You feel a momentary jag which starts high on the cheeks before easing to a warm flush about the face. And soon you’re alive to the ripples of women’s laughter around you. As the hours pass this becomes full-throated and lusty and you soon begin to catch snatches of their bawdy anecdotes.

It’s a late Friday afternoon howl, with several features that distinguish it from the merriment of other weekdays. It indicates an early finish perhaps and the start of the weekend. Perhaps it will become a full-on sesh that will end amidst tears and hugs in the taxi rank outside and clutching a steak pie supper from the Blue Lagoon.

We’re in Lauder’s Bar in Glasgow’s city centre, my friend Tam and me, and I’m starting with a Johnny Walker Black Label accompanied by a half pint of Tennent’s. I’d considered a glass of white wine, but if you get fastened on to the Sauvignons this early on a Friday then the weekend will disintegrate into chaos, kebabs and snatched sleep. A hauf and a hauf seems entirely condign in a tavern such as this. When you stand them together, side by side, they seem polite, perjink and considerate.

Few other indulgences can match that of an extended daytime drinking session and Tam needed little persuasion to finish his work early to join me. We’re both at an age when the delights of the daylight sesh are but distant memories. You now require two whole days to recover and you’re mindful that you’ve entered the sniper’s alley of your mortal existence.

“To what do I owe the pleasure,” he asks me. “I’ve to write about traditional pubs and they’re wider importance to the community,” say I. “That’s some f***in job you’ve got,” he says.

Read more from Kevin McKenna: 

Like many West of Scotland men my initiation into the world of adult drinking occurred in pubs like this. Then, they were occupied by quiet men in dark suits or long coats talking quietly and quickly out of the sides of their mouths amidst cigarette smoke about Celtic and Jimmy Reid.

After I’ve drained my first whisky, instinctively I shake the last drops into the half pint of lager. I’m not sure of the purpose of this, or its origins except that I’d seen it done by many men of a certain vintage on those first forays into the adult world.

It was one of several small rites and ceremonials by which you learned how to comport yourself in a pub: only speak when you’re asked to; be respectful of the bar servers (‘one for yourself?’ if you can afford it) and don’t make eye contact with people you don’t know. At all times maintain “the best of order, please”.

In the 1980s my friend and I would occasionally seek refuge in Lauder’s when we’d tired of the faculty scarves and the braying certainty of private school types in the Glasgow University unions. At other times we’d alight at The Hangman’s Rest on Wilson Street or Ocean’s Eleven at the other end of Sauchiehall Street which sold the cheapest pint in the city.    

The Herald: “Lauder’s had a lot of older men. When weeks pass and you haven’t seen them you begin to worry about them”“Lauder’s had a lot of older men. When weeks pass and you haven’t seen them you begin to worry about them”

In Lauder’s, Lyndsay the bartender is talking about the difficulties faced by Lauder’s and other city centre establishments post-Covid. “Before the pandemic, this place would be rocking at this time on a Friday,” she says. “It’s only when you see the reduced numbers in a place like this that you realise that we’re still recovering from the effects of it.”

She’s young and vivacious but when she talks about her “wee, old men” she has the wisdom and compassion of a ward sister. “Lauder’s had a lot of older men who’ve been drinking here for years. But I’ve noticed here are far fewer of them since Covid. When weeks pass and you haven’t seen them you begin to worry about them,” she says.

She talks about one elderly gent whose son popped in the other week. “I asked him about his dad and he told me he was fine but that following the pandemic he’d lost his confidence and was reluctant to leave the house. So, I told him to tell his dad that we’re all still here and waiting to see him again.”

Her observations tally with the findings of a study by Loughborough University about the importance of local pubs to their local communities. The study was commissioned by The Campaign to End Loneliness and revealed how pubs are important social hubs that help to tackle loneliness and social isolation.

Read more in the series, Scotland & Alcohol:

The report’s authors said that their study was “guided by the belief that pubs can, and often do, have a social value beyond their economic role” and that for many, the local pub is an opportunity to get out of the house and have a conversation”.

