As the commissioner drives me back to the train station in the dawn, he asks why we can’t drink like the continentals: a glass of wine with some tapas in a cafe, all ages together; a glass of beer, an aperitif, then the passeggiata, dressing up smartly. Why can’t we change the culture? I look at him and keep my mouth shut. At the station a fox trots down the line, a drunk is sprawled over a bench. “Why don’t we drink like the Greeks or the Italians?”
Really? Because we have a choice, that’s why. Because we’re from the north, from the cold, from the drizzle, from the place where the moon drives us nuts. Who would want to drink like an Italian granny? Sip wine with a raised pinky, chew a carrot, when you could be out there with all your mates, people you fancy, people you don’t, people you shag, people you wanted to. You can go mad, get totally muntered. You can let go. Why have a polite chat when you can have a legend? When you can weave a myth that will last you all week, that will stay with you for ever? Why would you want to ponce about in the grottoes of Dionysus when you can get trollied in the mead halls of Valhalla? This is who we are, this is what we do — or what I did.
I don’t miss drink, ever. Being an alcoholic is not the same as being drunk. But I look at these kids in this thin, worn-out, underprivileged, unlovable corner of England and I think: how brilliant that they can still get out and manufacture this much enthusiasm, fun and mad entertainment, this much togetherness and community and hope out of so little, such meagre education, so few jobs and prospects. The drink, drugs and music are not just their culture, they’re their achievement.