Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - December 1998

* The Cold Light of Day *

The government's annual TV drink-drive campaign has now become as much a Christmas tradition as turkey and mince pies. This year, for a change, perhaps they might consider using the following scenario:

A guy is seen at home getting ready for a big night out. He goes out of the front door, looks at his smart motor in the drive, but walks straight past it, saying "I don't drink and drive. It's not worth the risk." He gets the bus, meets his mates in the pub, and a good time is had by all over numerous pints. Afterwards they go on to have a curry, washed down by a few lagers. He gets a cab home and says "Only nutters drink and drive," his voice by now a trifle slurred. As he goes in through the front door, the clock shows a quarter to two.

Six hours later, he feels a bit rough as he's shaving, but he's still got to get to work. He goes out of the front door, looks at his car, and this time gets in it. While driving to work, a bleary-eyed woman runs into the back of him. A policeman attends the scene, and routinely breathalyses both of them. The accident was her fault, but she's clear. He, on the other hand, is still over the limit from the night before. The last you see of him, his boss is telling him that, unfortunately, no licence means no job.

Every year, something similar happens to thousands of people, many of whom will have had no idea that they might still be running a risk, and may genuinely believe that they never drink and drive at all. It's the most common way in which people unwittingly break this law, and the implications of the slow rate at which the body gets rid of alcohol are not understood anywhere near as widely as they should be. Even so, I don't imagine we'll be seeing an ad on our screens along those lines, as it would be regarded as blurring the message and revealing the issue as a more complex one than the authorities like to pretend.

It also begs the question of exactly how you're expected to know whether you're fit to drive in the morning following an evening in the pub.....

* Drinking With Your Eyes *

From time to time, I have been accused of "drinking with my eyes" when complaining about cloudy beer. What does it matter if it doesn't look quite right, so long as it tastes OK?

It's generally accepted, though, that you enjoy food more if it's attractively presented rather than just dumped on the plate, and I firmly believe that the look of beer in the glass is an integral part of its appeal. Apart from one or two speciality products, real ales - even dark milds - are meant to be crystal clear, and that's what the customer has a right to expect. There are rare occasions when freak atmospheric conditions can turn an otherwise perfectly good barrel of beer a touch hazy. But, by and large, if your pint's cloudy it's a pretty good sign that there's something wrong with it. While some beer buffs of the old school may be willing to give murky beer the benefit of the doubt, they should be under no illusions that ordinary punters, on whose custom real ale depends for survival, are going to be so charitable.

So, I feel entirely justified in "drinking with my eyes" as well as my tastebuds. And if I'm given a pint of beer that looks more like soup, I make no apology for returning it straight away without taking so much as a sip.

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