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It’s last orders for working-hours boozing. We should drink to that | Barbara Ellen

Has working-hours drinking culture died or is it just slumped in an office lavatory cubicle, sleeping off a liquid lunch?

I ask, because the London Metal Exchange has banned staff from drinking during working hours, just as Lloyds of London did in 2017. Which has to be good. (City traders, dealing in millions and billions, probably need to be sober? Discuss). Though maybe it’s yet another sign of the end of an era.

The first thing to note is that drinking during working hours is totally different to socialising at night. Compared with daytime inebriation, drinking at night is amateur hour. Nor is this the European form, where nice, elegant people enjoy the subtle bouquet of a glass of merlot. I’m talking about people leaving work for “lunch”, drinking copiously, then returning to work, fully convinced of their competence. A quintessentially British phenomenon that I was surprised to discover wasn’t entirely confined to journalists and politicians. Arguably, what’s interesting isn’t that this culture is ending, rather, that it was ever allowed to begin.

The key to understanding the day-drinking personality is to ignore their actual job and realise that inside, where it matters (maaan!), they are bohemians refusing to bow to societal convention. Think: Charles Bukowski meets Hunter S Thompson with a whiff of The Likely Lads – in certain circles, teamed with an exclusionary boys’ club mentality.

It’s not only men who are guilty of macho showboating over who can drink the most for the longest. While I never regretted my daytime drinking, other people did on my behalf. That’s the other thing about working-hours drinkers – most of us are royal pains in the arse.

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However, it’s not all bad news. Without wishing to glorify dysfunctional daytime drinking (which can lead to serious problems with alcohol), the reason it kept happening was because it could be fun, sometimes even strangely creative and productive. One of the problems with any kind of drinking in the day is that there’s no natural break for sleeping, unless you’re resourceful (see previous point about lavatory cubicles), which meant that days often morphed into endless, nightmarish, gonzo road-movies. There’s also the fact that, for some, daylight drinking boosts the impact of alcohol.

What stopped my daytime drinking is what stops most people – ageing. I couldn’t hack it any more. However, that flags another key change. Traditionally, there would be a new younger generation of working-hours drinkers, proudly returning pissed to the office on behalf of all those who couldn’t any more. Instead, increasingly, you hear about young people shirking alcohol. Or workplaces banning it.

With the odd pocket of resistance, perhaps the culture of working-hours drinking truly is dying out. Time was, life was too serious not to have a drink. Now, it’s too serious to have one.

Have a heart, Harry: Meghan wasn’t to the palace born

Harry and Meghan

Harry and Meghan: a sharp lesson in royal ways. Photograph: Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock

How long do you think it would take to master the intricacies of being royal? I pondered this, as a bizarre video clip emerged of Prince Harry appearing to snap at his wife, Meghan Markle, as they stood on the balcony with the rest of the royal family during the recent trooping the colour. Unless my imagination is running away with me, Harry appears to be, not asking, but ordering (yes, you read right, ordering) his wife to “turn around”. It’s not what’s said, it’s the brusque, cold way it’s done. When Markle turns around, she appears chastened and a little upset.

Could a royal aide please help Harry – his mask appears to have slipped. OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but still, this was disquieting. Markle gave birth a matter of weeks ago – she, if anyone, should be the one who’s entitled to snap. Obviously, she needed to turn the right way, especially as the national anthem was about to play. However, you’d have thought she had rocked up in a bikini, smoking a spliff, making peace signs, to warrant such treatment – not committed the great crime of turning to speak to her husband for all of two seconds.

Give her credit – she always seems to try her best with royal duties. She’s even submitted to being dressed in weird stiff, dowdy outfits as though she’s trapped permanently in some existential royal racing enclosure sponsored by Fenn Wright Manson. Of course trooping the colour is important, but whatever she (briefly) did “wrong” on the balcony, it was clearly not intentionally disrespectful. It’s the royal attitude that’s at fault here. Harry and other born-and-bred royals should realise they’ve had a lifetime to master deportment and protocol and, even then, they’ve frequently screwed up. Nazi fancy-dress outfits, anyone?

Chuka Umunna at least gave it a go, so save your sneers

Chuka Umunna and Vince Cable

Chuka Umunna and Vince Cable: he ‘had the courage to rebel’. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Oh, the irony of anybody deriding the former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna for being some kind of scheming careerist for joining the Liberal Democrats. I mean, seriously? Change UK performed poorly at the European elections, so Umunna decided to join the Lib Dems.

In the past, he has criticised them for forming a coalition with the Tories, but then, who didn’t? The party deserved to be criticised then, just as it deserves to be supported now. Situations evolve. Get over it.

As for Umunna being labelled a careerist, the truth seems to be quite the opposite. His Labour party career was shredded from the moment he refused to go along with Corbynmania. There were threats of deselection. Then, of course, there is Brexit: far from being unprincipled and conniving, Umunna refused to follow the Labour party line of manipulative fence-sitting, game-playing and taking Remain votes for granted, a stance sure to get Labour spanked severely in the next general election.

Where’s the careerism in any of this? It seems to me that a true careerist would have kept his mouth shut, his head down and been able to stay in the Labour party. Instead, Umunna had the courage to rebel, leave and take a wholehearted stand for Remain. I, for one, appreciate and applaud him.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


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