IF one could bottle nostalgia, it would taste like this. The abrupt call to times past was sounded in a few pars in the Financial Times as I completed my Saturday morning exercise with a full Scottish and a keek at the world of business.

This scrutiny of the markets is made in the same spirit as those game shows that tell the losing contestants what they might have won. It can, though, produce much of interest.

My eye alighted – the other one was guarding against any potential theft of my tattle scone – on a brief account of Australian miners threatening strike action against their employers. The matter of dispute was how much, or little, they could drink when working in remote mines. The company limit was two pints a day.

This cocktail of union disputes and drink carried me back to the 1970s (and beyond) when newspapers were bedevilled by the former and drenched in the latter. Both have disappeared from newspapers, and most workplaces, in the millennium.

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The consumption of drink was heroic in scale if regularly calamitous in consequence. It is difficult to convey now a genuine sense of the ubiquity of drink and drunks in that era. I am not pointing a finger, for in doing so four would be pointing at me, but a couple of observations may serve to indicate the way we were.

There is a hesitation in all of this because, first, a mate is compiling a history of a particular, celebrated newspaper pub and one doesn’t want to nick his best tales, but there are more than enough to go round.

Second, there is laughter in drink but in newspapers it could be the soundtrack to impending doom much in the same style as the theme music to Jaws. Drink lubricated the throat, initially eased the nerves, gave a feeling of bravado in the face of chronicling tragedies but ultimately took its toll on the imbibers.

The haven for refuelling for this paper back in the last century was a shoap called McEntee’s, Tom’s or the Press Bar. Its original licence holder was Tom McEntee and it was subsequently administered by his sons, grandsons and granddaughters.They ran the perfect pub.

It was, back in the day, as lucrative as the Mr Whippy concession in the Sahara desert. It had a tick book. To the uninitiated, this book chronicled the precise credit which had been accepted by punters. In the 1970s it was conservatively judged as more valuable than the Book of Kells.

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The second illustrative observation would be to tell the story of one my cohorts on the subbing desk. He regularly cashed cheques in the bar, made out to T McEntee. Such was the regularity of these transactions that he was once called for a personal interview with his bank manager who asked him with some concern: “Who is T McEntee and why is he blackmailing you?”

The presence of strong unions undoubtedly played a part in the existence and weary acceptance, by management, of this way of life. There is a narrative now that these working practices led to the financial problems that beset papers. They did not. They were not big, they were not particularly smart but newspapers in their physical form were battered by the internet, not drink or drinkers.

The unions, too, held a power that was devastating. There were a variety of unions in the building and the non co-operation of just one could mean that no newspaper was produced while salaries had to be paid in full to the other union members.

It led to a wary appreciation of the management of the rights of the worker and it produced excellent conditions and salaries.

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This all stumbled along nicely and mostly lucratively for employer and employee until Wapping in 1986 when unions were crushed by Rupert Murdoch. The print unions went the way of the Allied Association of Mammoth Shearers. Other unions were reduced to mere conduits for grievance but with little power.

This has left the 21st century world of media in an ironic spot. Drinking at work is negligible. So it is much more healthy. But stress in all industries in the 21st century is high because of the reality of job insecurity, constant change and a succession of UK governments that have legislated against workers’ rights.

The one measurable certainty is that journalists, at least, are living longer. At a dinner party in the 1970s, I encountered an actuary. It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

But when I mentioned I had no idea about my possible pension, he replied blithely that it did not matter because I would not live to pick it up. He was in no danger of being mistaken for Billy Connolly on Parkinson.

He was wrong, though. I parked the bevvy and survived – just – the computer revolution.

A new generation in the media is now battling to make it all work. I look at them from a slight distance and admire their discipline, their work-rate, their talent. An old pinko, I genuinely ache for the era of the union guy or gal who protected us in extremis or even in the drunk tank.

There is no such warmth, though, for the bevvy culture. It had its laughs but these are now expressed with a sense of guilt and an enforced cheeriness that carries the cold acceptance of friends lost long before their time.

Still, in the spirit of international comradeship, I raise a glass to the miners of Australia and wish them success. Forgive me if it only contains soda with just the hint of lime.

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