Class conscious - Andrew Martin can't drink enough at the pub

Take away the pub and you're left with middle-class activities like Italian classes

I went to the doctor and the subject of drinking came up. "How much do you drink?" he asked, and I gave a figure for the number of units. There was then a pause as he mentally doubled the figure and I - being in on the absolute truth - mentally tripled it.

In order to prevent him from barking out, "You're lying, aren't you?" I asked: "How much should I be drinking?" "Two units a day," he brutally replied, and I have decided to give it a go for a while.

Clearly, I will have to cut out the pub. Two units equals one pint so, as far as I can see, the medical profession is saying, in effect, that pubs ought not to exist, because nobody goes to one to drink so little. Well, they do if they're particularly genteel.

The other day I saw a man I know to be an optician walk into one of my various locals (I suppose that plural is quite telling). I'd never seen him in a pub before, but then it struck me that he was soaking wet. He'd come in to get out of the rain. He shook his umbrella out near the door, and you could see it dawning on him that he was obliged to buy a drink. He moved towards the bar, but he had no bar skills. He was like a learner driver trying to pull out of a side road in London.

I drink less than about 50 per cent of my friends - but perhaps that says something about my friends. I don't think I'm known as a heavy drinker but I am known as a pub man, and I pride myself that it takes me out of the middle-class mainstream. Stay-at-home wine drinkers come to me for information about pubs - my accountant's friend, for example, who wanted to find a party venue a while back.

In essence, I socialise like any coal miner. There are three poles in my life: family, work and the pub, with the order of precedence varying from month to month.

If my close friends ring up, we speak for five minutes, most of that time being given over to arranging where to go for a drink in order to have a proper chat.

I have a second order of friends, people I don't see quite as regularly, and who think that the purpose of a telephone call is to say everything you wanted to say, rather than setting the parameters of a conversation to be pursued on licensed premises.

Women are like this. If I block them - because I hate talking on the phone - and suggest a pub meeting, they get to grips with the idea very slowly: "Ah, the pub . . . Interesting idea . . . Do you know any particularly good ones? And would we eat before or after . . . ?"

Without the pub I will be thrown back on the sort of middle-class evening activities pursued by my wife. She goes to an Italian class on Wednesdays; she often goes for walks before dinner, and these walks have strange, fascinatingly innocent purposes. She might go and look at a nice front garden she's spotted, for instance, or she might post a letter. It is widely accepted, surely, that "I'm going to post a letter" means: "I'm off to the pub." Not in my wife's case.

My relationship with pubs was deteriorating anyway. I have watched my favourite barmaids become matronly, to put it politely; and they have, no doubt, chronicled an equivalent process in me. I have increasingly found myself applying middle-class criteria: I am now intolerant of standing in pubs, of being jostled.

I have recently confined myself to only the most civilised pubs serving real ale, where the clientele tends to be schoolteachers smoking roll-ups and wearing those fly-fishing waistcoats associated with the late Willie Rushton, and where, if you say "excuse me", a brisk "certainly" is the reassuring but somehow stultifying response.

The long social experiment of my pub-going career is over.

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