bargain booze stores and the supermarkets treating beers, wines and spirits as loss-leaders. In short, it has never been easier or cheaper to become an alcoholic in Britain, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thing in the best of times.  

But before that great experiment (which coincided with the tragic decline of our great pub culture), the pubs would be shut all morning, most of the afternoon, and would be shouting last orders before 10.30 or 11pm.  

The regulations were a leftover from the Great War and the need to keep the workers sober, but they had the effect of breaking up the drinking day, for the greater public good. All that the government is proposing to do now is to lop an hour off the end of licensed hours; if you’re really determined to have a skinfull then you can just turn up an hour earlier, possibly with Michael Gove and Sarah Vine, before adjourning to their comfortable home for more critiques of Corbynism, say, gossip about Boris and generally well mannered bants. It’d be a great night out but don’t forget to keep your mask on.  

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