The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Things I Have Learned

Robert Lloyd Of The Nightingales On Solitary Drinking
Luke Turner , March 10th, 2009 05:15

Long serving punk/alternative rock volunteer Rob Lloyd reflects on the benefits (that most won't have yet considered) of drinking on one's own. The Quietus suggests caution.

Right or wrong - weak or strong

... I'll be what I am, a solitary man. It's not that I'm absolutely friendless, it's just that nobody regularly keeps in touch with me or I with them, so oftentimes I find myself drinking alone. However, I have no qualms about this and anyway have done so quite consistantly throughout my life by choice. There's no real art to solitary drinking but in my opinion, unless you are simply one of those people that struggles in your own company, there are plenty pluses to be gained from imbibing on your Jones.

Decisions, decisions

The basic choice for the solo drinker is whether to booze at home or in a bar. I know that some hardcore singular drunks - let alone the pedantic lone lush - discount the pub option as either defeating the object or just some sort of cop out. But for me, depending on circumstances, both choices have something going for them and anyway sometimes, when travelling for example, you have no choice.

Anyway, once the intended location is sorted the next decision – what to drink - is relatively simple. For the private session you'll definitely be looking at spirits – whisky is my personal tipple of choice - but you must be sure you have quantity enough in stock to last for beyond the surmised, but not definitive, duration. Otherwise your binge could be cut short in its prime. So do think ahead, and the same applies for your cigarettes of course.

In the UK, expensive shots in short measures mean beer is generally your pub session drink, though the odd chaser is an obvious addition. Abroad, if you're lucky, hard liquor is a more realistic option but nonetheless can still prove costly and far less time consuming than beer, so the number one route is the same as the UK - beer - but with a more chasers to pints ratio.

Indeed, funds allowing, you can totally ad lib in the bar and the biggest decision to make is finding a suitable watering hole for your drinking intentions. You have to weigh up the number of other punters, whether there is unwanted music and is the Guinness any cop? Is the putrid excitement around the gaming macine, pool table or fussball gonna be a headache? Blah blah.

To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature

So when the place and the beverages have been chosen you're rocking, right? Well if you are 'improvising' yeah, but chances are you will have a specific goal in mind for the session ahead. Easily the number one reward on offer is the chance to sit down with your self and listen and learn. It will, of course, be an indiscriminate experience, far less predictable and quite probably far more upsetting than a social piss up, but the bottom line is that the real you is not going to go away (ever) and getting to know it is one of life's more enlightening and beautiful things, despite the potential danger and certain disappointment. But when did you last get to communicate with anyone who was no holds barred, 100% brutally honest and utterly consumed by your make up? Never, right?

The boozing with your self session can be done in the right bar but is just so much more intense home alone.

Whisky is the key that sets the monkey free

Of course, I don't think that a person needs alcohol to have imagination, far from it. But for me... I know that some of the better things I think and daft ideas I come up with would almost certainly not enter my head outside of a lonesome drinking stint. True I can, and do, have madcap ideas in the rare company of piss artist pals and I also do not lack for brainwaves when alone and dry. However, my wildest schemes and deepest awake dreams usually occur while on a solo session and it is certainly not just the juice but the whole enforced situation.

I'm free, to do what I want, any old time

A splendid opening for self-expression exists in the comfort of the private lone drinking session. With only the booze for company you can, and will, behave exactly how you want to. Weeping, talking aloud to yourself, screaming at the world, dancing shit and so much more stuff that you most probably would feel inhibited about in a social environment are perfectly acceptable in front of your pal the bottle.

Once more it is true that you do not, or should not need liquor to encourage such behaviour in the privacy of your own home or hotel room. But, if you are a drinker to begin with, you will hear this sweet, liberating but socially infrequent calling louder and stronger, with a few inside you.

Being able to lose it with nobody else knowing or caring is a fundamentally good and useful thing.

