New Zealanders have long had a strange relationship with drinking. Lately we’ve seen stories wondering why alcohol was essential, and others warning to mind one’s own business. I noticed my own drinking patterns increasing during Level 4, and typically bought several bottles of wine at a shop. One one occasion I joked to the checkout operator that I was saving another three incidental shopping trips, before having a moment of clarity that probably everyone said that. On asking her tired response confirmed it: my joke was not new and we’re drinking more in lockdown.
Recipes for and jokes about #quarantini, the sight of bare shelves and the stories above reminded me of a brilliant blog I read in Atlas Obscura years ago, where the writer, as the title says “Tried a Medieval Diet, and I Didn’t Even Get That Drunk“. We think of medieval people as rolling around drunk, given their dislike of water, but as Sarah says, “I never managed to drink quite the volume of wine that medieval people are reputed to, but I’m now convinced that most people were not drunk-drunk, just pleasantly buzzed. Considering the percentage of America’s population that’s regularly taking some mood-enhancing drug, we shouldn’t judge medieval people too harshly“
In New Zealand, our heavy drinking is often attributed to the infamous 6o’clock swill, when opening hours was restricted to a 6pm close. Unsurprisingly, beer-loving people (men) crowded into pubs to drink as much as they could between the end of work and the closing of the pubs. From 1918 to 1967, people chugged back as much and as fast as they could.
At the same time, the Temperance movement was gaining traction in New Zealand. in 1932 Temperance societies in Auckland started planning for a centenary celebration, whilst the 6-o’clock swill raged on and housewives were sneaking ‘drinko’ into their husbands food or drink to try curb the drinking. The adverts are rather quaint, and a little ethically dubious.
Other adverts include alcohol alternatives, such as Kola-nip, which looks to be a tonic/ sparkling drink that was also available in Australia:
I am far from a wowser, and my first proper job out of university was with Hospitality New Zealand, so my professional roots are a little more towards individual responsibility than for a complete ban on alcohol (hello, South Africa). But I can’t help but wonder if we’ve risked the livelihoods of an enormous number of people during level 3 and 4, and if maybe (maybe) Australia did it better. I reached out to my former boss and (former) CEO of Hospitality New Zealand Bruce Roberston, asking what he thought, and it was dire: businesses were in trouble and he expected 30 to 40% of businesses to fail in the next 6 months.
It’s a scary time in more ways than one, but if we want to see our economy pull through, here’s my advice: Head out for dinner. Stick to the three S’s. Be kind. We’re all scared and bewildered, and maybe our Medieval ancestors had something right: a bit of a drink eases anxiety, and watered down wine (really) is delicious and less harmful than straight.
Kia kaha NZ.