I grew up in a small rural town surrounded by other small rural towns in a county comprised entirely of small rural towns. Derbyshire, slotted in between Greater Manchester and Yorkshire with the redeeming features of neither, is home to Buxton; birthplace of both overpriced mineral water and yours truly. The countryside is lacking in proper transport, shops that sell things you actually want to buy, and people that can’t be traced back to you in two family connections or less, but despite that, I have a certain fondness for it. This fondness, misguided and hazy as it is, is born almost entirely from the culture of drinking until you are nearly dead that thrives in towns like mine. Drinking culture, in fact, is more or less the force behind countryside towns; without it, they are just empty plots of land that nobody could be bothered to build anything useful on. Here are the five main perks:
Laissez-Faire Attitude Towards Legal Drinking Age
In the city, there are rules; people have alcohol licenses to earn and keep. Forgetting your ID can end your night, whereas in the countryside it isn’t really mandatory to even be of legal drinking age to get blind drunk. You don’t even have to be very good at lying about it – in the period between turning 15 and turning 18, I had a wide variety of false personas, all with different names, ages and backstories, none of which were in the least convincing. It can only be your 20th birthday so many times in the same month. It doesn’t matter, because nobody cares so long as there is money in your pocket and a willingness to do one in the unlikely event of authorities noticing. Rural towns can be dull and soul-destroying places without a drink in the hand; to compensate for the lack of cinema, bowling alley or any entertainment but cow-tipping, there is a silent agreement that everyone can drink a few years earlier than is strictly legal just to stop them from topping themselves.
Legally Questionable Lock-Ins
One of my fondest memories of drinking in my hometown is in a now-closed pub called the White Lion, located up a hill behind some dirty bins. Every night, the White Lion would surreptitiously lock its doors and shepherd its patrons into the back of the pub to smoke and play pool whilst simultaneously selling shots of Buckfast round the front. The logic behind this was presumably that the ‘private party’ innocently consisting of twelve old men and three underage girls going on in the back room could in no way be legally linked to the still-open bar at the entrance, despite the fact that the ‘wall’ between the two rooms was little more than a piece of plywood with a doorway cut in. The White Lion was the literal embodiment of a mullet; business in the front, party in the back. That kind of innovative entrepreneurial spirit can only be found in the dreariest of towns.
Everything Becomes Funny
Gallows humour is a standard coping mechanism for difficult situations, and a unique strain of this emerges when you live and drink in a small town. Your options for going out are so pathetically limited that it transcends unbearably shit and reaches the giddy heights of hilariously shit. I spent the better part of my mid-teens being served watered-down Jagerbombs by a girl who got quite popular on X Factor in a pub that had black and white photos of men’s’ arses on the walls – that’s the kind of desperate situation that can be saved only with a sense of humour. Recently, a main attraction of a local club was the appearance of Scotty T from Geordie Shore, whose mere presence excited the town to the point that he has left several possibly pregnant girls in his wake. I have watched a band comprised of fifty-year-old-men and one preteen on guitar murder Rolling Stones songs six separate times. One bar in town is entirely and inexplicably floodlit with Barbie-pink lights. There is really no other option but to just laugh in these situations.
Unbridled Hostility Towards Strangers
Whenever I go to a pub in a city for the first time and the bar staff are polite and friendly to me, I feel faintly let down. Although a pleasant customer experience might be an essential when trying to undercut the six hundred other cheapish pubs with a decent beer garden in the area, it’s really more optional in the countryside. I like my drinking experience to hit that perfect balance between relaxing and exclusive to the point of territorial, and this simply cannot be achieved in cities. Landlords in the city are too busy trying to turn a profit to make customers feel uncomfortable for looking too sharp or ordering a drink with more than two components. The lack of competition and guaranteed local custom in small rural areas means that pub landlords are free to discriminate freely towards people they don’t know on a completely random basis. I've seen a landlord stare a customer down for a full five minutes just because he ordered a J2O. This is the way it should be.
Having moved from a small town to Liverpool, the infinite variety and possibility that going out in a city offered me seemed like a gift – until I realized that being lost all the time in confusing environments is fun for a few months, and then becomes a somewhat exhausting experience. Just as home-cooked meals always taste more wholesome, a pint in a much-too-familiar local is always more relaxing than elsewhere. Nothing can beat walking into your favourite rural pub and seeing that every small thing is the same, from the sixty-year-old barmaid with huge plastic nails and bloodhound eyes to the grubby tables and chairs, artfully stained to simultaneously discourage newcomers and assure old friends that nothing has changed. The routine of ordering up, sitting down, drinking for nine hours and then walking home with your eyes already shut is a tradition that has been alive for hundreds of years and is as old and well-worn as a rural pub’s carpet. A pub near me tried to change itself up and started ordering in strange foreign lagers in recent years. My dad boycotted it for two months until order was restored. Nothing ever changes in rural drinking culture, and nor should it; it’s already perfect.