If they awarded trophies

for being out of your cups,

Alan Bold and many of

his cronies would have

had to reinforce their

sideboards. But, he

laments, the art of

drinking has in recent

years given way to the

business of boozing in too

many of our hostelries

BOOZERS, at their best, are not only lit up by the effects of alcohol

but also illuminated by an ideal -- that there is glorious life before

grim death. A well-known joke asks: is life worth living? And it

answers: it all depends on the liver. An unknown Jock asks the same

question and answers affirmatively when under the influence. He thinks,

under the influence, he figures in a great tradition and, in doing so,

helps create a culture.

Proof of our traditional participation in an alcoholic culture is the

way we refer to heavy drinkers as heroic figures. Someone will say of

some colossal boozer -- some colossus of the boozing fraternity -- that

he (never she) can ''really bevy'' or ''sink some'' or ''drink Tam,

Jock, and Harry under the table''. Some boy.

I've never heard anyone praised as a bit of a lad because he can

swallow more orange juice than anyone else, or sink more cups of tea

than his neighbour, or knock back the Bovril. But strong drink is a

special case -- a popular oral culture at its most potent. So the hero

who does daily battle with the bottle is not only a liquid legend in his

lunchtime but an important folkloric figure. The kind of man of whom

epic tales are told by folk creative in their cups.

This man need not be distinguished in any other field but the floor of

the pub. When I moved to rural Fife, in 1975, I swiftly confronted two

prominent features of the place. First, the concept of pub closing time

did not exist and pubs stayed open until the barman collapsed. Second,

the oral culture honoured otherwise unsung heroes. They were folk who

lived in hope however awful the circumstances of their separate


You'd be told about the butcher who drank his profits and ended up,

doubtless with very little liver, climbing the hills (rather than

climbing the walls) with his hip-flask -- ''some boy''. Or the baker who

breakfasted on grain whisky (Old Cameron, very popular in Fife) and died

skint but contented with a skinful -- ''some boy''. I never heard what

happened to the candlestick-maker but I was not collecting folk tales

and may have missed some as I sometimes closed my ears to the talk of

the steaming and just surveyed the various types of tippler.

In Pierce Penniless, Thomas Nashe identified eight types of drunks:

Ape drunk (boisterous), Lion drunk (aggressive), Swine drunk

(lethargic), Sheep drunk (stupid), Maudlin drunk (sentimental), Martin

drunk (morose), Goat drunk (lecherous), Fox drunk (crafty). In rural

areas the most creative type is the fifth -- the Sobbing Soak. Wattie

Scott described the type well in Rob Roy in the person of Andrew

Fairservice -- ''the tears of joy which he shed had certainly their

source in that noble fountain of emotion, the tankard''. The type is

today only rarely found alive and well and wailing in rural Scotland as

rural Scotland is being systematically ruined.

I take the Sobbing Soak to be truly representative of creative folk,

because he goes imaginatively for a totally liquid emotional experience.

He is happiest when his permanently parched lips are soaked with spirit

and his eyes are streaming as he looks back in admiration at old soaks

who found their souls. Tears trickling down his cheeks and into his

glass, he pours out his heart as he pours down his favourite poison.

Every time he opens his mouth he contributes to the oral culture of the

country. Spending time with Sobbing Soaks was a novel experience for me

as an incomer and townee.

I came from Edinburgh where the oral culture of alcohol developed into

a literary culture of sophisticated cheers more than soulful tears. The

city culture flourished most impressively not around the university

(where claret-loving Hume and boozy Boswell and bit-of-a-lad Stevenson

had been before me), but in Rose Street, Edinburgh's amber mile of pubs.

The first pub pint I ever had, and I treasure the memory of it, was

with the great John Ogdon in Paddy's Bar in Rose Street. I was under-age

at the time but nobody noticed and as Ogdon tapped his powerful

piano-playing fingers on a table he talked of Scottish literary figures

of the past and present and hoped some of the latest lot would pop in

for a pint or whatever. In my alcoholic innocence I was unable to tell

Ogdon we were in the wrong pub for that. While in theory the literary

lions roamed along the whole length of Rose Street, in practice they

were rarely able to stagger past Milne's Bar after starting off at the

Abbotsford end.