They pointed out that for older people “meaningful social interactions like this can be infrequent, especially in retirement or after bereavement of a long-term partner leaves people socially isolated. This social contact, and the sense of connection and community it provides, has been under threat during the Covid-19 pandemic, and protecting the social role of pubs is now more important than ever.”

Yet, in the three years that have elapsed since the end of the lockdown pubs are closing all over Scotland at the rate of more than one every week.  According to the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) Scotland saw 76 pub closures last year, compared to 56 in 2022. It shows that permanent closures are occurring at double the rate of that in England.

Tam and me continue our research in the Kirkintilloch Miners Welfare and Social Club, known locally as “the ‘Stute”. We both played football near here and attended St Ninian’s High just along the road. The ‘stute (formerly the Miners Institute) reinforces the concept of pub as community pub.

The Herald: They don't know or have ever met drinkers. Nor would they be seen dead in any of the places we frequentThey don't know or have ever met drinkers. Nor would they be seen dead in any of the places we frequent

Sweet Caroline is playing in the bar as we walk in. A group of our friends, most of whom were ex-pupils of St Ninian’s, are toasting the memory of an old colleague whose funeral wake was held here earlier in the day. In the corner a smartly-dressed older man – a retired teacher perhaps – is racing through the Daily Record crossword.

Shug McLaughlin is talking about seeing Red Rum beat his dad’s favourite Crisp in the 1973 Grand National. The bar staff put plates full of cakes – the remnants of the funeral purvey – on the tables. We’re all thinking the same thing: “It’s what the big man would have wanted.” 

Soon, we’ve all been persuaded to part with £20 for horse running in the next race and whose sole credentials for our investment is that its colours are green white and gold and that Tam has “a good feeling'” about it.

I make the mistake of asking for a half pint to go with the Black Labels which are beginning to accumulate undrunk. I’m told by Davie Brownlie: “I'm not buying you a half pint ... unless you want another chaser with it”. He utters this with the gravity of a priest asking if anyone knows of any impediments to the nuptials he’s about to conduct. There are reproving nods all round.

Mindful that this is a research project and not just a bevvy session I throw in a question about Minimum Unit Pricing. “It's a nonsense,” says McLaughlin. “It won't deter problem drinkers but it’ll hit older guys like me who like having a few pints on a Friday night. They don't know or have ever met drinkers. Nor would they be seen dead in any of the places we frequent.

The Herald: The names of a legendary Woodilee darts team are recited with the sort of reverence normally only reserved for the Lisbon Lions.The names of a legendary Woodilee darts team are recited with the sort of reverence normally only reserved for the Lisbon Lions. (Image: Gordon Terris/The Herald)

By now we’ve learned that our horse has trundled in fourth but I am struggling to remember its name. We’re all back in for another 20 though, because, well …  there’s a horse that shares its name with Glasgow’s Oran Mor pub and Tam thinks he’s related to the owner. Alex catches it on the racing channel on his smartphone, finishing fourth with all the urgency of a sloth.

The Oran Mor leads to a discussion around our reflections of the West End. “It’s nothing but man-bags and man buns there,” says Lenaghan. “It’s not a place I want to hang about in.” An absent member of the company is described with affection but also a degree of exasperation. It seems he’s known for insinuating himself into every conversation. Recently, he’d boasted that his fancy new Smartphone was sufficiently powerful “to get signals from the moon”. What a handy thing to have,” says Brownlee.

Now we’re debating the merits of the staff football and darts teams of the old Mental Health Institutions, Woodilee and Lennox Castle. The names of a legendary Woodilee darts team are recited with the sort of reverence normally only reserved for the Lisbon Lions.

McLaughlin describes getting into a state the previous week thus: “I was that drunk I put my suit on the bed and hung myself up in the wardrobe.” He refuses an offer of food. “When I’m drinking I’m drinking; when I’m eating I’m eating.” And there’s a story about a bloke with a glass eye, because there’s always a story about a bloke with a glass eye.

My constitution isn’t half the man it once was and is now protesting. And so I take my leave just as Tam is getting into his stride. “I worry about you,” he says. But we’ll be back next week because, well … my wine bar days are gone and this is where I now need to be.