In the UK, nothing breeds togetherness like binge-drinking. Drinking pint after pint of golden lager to dilute the tendencies we have to be a bit up-tight and so well-mannered that we’re actually a bit rude. Put simply, we’re a nation of suppressed, stoic individuals who need a beer to lighten up. Except that we’re so stifled by the need to follow rules that once we begin to let lose, we completely unravel.
I’m generalising, but one of my final memories from before the UK went into lockdown gloriously encapsulated this notion. It was a mid-March evening and I was sat with two colleagues as we waited for our train, surrounded by a platform full of people who left their inhibitions behind after their first white wine spritzer that evening.
Though I didn’t know it then, it was the end of the final day I would spend with all of my colleagues for a while. Having won a team incentive at work, we had a little money to spend on an afternoon of team bonding. And what says team bonding more than spending the day consuming as much alcohol as our budget allowed?
Buzzed from double G&Ts and gimmicky cocktails, we were probably talking about coronavirus, not knowing that come Tuesday we would be sent to work from home indefinitely, when we noticed a presence. “Sanitiser, ladies?” A middle-aged man with inhibition-free eyes blinked back at us. “It looks like there are scary times ahead and we need to stick together,” he reeled off an impassioned speech.
The three of us held out our hands, giggling, as a complete stranger squirted blue, gloopy liquid into our palms. We rubbed our hands together; perhaps posing as a metaphor for our ‘sticking together’ with this inebriated man, despite his embarrassed friends who told us to “ignore the sod.”
“I’ve got an idea,” he said, challenging us with his drunk expression. “After I sing ‘sanitiser’, you repeat, okay?”
Delirious and in good spirits, we pledged our solidarity.
“Sanitiser!” the man shouted tunefully, punching his fist into the air.
Having realised he was singing “sanitiser” to the melody of the “da da da da!” from The Proclaimers hit, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), we knew what we had to do. “Sanitiser!” we chorused back, any self-consciousness we had hours before, long gone.
Soon, most of the fifty or so people on platform 1 were joining in, joyfully screaming “sanitiser!” back to the man running back and forth, distributing hand gel.
This sing-song continued, even as we stepped onto the train behind the man, as he introduced the inventive lyric change to a full carriage of the unassuming public.
When I think about life before lockdown, I remember this.
Whether you loved or hated this man now flinging himself across a carriage to offer sanitiser to all, you sung back when he told you to. Probably because we’d drunk with complete disregard for how many units of alcohol one should consume in one night. But also because, whilst we had all been guessing at what would happen in the UK in the weeks to come, for twenty minutes we were part of something that helped us deal with global uncertainty. Something that made us feel a sense of togetherness. That we were all in this together, drunk, as a nation.
Perhaps I’m romanticising this night; maybe he was just a man, standing in front of some girls, with breath like a cocktail of Fosters and Jägerbombs. Even so, sanitiser man, I will always be the girl who gets drunk next to you.