There is nothing more British than drinking on trains. Well, maybe drinking in airports before dawn, but that’s about the only exception. Anybody who travels on public transport has seen it for themselves on pretty much every train trip – the buckets of lager, the crates of beer, the bottles of fizz and plastic cups. It’s an expected (even accepted) part of rail travel in this country. Find a seat, find an opener. As someone who often shares trains with Geordie oilmen travelling home after a month offshore, I have seen things you couldn’t possibly imagine. But it’s all fine – if you want to drink on the go, more power to you. But the other reason why doing so is just so British is because it is also inherently crap. There’s nothing good about it.
Ok, so it might help dull the pain of your immediate surroundings or companions within earshot – but these days everyone is plugged in, even in the Quiet Coach (aka the Middle Class Tutting Zone)* so a simple volume raise and tactical close of the eyes cuts out anything and everything. Maybe you’re pre-loading before arriving at something you don’t really want to do (which again might actually be the most British thing ever, instead). But all the people getting stuck in, from the carrier bags of Strongbow to the Prosecco to the multi-coloured new craft #trainbeer cans – they are missing out on one of life’s true pleasures. For every foil-covered plastic cup of station concourse wine or buffet car beer – there is a much greater reward waiting later. The beer when you get there.
*I once almost saw a fight break out between two guys over a phonecall before the train had even left the first station. Sometimes a Tut is not enough.
The tedium of long journeys – if you are unlike me and don’t derive some weird satisfaction from pressing your nose to the window and mentally keeping note of every wild animal you see – can be instantly rendered obsolete by that first, thirst-quenching pint when you get to where you are going. Take every photo of #trainbeer, even the Cloudwaters and the like, and would you honestly trade them in with that pint of London Pride at the top of this post? The one poured at the Parcel Yard in King’s Cross and enjoyed in long slaking gulps after nearly five hours of rattling around on a Virgin East Coast service from Edinburgh? It’s all about context – you know this – and the pint pictured above is going to be better than any NEIPA in a plastic cup.
That’s what ruins #trainbeer for me. Firstly, the inevitable explosion when it opens (that is a true story for me; Kernel London Porter bought from Sourced at St Pancras. I think that’s the real reason why East Coast changed their interiors). Then there’s the crappy plastic cups, like drinking a beer in a hotel bathroom. Unless you bring matched glassware on a train, of course. Then there’s the elbow room, the rumbling around as you try to take delicate sips of the 11% mango IPA whilst the train jars your fillings loose. And then to top it all off, it makes you need to pee and you have to venture into the toilet, or travelling wet-room to give them a more realistic description.
Instead, waiting until you arrive means you’re clear of head and (relatively) empty of bladder, you can go to an old favourite haunt or try somewhere new. Even venture into the railway bar which these days are a billion times better than how they used to be – case in point, on that trip that ended with a London Pride two guys behind me were travelling from Newcastle to York to spend a day in the York Tap and get the train back. So they were never even going to leave the station. Clear those dusty pipes with a pint. Something sessionable, carbonated and lip-tinglingly bitter. After all, deliberately depriving yourself of something that everyone around you is enjoying so you can have the last laugh later – that, surely, is the most British thing of all.