Having learned my lesson from being in the wrong bar, I subsequently

graduated to the Abbotsford, where I frequently met Sydney Goodsir

Smith, a highly cultured boozing crony who wanted to succeed Burns's

hero Robert Fergusson as the boozy bard of Edinburgh. Sydney definitely

succeeded in becoming the talk of the steaming -- most literary folk

have heard of the time he leaned on a counter, ordered some of the hard

stuff, and discovered he was in a bank not a bar. A true colossus of the

boozing fraternity, he made the most of his liquid assets and imbibed


Another story of El Syd. One night we drank together and he headed

homewards, forgetting to pick up some papers he had placed under the

table he regularly drank others under. When I noticed them -- the

papers, not the fallen few -- I noted they were proofs of an anthology

of Burns's poems and songs so took them home for safekeeping and phoned

El Syd the Morning After to tell him the tale. Relieved, he asked me to

join him for a celebration at opening time. I duly turned up and he

began the session with his favourite restorative, a quick blast of

angostura bitters. He knocked this back with such gusto that the force

of the movement knocked him backwards on his back. Poet in motion.

Having mentioned Burns -- who certainly roamed Rose Street as the

literary lion of Edinburgh and lamented ''the fate of my poor namesake,

Mademoiselle Burns'', namely a madam ejected from Rose Street -- I

should also mention how much I deplore the way dogmatic Burnsians deny

that the Bard was a colossus of the boozing fraternity (''never the

dram-drinker'', said Chambers, ''never a drunkard'', said Snyder) though

all the epistolary and poetic evidence shows that Burns, of whom more in

a moment, did more than his fair bit of boozing.

Just off Rose Street in Hanover (should have been Hangover?) Street, I

regularly met Hugh MacDiarmid, Scotland's greatest poet since Burns, in

Milne's. MacDiarmid named Milne's his favourite howff and he haunted it

on Saturdays. His most memorable hero -- immortalised in Montrose -- was

a Drunk Man who dreamed of boozing with Burns. He could also have

studied under the imaginative influence of Boswell, whose boozing is a

worthy topic for some postgraduate thesis.

MacDiarmid's boozing is likewise worth pursuing by some scholar. In a

classic essay on the subject he, once a regular at the Curlers in

Glasgow, wrote: ''The majority of Glasgow pubs are for connoisseurs of

the morose, for those who relish the element of degradation in all

boozing and do not wish to have it eliminated by the introduction of

music, modernistic fitments, arty effects, or other extraneous devices


He was only joking in including himself in such company, for

MacDiarmid was never morose under the influence. For him the serious

business of drinking was a feast of fun which ended with everyone

collapsing with laughter as much as liquor. No wonder he loved Milne's

when he moved from Glasgow to within drinking distance of Edinburgh.

Milne's meant keeping creative company.

Milne's attracted cultured folk keen to satisfy their desire for

exhausting emotions. In Milne's I met W. H. Auden, in his slippers and

in his cups, and up in Edinburgh for the Festival and sitting alongside

a Stevie Smith neither waving nor drowning in drink. It was a creative

kind of howff which is why it is celebrated in poems by regulars like

Norman MacCaig and in Alasdair Gray's novel, 1982 Janine: ''The bar was

crowded except where three men stood in a small open space created by

the attention of the other customers. One had a sombre pouchy face and

upstanding hair which seemed too like thistledown to be natural, one

looked like a tall sarcastic lizard, one like a small sly shy bear.''

MacDiarmid, MacCaig, and El Syd.

Milne's served, in the 1960s, as the cultural centre of the city. I

remember a night there with Indian poet Dom Moraes which ended with me

helping him stagger happily to his sleeper in Waverley Station. I

remember an enjoyable afternoon with Eileen O'Casey, widow of the

dramatist. I remember a session with a daughter of her father who had, a

plausible story goes, downed drinks in Milne's. Looking back on Milne's,

from where I now live across the Forth in Fife, is to look back in

appreciation at an authentically emotional and educational experience.

A most enthusiastically imaginative boozer I met in Milne's was my old

mate John Bellany, a Port Seton man and so soaked in folklore before

going on his quest for culture. Although he later suffered physically

for his insobriety he had great metaphysical sessions in his days and

nights way back when. ''Those Were the Days'', in the words of one of

Bellany's favourite songs about a tavern, ''where we'd go to raise a

glass or two (and) think of all the great things we would do''. Any

student of Bellany's paintings will know how much he favours the

triptych format. He always saw things in threes and when swallowing

spirits always called for a treble. He did nothing by halves.

One fine time I saw Bellany in boozy emotional motion as in the Horse

Shoe in Glasgow in 1979. I met him there with John Fowler and Clare

Henry of The Herald and they were astonished at the exuberance of his

intoxication. Eventually, the two Herald angels left on business and

Bellany and I were left to our booziness. He drank and drew a day away,

making a marvellous exhibition of himself, and I have a drawing on my

wall to drink to that occasion. Culturally, booze had few champions like

the Bellany of old.

