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  1. Wealth
August 28, 2009

Red or white with your sarnie?

By Spear's

Which meant I drank at lunchtime every day for a fortnight. And it made the return to work even more of a culture shock. No glass of wine ’ or more like, no cold beer, no white wine, no red wine, no vin santo and then no grappa.

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Umbria in Italy. I rented a lovely villa on a hillside by the small town of Preggio. With a house party of several families and friends we ate like kings. I shopped at the local markets, cooked whatever was in season and available and, more vitally, I drank with every meal.

So there was no wine at breakfast (although I mistakenly early at dawn one day, with a raging thirst,repaired to the fridge and took a large gulp from a blue bottle of what I thought was water but was the local white plonk) but we drank at dinner and lunch. 

Which meant I drank at lunchtime every day for a fortnight. And it made the return to work even more of a culture shock. No glass of wine – or more like, no cold beer, no white wine, no red wine, no vin santo and then no grappa – after a morning’s toil at my desk. And then worse, no siesta.

And even though I was no longer simmering in glorious Italian booze, I still felt in dire need for 40 winks after a modest sandwich. It is perhaps the fact that you can crack open a bottle of white wine at noon on a Tuesday that makes it a holiday.

But back in the saddle of office life, drinking at lunchtime does feel like quite some luxury. It’s done far less these days, of course. Gone for most are the days of cocktails and then wine so familiar in the past in the City or Fleet Street.

The newspaper industry was fuelled by alcohol. I remember working at the Sunday Express after it moved to Blackfriars Bridge and being taken aback to discover that not only did most of the scribblers then drink heavily at lunchtime but they even had a bar in the building. Knowing, perhaps, that the journalists would need refreshment come noon it was better they remained on the premises than search parties be dispatched to fetch them from the bars and restaurants off Fleet Street.

Ross Benson, the great diary hack and war reporter, always had a snooze after lunch. Lunching, drinking with it and getting stories out of sozzled contacts being a key to his trade. He managed to kip in his chair with his feet on the desk. Personally I need a pillow, bed, and the curtains drawn; not so feasible in the normal office environment.

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After Lord Hollick purchased Express Newspapers the bar was promptly closed. A memo was sent round to all the staff. ‘Drinking is no longer compatible with a modern media company,’ it read.

We were aghast. It marked the beginning of the end. Indeed look at what has happened to The Express since that day.

Drinking at lunchtime is frowned on today by many. But my anecdotal research points out that there is still quite a bit of it about. It’s just that these days after a long boozey lunch people tend not to go back to the office.  

I remember one drunken afternoon at The Express being lifted off the floor and put in front of a keyboard to write a TV review. I bashed out some nonsense which the deputy editor then heralded as my best work to date. It sent me conflicting signals.

These days I need a clear head to write. So I try to get it out of the way in the morning.

Someone has to battle on to preserve the core principles of civilised behaviour. And so I feel the need to continue my anecdotal research and bring a dose of my Umbrian holiday to at least one lunch a week.

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