Over this year’s summer, SINK encouraged young northerners to explore their culture and identity in an essay competition with prompts of Northern independence, identity or spirit.
It was the final question, ‘what is the spirit of the North,’ which inspired the 18 year old winner Misty to write their piece. With a humorous spin on the word ‘spirit,’ they explore the Northern identity through its almost quintessential working-class drinking culture. We see how the sociological, economical and cultural Northernness is affected by, and even shapes, the roots of our Northern drinking culture today.
Misty’s illuminating essay touches on the deeply entrenched causes and repercussions of the pint culture, whilst also informing ideas of masculinity and gender discourse. Whether used by Northerners as a coping mechanism to economic inequality and a ‘distraction from the pain of exploitation,’ or as a ‘community space’ for celebration and socialisation, it shines a light on just how much a pint is entrenched within our collective Northern identity.
Research shows that the significance of a drinking culture and the amount of alcohol consumed, on average, is higher for Northerners than Southerners. Whether these stats suggest alcohol is less expensive and more accessible up here, or because we’re home to some of the nation's best breweries, it’s another point in the bag for us!
From seeing the teetering uncertainty of openings and closures in the hospitality sector within the era of a pandemic and perhaps a new generational shift where socialising whilst drinking might revolve around bars and clubs, it might be easy to think that pub culture is starting to shift. Yet, Misty sees that the pub ‘still acts as an escape from work or home’ with the pub culture still standing strong, albeit becoming more profit-orientated like ‘being allowed to be open during the specific lockdown period where you could only drink with a meal’. It’s also nice to see how some restaurants and other hospitality venues are shaping their decor to resemble the more rustic, community-orientated interior design of the pub… it’s legendary presence still clearly lives on!
On discussing if the role of the pub and drinking differs between generations, Misty believes that ‘people still drink to socialise and forget other worries but it seems like younger people drink with specific friends rather than going to see the community at the pub or working mans club’. Gathering around for a pint after work could be seen as something more geared to men, but there have been some more positive changes to the attitudes of drinking culture surrounding gender exclusion. So, whilst parts of the blaring of background footie and infamous drunken singing after a day of labouring work might be shifting to be a more relaxed atmosphere than before, the social side is still ever relevant in Northern pubs today.
Misty’s essay also delved more into the reasons for drinking, which of course includes the social side, but occasionally, and especially within more working-class areas, is used to ‘numb the pain’. I asked Misty if they thought one was stronger than the other for Northerners, or if the reasons for drinking have changed more over the years. They appreciate that ‘both reasons are true for Northerners, as you can even mix sometimes’, for example, ‘socialising and community can be a part of what distracts you from hardship’. After all, we drink for almost every occasion; when there’s a death, a birth, a celebration, a loss, starting a job or leaving it.
With the people of Yorkshire known for their breweries and as one of the nation’s best beer drinkers, it’s interesting to think about the extent to which your favourite drink is impacted by parts of your Northernness. Misty, from East Lancashire, says their preferred beverage is lager, especially Fosters, and cider. Having thought more about our reasons for where and what we drink, they noted that their taste might be more ‘culturally acquired’ than a ‘pressure’. Despite this, linking conventional ideas of masculinity with the Northern pub and drinking culture, they recognise how a pint may unconsciously ‘live up to a sort of masculinity with their identity as a butch lesbian’. As a first year studying at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, I asked Misty about the drinking habits down south compared to their Lancastrian roots, and they note how they’ve ‘met more young wine and champagne drinkers at university than I ever have before.’ So, the next time you're having a pint, hopefully we’ve got you to have a little think about the ‘why’.
Read Misty’s winning essay in our upcoming third issue!