To return to champion Burns -- he is the supreme poet of the people

because he celebrates the folkloric figure in a literary style that goes

beyond their wildest dreams and nightmares. Tam o'Shanter is a

magnificent alcoholic odyssey whose hero prepares himself for his

journey by knocking back something as sweet as nectar -- ''reaming

swats, that drank divinely''. He is ''glorious'' as he sets out and

Burns sets his situation in a divine couplet that combines folklore with

conventional wisdom and literary cunning: ''Wi' tippeny, we fear nae

evil;/Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!'' And Tam does face the devil

and, by using his imagination, gets the better of him.

Admittedly, Burns made social blunders in his cups and excused his

behaviour to a lady he had offended by suggesting ''an intoxicated man

is the vilest of beasts''. But that was the Morning After, and the Night

Before he was able to escape inventively from the clutches of the unco

guid. It is the perception of Burns as a man and poet who surpassed his

circumstances that makes him a hero to do many. The same goes for Dylan

Thomas, an epic drinker who boasted, so the liquid legend goes: ''I've

had 18 straight whiskies, I think that's the record'' before drifting

towards his death. Rhymer Rab Burns and Dylan Thomas the Rhymer are both

regarded with affection by folk who never met them but know the type.

Both bards were technically bout alcoholics, men who produced their

best stuff in sober sessions between bouts. Wordsworth thought that

poetry originated in ''emotion recollected in tranquillity'' -- for

Burns and Thomas it was emotion recollected in guilt-edged insecurity,

hence the intensity of their work. Beyond the bout alcoholic problem,

both men found their salvation as Alcoholists who had a positively

creative approach to drinking.

I have long believed that Alcoholism is one of the great cultural

-isms, more fundamental than Expressionism or Impressionism or whatever.

Plastered in Paris or legless in London or glassy-eyed in Glasgow, the

Alcoholist makes a meaningful exhibition of himself. The Alcoholist in

action reveals openly the positive side of what negative non-drinkers

denounce as a Faustian pact with the Demon Drink.

The Alcoholist enjoys being exhaustively emotional and that is the way

to drink -- ''good strong positive drinking'' as Eric and Ernie so

wisely used to sing. I don't think it is just because I've inevitably

aged since the old days that I can no longer guarantee a gloriously

creative time behind bars. I know of no authentically creative pubs in

contemporary Scotland since all the boozers seem more intent on

crashingly boring business than cultural pleasure. They do deals over

drinks, they have working rather than spirited liquid lunches. In our

market economy almost every place is a market and modern Scottish pubs

are betraying oral and literary traditions.

Let's get back to positively creative tippling. Let's get back to the

spirit of the auld alliance between art and alcohol. We do not need to

be parochial about it, but can take inspiration from a prose poem (''Get

Drunk'') by Baudelaire which I give in my own translation:

''Always be drunk. That is all: it is the question. You want to stop

Time crushing your shoulders, bending you double, so get drunk --

militantly. How? Use wine, poetry, or virtue, use your imagination. Just

get drunk. And if occasionally, on the steps of a palace, a grassy

ditch, in the bleak loneliness of your room, you come to, your

drunkenness diminished or gone, ask wind, wave, star, bird, clock,

everything that turns, that sings, that speaks, and ask the time; and

wind, wave, star, bird, clock will reply: 'Time to get drunk!' Rather

than be the martyred slave of Time, get drunk perpetually! Use wine,

poetry, or virtue, use your imagination.''

That's the way to do it. Use your imagination.

The last time I had an uplifting experience when under the influence

was, significantly, outside Scotland and with folk heroes of athletic

culture as they were also fine artists in their field. After attending a

London literary party at Christmas I returned to the Waldorf Hotel,

where I was staying, and spotted Ronnie Simpson, goalkeeping Lisbon Lion

of Celtic's legendary victory over Inter Milan in the European Cup Final

of 1967, at the cocktail bar. I introduced myself to Ronnie who then

introduced me to his friend Gordon Banks -- goalkeeping hero of

England's legendary victory over Germany in the World Cup of 1966. We

were well met by barlight because they were illuminated by an old ideal

of glorious life before grim death.

Awed, I told the two goalies how honoured I was to meet them but did

not mention that I had once been a goalie myself -- for Artists United

(an oxymoron except under the influence) in the 1960s, a team that

played in the Edinburgh Thursday League (amateurs all) and whose

greatest triumph was in a ''friendly'' invitation match against visitors

BP (British Petroleum) Tankers of Leeds (a city then synonymous with

quality football), two-nil for Artists United. I was, after all, only a

casual goalie but, as the great goalies noticed, a dedicated defender of

the cause of a positive alcoholic culture -- convinced that positive

drinking is not in the glass but all in the mind.

Boozers may be losers financially -- cash is the curse of the drinking

classes as there is too high a price to pay for such pleasure -- but

they can also find themselves spiritually behind bars given a cultured

and emotional environment.