'Must Get Myself A Box Of Matches' was a song made famous by Frank Sinatra

. . . a line from one of my a cappella numbers, 'Only My Opinion'. It is one of many song lines that I've unashamedly nicked from conversations I've overheard in bars whilst quaffing on my lonesome. I never set out to go eavesdropping but obviously when no one is talking at you you do get to hear the conversations going on between other drinkers. I tend to like colourful pubs anyway so most often there are fruity characters with plenty to say and no care who hears them say it.

By the by, having used the line anyway in my song I did later figure out that the fella that said the Sinatra thing was actually just a little confused and was thinking of a line from Nancy's 'These Boots Are Made For Walking'.

Won't You Leave Me Alone Please?

... is a line from 'It's Just That Song' by the great Charlie Feathers. It's a superb, sad, insular drinking song and one of my real faves.

It reminds me of the sudden melancholy that can creep in during an unaccompanied drinking bout. Some folk will scoff at melancholy or see it as a kind of self pitying sentiment, others may even doubt its validity altogether but for me it is a very simple fact of life and, particularly when at home, I dig the fact that on a lone bender you can actually deeply understand and enjoy your melancholia without inflicting it on others.

It's the time that every Santa has a ball

I have spent a number of Christmases on my own and it's a weird to-do, both liberating and pensive. I'm not religious nor particularly bothered about the whole Christmas thing but I'd be lying if I said that the period leading up to a new year does not affect me, and yeah I know that dates are just dates and all but I'm a sucker for a perceived fresh start and... well, I yam what I yam.

Anyway, the recommended Christmas Day boozing pattern is a small snifter after you've washed and dressed, then the pub for their truncated lunchtime session, before a laid back whiskey soaked introspective afternoon and evening at home. The pub can be a bit frightful if you do not chose your venue wisely but I do like to see bunches of strangers in good spirits and new clothes. And lot of decent boozers will give you your first swallow free too. The afternoon I find is good for listening to music. Maybe some good uptempo hillbilly stuff and rock 'n' roll to kick off, with a move to mellower stuff as the time passes – obviously the choice is yours. Recent history has taught me that 'Mysteries' by Beth Gibbons is my favourite Christmas day song and Dame Janet Baker singing Mahler rocks my yuletide too.

The Lives Of Others

An occasional, and admittedly not always welcome, occurrence when on a supposedly solitary session in a bar is that you find yourself as the place's only customer, that there is only one bar worker and, for whatever reason, you strike up a conversation and become buddies for a few hours.In the right frame of mind this can be a really cool thing, even if it does impinge somewhat on the concept of the single-handed swill.

I can recall with fondness time spent in the company of a bar woman in Frankfurt, where we smoked together and communicated reasonably well despite neither of us really understanding the other one's language. We both laughed and had an unexpected good time, which has got to be good.

I spent a long afternoon some place in Brooklyn where the barmaid was very interested in me, which was a pleasant change. On the other hand I've had several sessions in America and India quizzing the bar persons about their lives, which has proved interesting.

And there was a memorable tequila drinking challenge in Mexico but that's another story.

The life of a Christian is like a light bulb

... apparently. You know what they're like, they love a bit of allegory.

Anyway, Christian or not at some stage we all have the odd glimmer of hope and withou fail a few thorns in the flesh. And drinking alone in a bar, certainly in a place such as England, with less than pro-active bar staff, has many minor irritations to get used to.

Go to the bar, go for a piss or outside for a smoke and, if the place is relatively busy, there's a distinct possibility that you will lose your seat, which can be a drag.

Go to watch football, boxing or horse racing maybe and the unavoidable eavesdropping can backfire on you as you hear any amount of ignorant, or bogus, shit being spouted by dunce sports fans.

Go to one place often enough and a member of staff or regular customer will most likely try to befriend you, or just prove to be nosey.

Unfortunately, expect to hear racism, homophobia and other assorted bigotries being voiced and accepted freely in most bars just about anywhere in the World. Anyway, apparently, for the believer, all trials and tribulations must have a divine purpose. So that's alright then.