Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A bottle in front of me

"I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." - Tom Waits

Sir Geoffrey still does not get it. Not only should the drinking age be raised, as well as taxes and licensing fees. No, what Sir Geoffrey recommended was arresting people for being drunk in public. Not criminalising per se, merely fining them for existing in public spaces while drunk. And when you're drunk, you're an unreliable witness. Easy meat for a cop's quota.

I'm angry enough at the Labour legacy still drifting through select committee on banning beer and wine from dairies. Although absent from the protest yesterday at parliament, my name is on the petition in support of their and my right to get a fix from the corner shop (Actually, it's a seven corner walk but I digress). I've had a yak with dairy owners from Island Bay to Northland over the years, and if anyone fucks with them, they fuck with me too.

Sir Geoffrey once had his head in the right spot. It's just his guts he left behind when the became PM after Lange. Constitution Act 1986, good onya. Bill of Rights 1990, fucken A. But it was the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 that was the goddamned revolution.

Before that liquor reform, NZ was still getting comfortable with 1967's lifting off the six o'clock swill. The 1970s was one big blur as males slowly adapted to the relaxed evening drinking time of 11pm. Many continued to drink as if it were perpetually nearly 6 o'clock, even when it was actually just after 9. Then they'd drive home, maybe beat the kids, before passing out on the bed.

The 1970s was still a sober time for women. It was only really the 1980s when women were targeted with cafes, brasseries and other antitheses of the traditional drinking shed favoured by the men. As for teenagers of the 1980s, before alcopops finally fulfilled the evolution of the bourbon with coke mixer into a can, the sophisticated Palmerston North yuppie teenager drank wine cooler or Chardon.

Before 1989, booze was sold only in places like Liquorland or the Working Men's Clubs. No supermarkets, no dairies. You could only drink in a pub on Sundays if you signed a little register that said you intended to dine there that night. As the loophole suggests, licencing laws were archaic and complex.

You could only drink in bars if you were over 20. You could drink in a bar if you were 18 and accompanied by a parent. Or you could be any age and wandering anywhere as long as you didn't buy the drinks. Little wonder many of the pubs were run by former cops. Not only for the bouncer work, but also an inside loop into knowing the right handshakes to get the licence.

Back in 1989, there was ample evidence for the Fourth Labour Government to get stern with the boozers. It is with immense gratitude that instead of a justifiable throttling of the rules based on observational models of the time, the Sale of Liquor Act went in the opposite direction.

This time round though, Sir Geoffrey has had second thoughts. Never mind the rights to assembly and expression as mentioned in the elegant Bill of Rights. Never mind the realisation back then that Rome didn't get over its hangover in one day, or that teenagers will be teenagers.

There will be great interest shown at the Law Commission's discussion sessions later on this year. In the meantime, here's Major Colvin speaking to his command in the third season of The Wire. Remember, "the corner is, and it was, and it always will be the poor man's lounge."

(It is just happy happenstance that the clip is subtitled in what looks like Spanish during Languages Week)