The central thesis of the book is that civilizations need rules, conformity and order to survive. But as we live most of our lives like this, we also need occasionally to let off steam, to throw over the rules and routine and go a bit batshit, safe in the knowledge that everyone is doing so, that this is a temporary suspension of order, permissible anarchy. Author Iain Gately then travels the world demonstrating this principle in every continent and culture on the planet.
The only problem with the book is that for such a joyous subject, he writes it in a very dry, semi-academic fashion. Perhaps that's partly why it's now out of print. Since reading it I've wanted to do a similar book, going to the most extreme drinking festivals on the planet, following the same principle but getting stuck in as I do so rather than observing from outside. The publishers won't buy it though: it feels too much like a direct sequel to Three Sheets, and that's the poorest selling of my three books (it sold well - just not as well as the other two) and it feels like it would serve the law of diminishing returns.
I haven't let that stop me enjoying myself along the paths Gately has illuminated though: I go to as many of these festivals as I can. The Jack in the Green Festival in Hastings on May Bank Holiday is a marvellous release of pagan lust and joy until about 4pm, when everyone goes back home and puts the kettle on. And I'll soon be writing about various Wassails I went to in January - hundreds of people standing in a muddy farmyard at night in the middle of January, worshipping trees and getting riotously pissed, smack in the middle of the grimmest time of the year - it makes me tear up just thinking about what a wonderful expression of the human spirit this is.
Which brings us to St Patrick's Day, celebrated around the world today.
Here's are ten things that I really, really don't want to talk about today, because it utterly misses the point (even though I might have done in the past - today is not the day):
- How St Patrick wasn't really Irish
- Why we celebrate St Patrick more than our own patron saints
- How tedious it is that everyone seeks an Irish connection
- How the Paddy's Day Angry Birds update is possibly racist
|Did someone say "Thieving Irish pigs"?|
- Plastic paddies and bad Irish theme pubs
- The fact that stout (or rather, the porter that led to it) actually originates from London
- Opinions as to whether Guinness is any good or not in a world where we now have lots of quality stouts and porters
- Whether or not Guinness tastes better in Ireland
- Whatever Guinness is doing marketing/PR-wise on its biggest day of the year
- Why people who drink Guinness today don't drink it the rest of the year
What I shall be doing instead is marvelling at the way people across our entire planet use a flimsy excuse to give themselves permission to celebrate, not celebrating anything in particular, not really, but rather adopting an oversimplified version of one of the world's greatest drinking cultures and pretending to be part of it for one night, knowing that everyone else in pubs and bars the world over is doing the same. And I'll be marvelling that beer is at the heart of this, that beer's sociability, its miraculous ability to bring joy to its groups of drinkers, is at the core of the ritual.
What will I be drinking myself? Well, I'll probably go to the Auld Shillelagh on Stoke Newington Church Street and fight my way to the bar in what is normally a quiet Irish pub, and have a couple of the best pints of Guinness in North London. I might come home early and open the bottle of Otley porter I was sent for St David's Day, or the stunning Imperial Stout that debuted the Meantime College Beer Club, or the Quantock Brewery Stout that won bronze in SIBA's national bottled beer competition and turned up on my doorstep yesterday. It doesn't matter. I'll be drinking dark beer because that's what you do on St Patrick's Day. It's what everyone does.
And that is, in my view, what's really worth celebrating.