Boris Johnson has been called out for many things in the last few years but the one I feel compelled to comment on is the drinking culture he has either personally driven, or at the very least encouraged, at number ten.
If you have read The Cactus Surgeon you will know that I used to binge drink alcohol on nights out, and didn’t have an off switch. The culture where I worked in a PR agency was very much centred around booze. Like number ten we had wine fridges filled up every Friday with wine and beer. Not from a secret squirrel wheely suitcase, but by delivery drivers from booze shops. Monday to Thursday we could drink after 6 pm and didn’t often leave the office before 7 or 8 pm. On Fridays, the fridge was available at 4 pm, when we gathered next to crisps and dips to celebrate the week’s successes. The drinking would carry on all evening, either in the office or by decamping to local pubs and bars. Team bonding was done over boozy lunches, or we’d follow a more structured event with a boozy dinner to follow. There was no well-being support unless something was very obviously wrong, and there were no warnings about the perils of drinking. And, yes, I was an adult by then but I could have done with a pep talk (although let’s be honest, would I have listened?). Maybe there were people who worked there and didn’t drink loads of alcohol, but I’m pretty sure the vast majority did.
In many ways these times were some of the best of my life. Booze filled friendships alongside intense working conditions are fun, loud, heartfelt and full of hilarious events. I absolutely loved the people I hung out with and would never wish away the comradery, the laughs, the sense of belonging. It was an extension of student life (also centred around booze).
So, why do I also wish it had been different? Well, after living this way I went on to suffer burnout and a functional neurological disorder. Punishing my body with late nights and booze no doubt helped lead me to that place. I put myself in some dangerous situations under the influence. Alcohol can become an addiction and I thank myself lucky that I am able to stop at just one these days. Those who are struggling with drinking too much can find it hard to say no (and may not even realise there is a problem) when an alcohol culture is normalised around them. Not convinced? Read The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray.
I firmly believe there is no place for a drinking culture at work. The odd night out with drinks is great for those who want it on occasion, but this shouldn’t be the norm. The workplace should be inclusive for all, whether you want to drink lots, some or none at all.
As for Number Ten? I really don’t think it’s a good idea to mix decision making for the country with booze, do you?
I’d love to know your thoughts about this. I hesitated about posting it, as I didn’t want to be seen as a killjoy. Nor do I want to upset people I used to work with. I’m just offering a warning based on my own personal experiences.