The phrase, “A scientific study says..” is enough to elicit another core shuddering groan from me. We are constantly bombarded with messages such as; “This is bad for you” or ‘that will kill you”. To which I say; You’ve got to die of something. Death is the final arbiter of all matters. We are finite; we inspire, then expire. This is a fundamental fact of (insert ironic laugh here) life. It’s not worth worrying about. I’m under no illusions, as I’ve just attended the second funeral of family friends in six months. We are mortal, all of us, and that’s that.
I grew up in the countryside, in an English village so small that if you hadn’t hit the brakes when you’d seen the ‘Welcome to’ sign, you’d be halfway out of the parish by the time you stopped. Amongst my neighbours was a guy everyone called ‘Pop’. A decent old stick who was largely self sufficient and seemed to spend half his life out in the garden, or for a once weekly five mile walk between pubs to enjoy a pint and a pipeful with friends. His house had no central heating and a coal burning AGA, but old Pop nursed a dark secret – home made rum. Wicked stuff which I was once allowed a taste of, much to my fathers and Pop’s amusement. Well, I was only fourteen at the time.
About once a month or so in late summer, Pop would amble amiably down to his garden shed with a new home grown marrow and a bag of Demerara sugar and a few other bits and bobs. The marrow would have the inner cavity scooped out, filled with raisins and Demerara sugar, then the bottom (Stem end) stuffed into an enamel bucket. I’m not sure if he used any yeast as this was a long time ago. What I do know is that he had several of these things on the go at any given time. Every so often he might add a little water, and once the sugar and raisins had liquified and drained out of the marrow into the bucket he would piece together the following: an old copper kettle, some copper tubes and an old car radiator which he’d flushed out with boiling water a few times. He’d put the rather unpleasant smelling liquor into the kettle and put it over an old gas ring then set it to simmer for a couple of hours while he went to do some weeding. He’d wander back and forth to his shed, then shut the door to do something mysterious. Around twilight he might be observed wandering up the garden path with a single half pint whiskey bottle in his hand. He would arise late the following morning. Usually around Eleven, sit outside his door on an old folding chair, full head of shortish white hair still mussed with sleep, a pipe of home grown baccy which had a particular fruity and rounded smell, and smile gently at the world. He died aged 95 in the early 1970’s. Less than three months after well meaning relatives had shuffled him off to a nursing home.
Pop once gave me a snifter (With my dad’s permission) in a tiny liqueur glass for energetically cutting back his overgrown privet hedge one wet spring day. I was bone achingly tired and soaked to the skin, but that stuff put steel in my spine and before long my damp clothes were steaming. Even after this length of time the oily texture and rich sinus clearing aniseed overtones are still vivid in memory. The taste wasn’t wonderful, but it certainly woke me up.
While the previous example might not on the surface, seem to have much to do with prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages, I cite it as evidence that even if you couldn’t buy hard liquor, there are easy ways to make your own. How would prohibitionists have stopped him? Confiscated his marrows? Banned the sale of sugar or raisins? Taken all the junk out of his garden shed? The enforcement overhead to shut down every Pop level home brewing operation would be (and is) incredibly expensive. The same goes for all substances that people use to sidestep the mundane day to day of the modern world.
From home brewing to grown marijuana and small scale drug production, intoxicants of one shape or form will always be with us. This is the reason why prohibition is doomed to failure. The enforcers can’t be everywhere.