The snowball effect

Drink - Victoria Moore finds there's no such thing as equality when it comes to buying a drink

Equality used to be such a hoola-hoola war-cry word. Now, for women although not for men, it just is. In the western world at least, a lady can do just about anything she wants, particularly when it comes to alcohol. Ladies may, if they wish, peruse the wine list in an old-fashioned sort of restaurant without the sommelier so much as arching his brow. When the wine comes, it will, if the lady has selected it, be offered to her to taste. Equally, she may go to the pub and "get the pints in" with her ladette friends without the landlord wondering what this trouser-wearing generation could possibly be up to, and without the regulars shaking their dandruff into their glasses. And she may order champagne and cocktails, even absinthe if she pleases, until dawn finds her embracing a marble pillar while her friends call her a cab home.

Not only can she do all these things, but the consumption of hard liquor adds a certain frisson, an edge of hard-boiled, cigar-toting glamour, to her feminine charms. In fact, there is only one thing that a lady must not do on licensed premises, and that is order a Snowball. Recently, one of my friends (a man) tried to do so in a pub called The Union in Chester, gesturing towards his girlfriend in the corner. The landlord told him straight out that he wouldn't give him a Snowball because it is "a tart's drink". How the mighty have fallen! In the Seventies, the Snowball seemed to be practically a national drink. Now it is a fossil, and I don't even know how to make one. So, with dissolute resolve, I looked up a recipe in my well-thumbed copy of Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails, which claimed that a Snowball is made from gin, creme de menthe, anisette and cream. Quite obviously, this Harry's Bar recipe was too sophisticated to be the real thing, so I rang a pub in Yorkshire which told me that it's actually made from advocaat (a very nasty sort of Dutch liqueur made with eggs), double the amount of lemonade and a dash of lime juice.

But, you see, there is something I did not mention. My friend was not, in fact, ordering the Snowball for his girlfriend; it was for him. But, while a lady may be seen to drink whatever she pleases (with, we now know, the exception of a Snowball), a man may not. There are certain drinks that, however fashionable they may be, are for men the transvestitism of drinking.

These are the rules: a man may drink shots, beer or straight spirits without fear of embarrassment. He must think twice before ordering wine in a traditional pub. As far as cocktails go, he can stick to those classic Hollywood ones sanctioned by macho icons such as James Bond and Humphrey Bogart (martinis, manhattans, whiskey sours), but must on no account order anything that is prettily coloured or comes in a silly glass. This has caused several of my male friends (who, for fear of being seen as big girl's blouses, have often denied themselves the pleasure of a fresh banana or strawberry daiquiri) great distress. Because men are not supposed to trouble themselves with the indulgent details of frothy, pastel-coloured cocktails, nor do they wish to stand around while a barman makes a great spectacle of wielding a shiny shaker. Their gender stereotype still requires them to order either something very stiff, or a long, swift (just think what trouble Guinness goes to in persuading people that it's OK to have to wait for a pint to be pulled) drink to slake their thirst. Poor, deprived petals. One day, perhaps, some gutsy masculinist will chain himself to the railings at the end of Downing Street and refuse to move until the entire British rugby team, the Cabinet and Cary Grant (who wore a nightie in Bringing Up Baby and still looked sexy) line up and allow him to dispense raspberry daiquiris for their delectation. Until then, men will just have to follow the example of one of my colleagues who says he hovers around the corpses of parties for the opportunity to indulge - "mix what you like; people think you're just desperate for the alcohol". And desperation, after all, is perfectly acceptable.

This article first appeared in the 31 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why Tony Blair is a Bobo